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Modern Architecture

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Siegfried Kracauer and Modern Urban Culture

For Siegfried Kracauer, the urban ornament was not just an aspect of design; it was the medium through which city dwellers interpreted the metropolis itself. In Ornaments of the Metropolis, Henrik Reeh traces variations on the theme of the ornament in Kracauer's writings on urbanism, from his early journalism in Germany between the wars to his "sociobiography" of Jacques Offenbach in Paris. Kracauer (1889-1966), often associated with the Frankfurt School and the intellectual milieu of Walter Benjamin, is best known for his writings on cinema and the philosophy of history. Reeh examines Kracauer's lesser-known early work, much of it written for the trendsetting newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung in the 1920s and early 1930s, and analyzes Kracauer's continuing reflections on modern urban life, through the pivotal idea of ornament. Kracauer deciphers the subjective experience of the city by viewing fragments of the city as dynamic ornaments; an employment exchange, a day shelter for the homeless, a movie theater, and an amusement park become urban microcosms.

Reeh focuses on three substantial works written by Kracauer before his emigration to the United States in 1940. In the early autobiographical novel Ginster, Written by Himself, a young architect finds aesthetic pleasure in the ornamental forms that are largely unused in the profession of the time. The collection Streets of Berlin and Elsewhere, with many essays from Kracauer's years in Berlin, documents the subjectiveness of urban life. Finally, Jacques Offenbach and the Paris of His Time shows how the superficial—in a sense, ornamental—milieu of the operetta evolved into a critical force during the Second Empire. Reeh argues that Kracauer's novel, essays, and historiography all suggest ways in which the subjective can reappropriate urban life. The book also includes a series of photographs by the author that reflect the ornamental experience of the metropolis in Paris, Frankfurt, and other cities.

The Pan Am Building and the reaction to it signaled the end of an era. Begun when the modernist aesthetic and the architectural star system ruled architectural theory and practice, the completed building became a symbol of modernism's fall from grace. In The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream, Meredith Clausen tells the story as both history and cautionary tale—a case study of how not to plan and execute a large-scale urban project that seems especially relevant in light of the World Trade Center and the ongoing discussions over what should be built in its place.

The Pan Am Building was despised by many as soon as the plans were announced in 1958. The star power of the celebrity architects—those deans of modernism, Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi—overrode critics' objections. When construction was completed in 1963, it became more than an architectural question; this "mute, massive, overscaled octagonal slab," as Clausen describes it, built over Grand Central Terminal, blocked the view down Park Avenue, created deep shadows where there had been sunlight, and poured 25,000 office workers on the sidewalks each morning and evening. As Clausen tells it, the story of the building—which was undistinguished architecturally but important because of its location and its moment in history—encompasses the end of modernism's social idealism, the decline of Gropius's and Belluschi's reputations, the victory of private interests over public good, the revival of architectural criticism in the press (both Ada Louise Huxtable and Jane Jacobs emerged as prominent and influential critics), the birth of the historic preservation movement, and the changing culture and politics of New York City.

The Yale Architectural Journal

Does fame empower architecture or undermine it? Does the star power or cult status of an architect enhance the art or dilute it? This issue of Perspecta—the oldest and most distinguished student-edited, university-based American architecture journal—examines the inner workings of fame as it relates to architecture though media and culture. It looks at how the commodification of architecture affects the design process—whether fame emphasizes all the wrong aspects of architecture or provides the only way an architect can produce truly ambitious projects. How does architecture generate fame? And how does fame generate architecture?

Celebrity permeates all levels of contemporary society; architecture, academia, the architectural press, and the mainstream media all play a role in promoting the mystique of the designer genius. The tradition of learning through apprenticeship and the struggle to have projects commissioned and built perpetuate the importance of the famous architect. Does this serve architecture or only the architectural star? The contributors to Perspecta examine both sides of the argument: Architecture moves forward through a process of innovation; fame provides the architect with the leverage needed to accomplish innovation. Or is it that fame, because of its relationship to the media and popular tastes, inevitably dilutes the quality of the architecture? Does "famous" architecture glorify only itself and neglect the people, the values, and the functions that it must serve?

Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space

The Organizational Complex is a historical and theoretical analysis of corporate architecture in the United States after the Second World War. Its title refers to the aesthetic and technological extension of the military-industrial complex, in which architecture, computers, and corporations formed a network of objects, images, and discourses that realigned social relations and transformed the postwar landscape.

In-depth case studies of architect Eero Saarinen's work for General Motors, IBM, and Bell Laboratories and analyses of office buildings designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill trace the emergence of a systems-based model of organization in architecture, in which the modular curtain wall acts as both an organizational device and a carrier of the corporate image. Such an image—of the corporation as a flexible, integrated system—is seen to correspond with a "humanization" of corporate life, as corporations decentralize both spatially and administratively.

Parallel analyses follow the assimilation of cybernetics into aesthetics in the writings of artist and visual theorist Gyorgy Kepes, as art merges with techno-science in the service of a dynamic new "pattern-seeing." Image and system thus converge in the organizational complex, while top-down power dissolves into networked, pattern-based control. Architecture, as one among many media technologies, supplies the patterns—images of organic integration designed to regulate new and unstable human-machine assemblages.

Symbols, Space, and the City

The meaning of a message, says William Mitchell, depends on the context of its reception. "Shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater produces a dramatically different effect from barking the same word to a squad of soldiers with guns," he observes. In Placing Words, Mitchell looks at the ways in which urban spaces and places provide settings for communication and at how they conduct complex flows of information through the twenty-first century city.

Cities participate in the production of meaning by providing places populated with objects for words to refer to. Inscriptions on these objects (labels, billboards, newspapers, graffiti) provide another layer of meaning. And today, the flow of digital information—from one device to another in the urban scene—creates a digital network that also exists in physical space. Placing Words examines this emerging system of spaces, flows, and practices in a series of short essays—snapshots of the city in the twenty-first century.

Mitchell questions the necessity of flashy downtown office towers in an age of corporate Web sites. He casts the shocked-and-awed Baghdad as a contemporary Guernica. He describes architectural makeovers throughout history, listing Le Corbusier's Fab Five Points of difference between new and old architecture, and he discusses the architecture of Manolo Blahniks. He pens an open letter to the Secretary of Defense recommending architectural features to include in torture chambers. He compares Baudelaire, the Parisian flaneur, to Spiderman, the Manhattan traceur. He describes the iPod-like galleries of the renovated MoMA and he recognizes the camera phone as the latest step in a process of image mobilization that began when artists stopped painting on walls and began making pictures on small pieces of wood, canvas, or paper. The endless flow of information, he makes clear, is not only more pervasive and efficient than ever, it is also generating new cultural complexities.

Architecture without Architecture

In the 1960s, the architects of Britain's Archigram group and Archigram magazine turned away from conventional architecture to propose cities that move and houses worn like suits of clothes. In drawings inspired by pop art and psychedelia, architecture floated away, tethered by wires, gantries, tubes, and trucks. In Archigram: Architecture without Architecture, Simon Sadler argues that Archigram's sense of fun takes its place beside the other cultural agitants of the 1960s, originating attitudes and techniques that became standard for architects rethinking social space and building technology. The Archigram style was assembled from the Apollo missions, constructivism, biology, manufacturing, electronics, and popular culture, inspiring an architectural movement -- High Tech -- and influencing the postmodern and deconstructivist trends of the late twentieth century.Although most Archigram projects were at the limits of possibility and remained unbuilt, the six architects at the center of the movement, Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron, and Michael Webb, became a focal point for the architectural avant-garde, because they redefined the purpose of architecture. Countering the habitual building practice of setting walls and spaces in place, Archigram architects wanted to provide the equipment for amplified living, and they welcomed any cultural rearrangements that would ensue. Archigram: Architecture without Architecture -- the first full-length critical and historical account of the Archigram phenomenon -- traces Archigram from its rediscovery of early modernist verve through its courting of students, to its ascent to international notoriety for advocating the "disappearance of architecture."

Concept vs. Context vs. Content

In Event-Cities 3, Bernard Tschumi explores the complex and productive triangulation of architectural concept, context, and content. There is no architecture without a concept, an overriding idea that gives coherence and identity to a building. But there is also no architecture without context—historical, geographical, cultural—or content (what happens inside). Concept, context, and content may be in unison or purposely discordant. Against the contextualist movement of the 1980s and 1990s, which called for architecture to blend in with its surroundings, Tschumi argues that buildings may or may not conform to their settings—but that the decision should always be strategic.

Through documentation of recent projects—including the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, a campus athletic center in Cincinnati, museums in Sao Paolo, New York, and Antwerp, concert halls in France, and a speculative urban project in Beijing—Tschumi examines different ways that concept, context, and content relate to each other in his work. In the new Acropolis Museum, for example, Tschumi looks at the interaction of the concept—a simple and precise museum with the clarity of ancient Greek buildings—with the context (its location at the base of the Acropolis, 800 feet from the Parthenon) and the content, which incorporates archaeological excavations on the building site into the fabric of the museum. Through provocative examples, Tschumi demonstrates that the relationship of concept, context, and content may be one of indifference, reciprocity, or conflict—all of which, he argues, are valid architectural approaches. Above all, he suggests that the activity of architecture is less about the making of forms than the investigation and materialization of concepts.

Visually, many contemporary buildings either reflect their systems of production or recollect earlier styles and motifs. This division between production and representation is in some ways an extension of that between modernity and tradition. In this book, David Leatherbarrow and Mohsen Mostafavi explore ways that design can take advantage of production methods such that architecture is neither independent of nor dominated by technology.

Leatherbarrow and Mostafavi begin with the theoretical and practical isolation of the building surface as the subject of architectural design. The autonomy of the surface, the "free facade," presumes a distinction between the structural and nonstructural elements of the building, between the frame and the cladding. Once the skin of the building became independent of its structure, it could just as well hang like a curtain, or like clothing. The focus of the relationship between structure and skin is the architectural surface. In tracing the handling of this surface, the authors examine both contemporary buildings and those of the recent past. Architects discussed include Albert Kahn, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alison and Peter Smithson, Alejandro de la Sota, Robert Venturi, Jacques Herzog, and Pierre de Meuron.

The properties of a building's surface—whether it is made of concrete, metal, glass, or other materials—are not merely superficial; they construct the spatial effects by which architecture communicates. Through its surfaces a building declares both its autonomy and its participation in its surroundings.

The Future of Affordable Housing
Edited by David J. Brown

Imagine affordable homes that are both well-designed and environmentally friendly, better for the families who live in them and for the planet. The HOME House Project brings such imagining closer to reality. This book chronicles a multi-year national design initiative aimed at addressing issues of design, affordability, and sustainability in housing. Launched by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this project challenged designers and architects to imagine a world in which sustainable and environmentally friendly materials, technologies, and techniques were considered important elements of housing for low- and moderate-income families.

A SECCA-sponsored open competition in 2003 drew 440 entries from the United States and six other countries, all using Habitat for Humanity's three- and four-bedroom house plans as a point of departure for the design of affordable and environmentally friendly housing. This book, published in conjunction with a traveling exhibition, documents the 25 prize-winning designs as well as fifty other selected submissions with 396 color illustrations. The accompanying text includes Michael Sorkin's essay connecting democratic values to quality of housing, Ben Nicholson's satiric critique of American excess, Steve Badanes's insights on the social responsibilities of architects, and HOME House Project Director David Brown's overview of the project and its continuing evolution.

The internationally acclaimed architect Rafael Moneo is known to be a courageous architect. His major works include the Houston Museum of Fine Art, Davis Art Museum at Wellesley College, the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art and Architecture, and the Potzdammer Platz Hotel in Berlin. Now Moneo will be known as a daring critic as well. In this book, he looks at eight of his contemporaries—all architects of international stature—and discusses the theoretical positions, technical innovations, and design contributions of each. Moneo's discussion of these eight architects—James Stirling, Robert Venturi, Aldo Rossi, Peter Eisenman, Alvaro Siza, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and the partnership of Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Meuron—has the colloquial, engaging tone of a series of lectures on modern architecture by a master architect; the reader hears not the dispassionate theorizing of an academic, but Moneo's own deeply held convictions as he considers the work of his contemporaries. More than 500 illustrations accompany the text.

Discussing each of the eight architects in turn, Moneo first gives an introductory profile, emphasizing intentions, theoretical concerns, and construction procedures. He then turns to the work, offering detailed critical analyses of the works he considers to be crucial for an informed understanding of this architect's work. The many images he uses to illustrate his points resemble the rapid-fire flash of slides in a lecture, but Moneo's perspective is unique among lecturers. These profiles are not what Moneo calls the "tacit treatises" that can be found on the shelves of a university library, but lively encounters of architectural equals.

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