America is rich, America is right. Architects have always worked for the rich. We are now also working for the right. And that hasn’t always been the case during the last hundred years. We had better find out, who we are working for and what we are trying to say.
The traditions and history of architecture have been bound together with the ruling societies of their time. Whether the Mayans or the Shakers, the architects designed the buildings that spoke for the decision makers. From one period to another, the architect looked not to his colleagues for his kudos, but rather to his clients. For a new plan, a new technology, for a different and sometimes new society the architect wanted approval from the priest, the banker, or the corporation.
Approval is easier to come by from a society that has a clear statement to make with ledgers who make those statements. When a society is as confused as today, a society so deep in the change of its value systems, moral, economic, governmental, international, scientific–name it and find confusion–then that society and its rulers and its critics are difficult clients for the architect.
The burden of relating the art of architecture to our clients, in the hope they know what they are talking about, is enormous. That our architecture must work for our society is obvious. Even in the most usual buildings, architecture is the public art that shows people what they’ve been thinking. And when architecture creates an unusual building with a new technology, it even can nudge social change forward another few inches.
Today we find our post-modern buildings are silly and confused. More than a symptom, they are an infection of our times, our people, our economy-an infection of dehumanization.
There is no question that the trendy post-modern buildings and their garbage are a silliness related to the strange and disastrous goings on in our daily life. Post-modern buildings for the rich who can afford them have the same nonsense quality, the same immaturity that we presently find in our governments, our economy and our behavior. In strange ways buildings even give reinforcement to moral majorities and goofy governments.
If architecture has lost its judgment, it also has had a lapse of memory — a remembrance that this art was part of a revolution that founded America, changed Europe and continues today to create a third and a fourth world of nations. The architects have this unfinished statement to continue, a statement we started more than a hundred and fifty years ago. I want to find that statement again. I want to show that while we have changed our form we cannot change our content.
Our architecture has not been so well studied as our stars. We can tell with more certainty how the universe began two billion years ago that we can explain what preceded Mies prior to 1919. That he was only a recent star in an architectural universe that surely began in the 18th century is without question. That there were as many galaxies in our architectural firmament as there were nations and revolutions and philosopher leaders is also without question. But we have lost our curiosity about the history of these architects and their ideas.
Contemporary architects have some of the same problems as contemporary children: they never can imagine their fathers and grandfathers knew about love. They find it hard to believe the architects and their clients were actively creating a modern architecture two centuries ago. Europe and England of the late 18th century were rich and vibrating not only with new technology but with the American Revolution. America showed to Europe a constitution that promised equality of ideas and the freedom to exploit them. France quickly provided the matching political revolution and their technicians provided their revolution of industry. The rich architectural clientele which was an important by-produce of French industry also emerged in Germany and England. Philosophers talking to an upper middle class conceived the Common Man, and the artists and architects began to work for him.
The Common Man was an idea of the bourgeois intellectuals brought to a powerful reality and a prominence by the industrial revolution. We know about the new wealth that belonged to the new industrialists. What is difficult for us to realize is that the new revolutionary ideas and philosophies also belonged to that new class-that new industrialized bourgeoisie. The household names of revolutionary thinkers and writers Kant, Goethe, Schiller, Voltaire, Rousseau were launched and maintained by the wealth of the bourgeoisie.
The thinking of American and the European bourgeois philosophers (who were also the writers) at the beginning of the 19th century reached across those national boundaries toward a unified internationalism which later led to a concept of international architectural style. The intellectual revolution of the bourgeoisie was uniting their class in the nations of Europe which the elite wars and politics of those countries were keeping apart. The architects working for that united class-for their world of the Common Man&mdash ; began modern architecture.
The architectural revolution already had come some distance when Viollet-le-Duc in France about 1873 was able to make an architectural design statement that shook the Beaux Arts. He said out loud:
We have a sentimental architecture as we have a sentimental public policy and a sentimental war… it is time we gave thought to the application of sober reason, of practical common sense, to consideration of the requirements of the times, of the improvements offered by manufacturing skills, of the use of the economy, of questions of health and hygiene.
“Economy, manufacturing, health and hygiene”… are these words spoken in the French Ecole des Beaux Arts? Tom Wolfe believes only Germans spoke this way. Who were these fancy architects designing for? Workmen? Could it be that there was a new kind of client who thought there was something more important than Napoleon’s Rome to rebuild in Paris? Could it be that the French were concerned with people? Could it be that architects still working for the right and for the rich found their clients in the new money created by the industrial revolution? Found their purpose to design buildings, institutions and city plans for functional performance that their new owners could recognize as belonging to their new world?
Another French architect Frantz Jourdain in 1892, five years about the Eiffel Tower, said:
Was it only Greece and Rome which could keep the flame of truth burning? To so condemn humanity forever to classicism seems both monstrous and grotesque. Does everyone use the same words, the same language? When people and things are continually changing, can we use the same architecture? The decoration and the structure of a building must be tackled together as a single concept: the one explaining the other… working and acting together… to idealize the harshness of reality. To remain logical to itself, the modern style must be constantly modified and must not give its allegiance to any distinctive principles: The style would be seen as rigid as classicism if it stuck rigidly to its first experiments…
Out of this single concept of decoration and structure, the French architects who pushed the industrial revolution along, Guimard, Perret, Maillart, developed reinforced concrete, steel framing, and a new design vocabulary to tell the Third Republic what the new French middle class was thinking.
The Germans, the British, and the Austrians had their counterparts. In general the invention, the social changes and new definitions continued for the new rich up to World War I.
At the turn of the 18th century, the social changes were big statements such as “all men are created equal.” During the 19th century both Europe and America began to change the definition of “equal.” Biologists asked if all people were equal because all parts of all bodies were made from the same universal cell. Physicists asked if there was an equality in the physical world because gravity, electricity and light came from a universal force. Freud explained away the difference between individual psyches with a science of thinking and emotions which unified and standardized human behavior. In the 20th century after we decided that “equal” meant “the same,” the individual disappeared – he became part of masses measured and counted. Governments and corporations lost their individuality as they were taken over by managers who replaced an elite group of aristocrats; these new forms of business and nations depended upon mass electorates, mass markets, and mass labor forces.
The 20th century artists – the architect – designed for the newly developed rich and shared their values. The abstraction of management systems in governments and business was matched by the “abstraction systems’ in the arts and architecture. The building artisan was replaced by the factory. The artistic pictorial was replaced by the pattern. Light and shade were replaced by the plane and the line. At the beginning of the 20th century Taut, Loos, Oud, Gropius shared in the belief of Corbusier that “the right angle is the most perfect of all forms because with it we can measure all things.” By the end of World War I the box was recognized as the perfect shape to package a right-angled society. The design of the perfect box kept pace with mechanization of all types of production with factory-made clothes, with steel rolling mills, with automobiles, radios and packaged food.
Were the 20th century architects making right angle designs? Were they suddenly thumbing noses at all the memories of building glory of past architectural history? Or were they part of the prior 100 year development in the revolution of democracy: the revolution which first made men equal and separate and then made them equal and identical. What started in the early 19th century as three startling promises for freedom of the individual: democracy in government, industrialization in our economy, structuralization of our aesthetics – by the first half of the 20th century had become a controlled managed, measured, and confused mass society packed in boxes.
The faceless architecture that sheltered this mass society was to be described and advertised to the world by two New York art critics: Hitchcock and Johnson with the backing of a then small museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, published in 1932 The International Style. Johnson was not yet an architect.
In 1932 Hitchcock and Johnson owed up as the new architectural tastemakers. They had found the architectural invention and ferment of the previous 100 years too much to handle. By counting backwards on their fingers they picked the date of 1922 and said a new architecture began in that year. They called it the “International Style.” They said if cubism was good for painters it was good for architecture and from it they produced an honest-to-God formula for building design: volume, regularity and structural articulation.
Hitchcock and Johnson, backed by the power and approval of the New York Museum of Modern Art, glorified and promoted an abstracted dehumanized architecture, and provided a formula which permitted anyone with a pair of scissors to produce a building design. That buildings produced by these formulas would all resemble each other in plan, structure, and vocabulary whether housing, hospital, school or corporate headquarters, gave their theory its acceptability. The theory of the “International Style,” very much in the style of its time, sought and promoted uniformity. It also buried the invention and social promise of the modern architects from the preceding century.
In 1784 Ledoux proposed a functional water inspector’s house at the source of the River Loire. As can be seen, the river was allowed to run through the house which was vaulted across the flow of the water. This is not a design from the classical orders.
With the same spirit of invention and interest in a new biology Ledoux in 1800 showed his design for the theater at Besancon literally as reflected in the eye of the beholder.
In 1825 Jeremy Bentham designed a Panopticon Building. This structure with its eight pie-shape rooms built around a central control core was described as ideal for prisons, mental hospitals and poor houses where a centralized control was essential. Early Goldberg.
A further development of this form became the Copenhagen prison in 1850. The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton while best known for its use of steel and glass in 185 was actually selected for the London exhibition because of its promised speed of construction through the use of prefabricated connections of the steel structure. Early Wachsman.
St. Pancras Station in London, 1863, more than one hundred years ago has no date for us. It might well be built today.
In October 1888 in Paris the Eiffel Tower base had been completed and the tower structure began. Its completion was six months later. This obviously marked not only an achievement in structural engineering and the use of steel but of construction engineering as well. And in 1893, the Ferris wheel.
Hitchcock and Johnson were not alone in trying to stifle creative and technological architecture with a formula of style. Hitler was opposed to the revolutionary threat of a new society symbolized by an inventive architecture and Speer proposed a political architecture that we could recognize today as post modern.
Albert Speer- Hitler’s state architect said: “We must learn to master technology and its potential by political means.” In contrast, modern architects of the 19th century all saw architecture as a reform mechanism for politics: that is, for helping solve social problems rooted in urban life and community needs, and for devising improved ways for people to work and learn and grow together.
All of these open social issues, these unfulfilled promises, remain from the original battle of modern architecture in the 19th century.
Speer, Porsche and Hitler thought they were solving some of these problems by controlling technology with politics.
Charlie Chaplin thought we weren’t. (Movie: Modern Times)
This is what God could do if he only had money.
For serious modern architects in search of a corporate “International Style,” Mark II, there is always something to look back to.
This is designed by the co-author of the “International Style.”
This is our Marina City project which broke ground for a new city within the city of Chicago in 1960- 25 years ago. It is contrasted with the form of the IBM box designed by Mies about 15 years later in 1975.
Marina City was not a deliberate protest against the Bauhaus Box. It was designed rather as a further industrialization of architecture. I found in Detroit rather than in the Bauhaus that our technology for the first time in history permits us to build whatever we think. The Marina City forms were more efficient than the box- spatially, functionally and economically. On 1960, Marina City cost $10/square foot to build.
More importantly, in the Marina City forms. I made it possible for people to participate in community formation. Both in the use of space and in the form of space I discovered that behavior can be influenced by the shape of space. The faceless anonymity of the corporate box which we had used for the buildings for our government, our health, our education, our business and our living, I discovered could be replaced more effectively by a new development of architectural structure and forms that supported its use by people. We could have both architecture and humanism just as we had begun to do 200 years before in the social revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The mixed use of Marina City combined working, recreation, shopping and living in the center of the city in a single complex of buildings for the first time in America. The nearest comparable development had been Rockefeller Center in New York wherein the Rockefeller group told me of their regrettable failure to include housing in their enormous mixed use complex. When we built Marina City we were compelled to fight and we fought successfully to revise the zoning code and the FHA regulations to permit the planing and financing of a mixed use project with housing. Today if we fail to build mixed use projects- if we fail to create neighborhoods in our city centers we recognize we are endangering the future life of our center cities.
Marina City was the project of the janitor’s union. It was meant to bring exurbanites back into the city. It was meant to add new jobs, new life, even for the janitor’s union. And it was mandatory for us to try for design development leading to a new humanism in city living.
Twenty five years later after further development of architectural forms in many varied activities – but all of them concerned with communities of people – we are again creating yet another model for urban living and working at River City.
This is not to say that we understand how to rejuvenate living in the city center. In the past 25 years we have confirmed that the shape of architecture can affect behavior and we have made many new designs which favorably support many important human activities in education and health care as well as in living.
We have learned how to combine many things that people need for the good life: In addition to security, there is a profound need for communication- not just communication by telephone or the written word, but by body language, by activity, by recognition, by joint effort and activity. We have recognized the constant need for support of health, of education, of new enterprise. River City will contain many of those options in living. Its 22 different apartment types will provide computerized education systems for children and adults; a health diagnostic center by Presbyterian-St. Luke Hospital, a 2-way television that not only connects with a variety of external programs but permits tenants to create and communicate their own programs. A Business and Technology Center will be an incubator for new businesses and new jobs.
Few of our modern buildings have followed the mainstream of the modern revolution in architecture begun two hundred years ago. If at all, then only to the extent they utilized industry and industrial production. They left out the humanism of the earlier architects of the 19th century. They left out health and hygiene and human differences. They left out the “idealization of the harshness of reality.” The international stylists did not suspect they would be seen as rigid as classicists if they stuck rigidly to their experiments, or to any deterministic principle. They forgot that all men are created equal and different.
Our new interest in the individual rather than on the abstract society is part of the new architectural criticism. The architectural critic raising hell about the box and modern architecture is talking about the same thing as Jerry Falwell and his concept of salvation by the individual. Tom Wolfe is not talking about the architects but rather the society of their clients. He screams damnation about an architecture that designs for mere masses of “workmen.” He means that architecture should celebrate the rich and successful individual. He rejects the materials of abstract industrialization and wants a return to a hedonism that today costs money and means the elite of individual success. From Bauhaus to Our House is the moral majority of architecture. Tom Wolfe is its Jerry Falwell.
Our perspective of 1985 permits a critical view of the Bauhaus teachings. We now can see what the 19th century revolutionary and idealistic governments lost in the early 20th century in their search for uniformity is similar to what the Bauhaus lost in its architecture. Abstract, mechanized, industrialized, without concern for humanism, both governments and the Bauhaus lost concern for society. Both have failed to shape a change in our human values. The serious consequences of that failure in our revolution we haven’t yet recognized: the original humanistic targets, the original idealistic goals, the original concerns of the early 19th century, remain an incomplete process and an urgent need has emerged for continued development of the revolution. We have not fulfilled our promise to ourselves for democracy, for humanism, for using mechanization to give us a better life. These main targets for change in the human condition are still to be achieved. I doubt if they will be achieved by the sleazy glitz of post-modernism.
The art of architecture is in change. Architecture needs a face that can be recognized as commited to that change; a face to show that architecture is a social art in an industrial age, above all concerned with the individual. Architecture is not frozen music, as Goethe suggested, it is the body of humanism. Let us protect it.