New New Brutalism
OMA completes Brutalist-inspired tower in Stockholm
Let the Shopping Begin!
Holiday shopping? Check out our gift guide for architects
Burn It Down, Build It Up
Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre track the seismic shifts in post-war architecture
(It's a bubble)
What’s the state of inflatable architecture?
Gannon Does Banham
New Reyner Banham monograph takes readers into the heady times of the ’60s provocateur
Make Your Voice Heard
How can architecture criticism give everyone a seat at the table?
An Ear for Architecture
Architects can still learn from Tom Wolfe
“Every child goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine replacement parts wholesale distribution warehouse.” “Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery. I once saw the owners of such a place driven to the edge of sensory deprivation by the whiteness & lightness & leanness & cleanness & bareness & sparseness of it all.”
“Every great law firm in New York moves without a sputter of protest into a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls and pygmy corridors.”Architecture’s defenders immediately swung back. While critic Paul Goldberger agreed that the glut of “puritanical” glass and steel skyscrapers and “wild” and often kitschy structures replacing the city’s historic fabric needed a rethink, he did not care for Wolfe’s bombastic, indiscriminate criticisms and prescriptions. Wrote Goldberger in the New York Times Book Review: “The problem, I think - and here we get to the essence of what is wrong with this book–is that Tom Wolfe has no eye... He does not see, to take but one of so many examples, that Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building is a lush and extraordinarily beautiful object. He understands Seagram only as part of Mies van der Rohe's theorizing, which means he understands it only as a prototype for a universal architectural style, and not as a unique and even profound work of art.” In other words, Wolfe, obsessed with Modernism’s doctrines, lumps Seagram with the rest of the Modernist pile, and misses so many of its finer points. Goldberger, while acknowledging architecture’s need to be comprehensible to most, hated Wolfe's black and white view of buildings. “The obligation architecture does have, as a practical art, to embrace certain conventions, to be readable in some fashion by anyone who uses it, in no way means that it must be understood in every way, on every level, by all who come in contact with it. There is such a thing as levels of meaning, but Mr. Wolfe seems not to accept this.” Virtually all of Goldberger’s contemporaries published similarly scathing rejections, and Wolfe’s reputation in the architecture community remains poor at best, particularly after Wolfe’s more recent crusade against Brad Cloepfil’s pared-down restructuring of Edward Durell Stone’s gaudy, cheerily anti-International Style 2 Columbus Circle, AKA, the “Lollipop Building.” Goldberger is right that Wolfe had a better ear than eye, calling it "acute and finely tuned." Yes, Wolfe accurately predicted the (at least temporary) demise of the Modernist movement, which by the time he published the book had reigned almost unchallenged for decades and was in many ways, as he put it, “exhausted.” But through the benefit of hindsight it appears that not only was Wolfe’s argument lacking a great deal of architectural nuance and history, but it also failed to anticipate Modernism’s resurgence. The movement needed reinvention—through greater sensitivity to site and occupant, through a reignited embrace of imagination and technology, for example— not a wholesale tear down. It needed to soften its dogma and recommit to its abstract artistry and formal skill. Wolfe was wrong to mock Modernism as purely utilitarian, and to let its worst abuses speak for the entire genre. And it was unfair for him to blindly abhor any style that eschewed ornament. His attack on Louis Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery as resembling an “underground parking garage,” and yet another form of “worker housing” is just one of Wolfe’s many lyrical but crude misrepresentations of the movement’s deep art and soul. Still, Wolfe’s ear should not be underestimated, especially his still-timely attacks of the profession’s often unrepentant elitism. What Wolfe got right—and it’s a criticism that still rings true today—is his skewering of what can be an insular, snotty, tone-deaf culture, from the almost religious zealotry of the early days of Modernism to now. He ceaselessly mocked the “theoryspeak of contemporary architecture,” which still renders the profession opaque to most outsiders. Equally repulsed by most of postmodernism, Wolfe especially disdained archibabble from the likes of Meier, Gwathmey, Eisenman and Graves. He singled out Graves’ talk of “the multiple meanings inherent in codes of abstraction” and “a level of participation that involves the reciprocal act of ourselves with the figure of the building.” In other words, he nailed the circular, incomprehensible beginnings of an academic speak (and echo chamber mentality) that still haunts the field today. Many of his contemporaries agreed. Reyner Banham, writing about Bauhaus to Our House in the London Review of Books, noted of Modernist architecture: “Not only is it a closed sub-culture, it is also by now a very well-entrenched academic establishment. “ Hence, he adds, the unwillingness to let it evolve. And James McCown, writing in Architecture Boston, noted a few years later that Wolfe’s writing “singles out architects as having more than a whiff of cultural superiority about them. If you doubt that, sit in on a critique at the Harvard Graduate School of Design or MIT’s School of Architecture+ Planning.” Agree or disagree with Wolfe’s architectural taste, it’s important to recognize how his keen cultural antenna—his amazing ear— can still contribute to the current debates about our profession. Wolfe’s cultural commentary, more than anything, was his greatest gift. Wouldn’t it be great if it could help us clean up shop in a culture that badly needs it?
Architecture critics died… nobody told you !
For refreshing …If you talk about text in Chicago style, where references and self-references are developed in a strategy of the narcissus discourse and onanism, with a pinch of left side to caress in a kind of arrogance the moralistic sensation to belong to the elite, in a predictable social class discrimination, drinking millesimal red wine with good consciousness, to engage mercy and charity on the back of the misery of the worlds!!... making kressel music with entertaining name dropping in a flattering play, to get the lift back /// but you could also refuge in a strategy to build a fortress of knowledge and expertise, as a gold bubble ghetto, for dogmatic control of what which should not be told… …Or... to hear the pseudo philosophers "dedicated" to architecture, in a vulgarization of the thought... clever monkey parrots...in a parade of brainy speeches bubbles…AT the condition to never request ion the "voice of the master"...Ryan Scavnicky Visiting teaching fellow at the School of Architecture at Taliesin, administrator of the Facebook page “Dank Lloyd Wright” and on Instagram as @sssscavvvv. “I think the strength of memes isn’t just about its experimental form. It’s the same principle I apply to architecture but applied to criticism. With architecture, I’m always skeptical about what it actually has the power to do. So with criticism, we probably shouldn’t be focused on changing individual architects (have you met these people?) or critiquing specific buildings, but changing architecture culture in general. Memes focus on changing the student’s perception, loosening the bolts a bit and moving architecture culture away from toxic bravado and into a new space while regaining our singular command over the built world with a more public audience. I do this through producing and writing films as a YouTube comic-critic team with Jeffrey Kipnis via the SCI-Arc Channel and by running a meme account on Instagram. Internet memes are the strongest emerging form of cultural criticism today, thriving in the form of quick and digestible images pregnant with assertive positions. Critics must develop fresh audiences by using strange and experimental critical forms and reflecting those findings back onto the architecture discipline.” Ellie Abrons Principal of T+E+A+M and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. “In the past, critics (and theorists, I’d add) drove architectural discourse and were vital participants in its culture. They had the ability to read work very closely and to interpret or understand it with focused attention and intellectual prowess and agility. Critics played a crucial role in contextualizing work, in situating it culturally and historically or finding affinities and overlaps with other fields. These days, there’s a dearth of criticism—you don’t see the same quantity and quality of writing that was coming out fifteen or twenty years ago. I see more and more architects writing about their own or their peers’ work in an attempt to play that role. But we’re not really cut out for it, so we end up with thought pieces or musings more than proper pieces of criticism or theory. I’m not prepared to say that it’s a bad thing – it’s just a new model. Contemporary intellectual, professional, and cultural life doesn’t allow the kind of patient and careful interpretation of work that we saw in the past. Our modes of attention have changed due to ever-expanding digital culture—images scroll by, while texts are limited to a caption or a few hundred words. Architecture in general (critics, but also architects, historians, and others) need to better understand how to participate in a world where ubiquitous digitality has altered the material, conceptual, and experiential context of our work.