20TH Century Folks Who Said...?

Amidst of all the excited anticipation of the new millennium and the anti-climactic non-appearance of the Y2K bug, we almost n

Amidst of all the excited anticipation of the new millennium and the anti-climactic non-appearance of the Y2K bug, we almost neglected to take a look at architecture. One thousand years of change, in which architecture starred as an influential first fiddle. One thousand years throughout which any possible architectural vision was realized.

Whether an object of criticism or admiration, architecture is the instrument by which societies are created and which forms their content. Architecture is what differentiates one society from another. It is a means of conveying social messages. At its center stands the creating architect, whose work has become something that needs to be interpreted with words. Thus, in the last hundred years, the greatest architects have also been the greatest speakers. Consequently, the distance between a statement and a cliche is short, and the difference between a great architect and a greater one is sometimes found only in the volume of verbosity released into the atmosphere.

The controversy, among those who deal in this field, contributes to the richness of architectural expression. The British historian Kenneth McKenzie Clark said: 'Chapters of history exist in our minds almost entirely only through architecture.' In contrast, Philip Johnson said: 'Architecture is the art of wasting space...a lawyer without knowledge of history or literature is a mechanic; a builder, on the other hand, if he has knowledge of the history of architecture, he can take the risk of naming himself an architect.'

On any scale, the most influential architect of the century is Frank Lloyd Wright. Following him, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Aldo Rossi, Michael Graves, Frank Gehry, and many others no less worthy. Each has created master pieces which led to the forming of world orders that shaped the face of twentieth century architecture.

1979 Pritzker prize winning architect Philip Johnson said: 'There are no visionary utopias in the minds of philosophers that do not enter the realm of architecture. No wonder that whole civilizations are remembered by their buildings; indeed some only by their buildings. Therefore, architecture, as in all the worldÕs history, could be the art that saves.'

Frank Lloyd Wright will surely be remembered for his Falling Water from 1936, as well as for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, from 1959. He built almost every possible model of architecture, variations of which can be found all over the world. Wright is the father of organic architecture in the twentieth century. Yet his organicist philosophy is mainly expressed by his words: 'Architecture is that great living creative spirit which from generation to generation proceeds, persists, creates, according to the nature of man, and his circumstances as they change... organic architecture seeks a superior sense of use and a finer sense of comfort, expressed in organic simplicity.' On this basis, he commented quite cynically on Urbanism, '...by this immense step in evolution, so brutal and so overwhelming, we burn our bridges and break with the past.'

Wright is also well known for his cynical references to his colleagues. Of Mies van der Rohe, who once said: 'Less is more – more or less,' Wright commented, 'Less is only more where more is no good.' Particularly interesting (and rather amusing) was his reference to Le Corbusier: 'Well, now that hes finished one building, hell go write four books about it.' To his predecessor and teacher Louis SullivanÕs statement that, 'form follows function', Wright commented: 'Form and function are one.'

Le Corbusier is best known for his definition of the house as a 'machine for living.' But as an artist (according to Wright, not a very successful one), he saw architecture as: 'The masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light.' Le Corbusier is also known for his famous contribution to the Five Points of Modern Architecture: the use of pillars on the ground floor in place of massive walls; the use of roof gardens; the point loading of floor supports to free internal planning; the change from windows to strips of glass running from wall to wall; and the creation of curtain-wall facades.

Adolf Loos, who acted as a model and a seer for architects of the 1920s, believed that, '...everything that could not be justified on rational grounds was superfluous and should be eliminated.' His fight for freedom from the decorative styles of the nineteenth century led the way for most of the modernist architects. His article 'Ornament and Crime' (1908) - polemical in tone and replete with anthropological arguments - became his most famous and influential essay. Essentially, Loos held that the architecture of any era must be appropriate to that era. To build without decoration was to build appropriately in a technological society. Loos recommended pure forms for economy and effectiveness, but never explained how this 'effectiveness' could correspond to traditional human needs. He looked on contemporary decoration as mass-produced, mass-consumed trash.

Among those most influenced by Loos was German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the principal founders of Modern Architecture. His maxim: 'Less is more – more or less', was never more beautifully realized than in the New National Gallery in Berlin (1968). It is a monument of steel, glass, and marble enclosing a clear space filled only with light and art. Another well-known quote is: 'Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space. Until this simple truth is clearly recognized, the new architecture will be uncertain and tentative. Until then it must remain a chaos of undirected forces.'

Louis Isadore Kahn was born exactly at the turn of the century, in 1901. From 1957 until his death, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where he designed the Richards Medical Research Building, soon recognized as a challenge to the International Style of modern architecture. Among his most important buildings are the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California (1959-65); the library at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, N.H. (1967-72); and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (1969-74). Kahns most commonly quoted phrase is: 'What does the brick want to be?... It wants to be something greater than it is.'

One of the most influential Post Modernist architects is Scottish architect James Frazer Stirling. He is well known for the New State Gallery (1984) in Stuttgart and the Sackler Museum (1985) at Harvard. Referring to the fact that the House of Art outdoes its content, he said: 'For me, the art of architecture has always been the priority. The quality of the art in architecture, both at time of building and in retrospect, is remembered as the significant element.' And in reference to the role of the architect in society: 'I work very intuitively, Im not even sure whether Im an English architect, a European or an International architect.'

The Austrian architect Hans Hollein, who concentrated mainly on the production of exquisite drawings of conceptual projects and models or objects, comments on the same matter: 'To me architecture is not primarily the solution of a problem, but the making of a statement. As an artist, I am only responsible for myself and can make highly individualistic manifestations. As an architect, I am responsible for the needs of man and society, that is, the immediate need for survival and for survival after death.'

Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei (I. M. Pei) will be remembered for, among other works, the glass and steel structured Pyramid at the Louvre. In his Pritzker prize acceptance speech, he said: 'It is easy to say that the art of architecture is everything, but how difficult it is to introduce the conscious intervention of an artistic imagination without straying from the context of life. I belong to that generation of American architects who built upon the pioneering perceptions of the modern movement, with an unwavering conviction in its significant achievements in the fields of art, technology and design. To become art, it must be built on a foundation of necessity. Freedom of expression, for me, consists in moving within a measured range that I assign to each of my undertakings. How instructive it is to remember Leonardo da VinciÕs counsel that strength is born of constraint and dies in freedom.'

Richard Meier, who never abandoned modernism, will likely be remembered for the highest commission ever payed to an architect (the Getty Center, 1997). For him, 'Architecture is vital and enduring because it contains us; it describes space, space we move through, exit in and use. My goal is presence, not illusion.'

Oscar Niemeyer, is one of the founders of modern architecture in Brazil, was a member of the international team that designed the United Nations headquarters in New York. However, the crowning point of his career was the commission to design all the monumental buildings of Brasilia, including the Presidents Palace, the Congress Building, and the Cathedral, from 1956 on. Referring to the Brutalist style he said: 'A concern for beauty, a zest for fantasy, and an ever-present element of surprise bear witness that todayÕs architecture is not a minor craft bound to straight-edge rules, but an architecture imbued with technology; light, creative and unfettered, seeking out its architectural scene.'

Hans Scharoun was part of the visionary circle of Bruno Taut, designing projects that paralleled the more practical expressionism of Erich Mendelsohn and Hans Poelzig. In 1956 he began work on the revolutionary new Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall (opened in 1963), in which the orchestra is located in the center of the room. In 1964 he won the competition for the State Library in Berlin which best expresses his rationalist philosophy: 'Architects should not be guided by sensations but by contemplation. Building is giving meaning to life. Each of its parts has to be like individuals in democracy who contribute to the whole while retaining their own identities. Let us not talk of pathways, but let colorful imagination - ruled by aestheticism - radiate.'

American Architect Cesar Pelli, designer of the World Trade Center in New York, was greatly influenced by Eero Saarinen, with whom he worked from 1954-64. He approaches architecture as '...the art of individual building, design and civic expression. Architecture starts with the perception of the potentials of the problem and proceeds by selecting a path through the many possible options. The architect finds or creates that path guided by inner convictions, by aesthetic preferences and by the ideological framework of his or her cultural environment.'

1982 Pritzker prize winner Kevin Roche said: 'It is so easy to forget that we build buildings for people - people who must see them and people who must use them. It is presumptuous of us to will architecture into being an art without fully understanding its nature, and dangerous to speak so much about art lest we confuse it with fashion. That architecture is an art we have the evidence of history; that it is an art in our time we cannot yet judge. We can only desire to do so.'

Christian de Portzamparc, winner of the 1994 Pritzker prize said, 'Architecture is a public art. More often than not, the public does not choose architecture as it would a museum to visit. Instead, architecture is imposed on us, in our daily life, our homes and our places of work. Therefore, architects, unlike other artists, do not enjoy complete personal creative freedom.' And on the Modern Movement: 'A great architectural vision in a way, which supported a poor urban vision in another way.'

The 1978 Pritzker Prize winner, Italian romantic architect Aldo Rossi, searched for the 'truth' in the structural aspects of architecture. Referring to his love for the profession he said, 'Let me call it cara architettura, or in English, dear architecture, or with your permission, darling architecture.' And in relation to urbanism: 'Every building is the same, but at the same time, it is very different. For this reason, I believe in a great civic architecture that has the capacity to recompose our cities, making our lives more free, more visible, more beautiful.'

Another romantic who influenced twentieth century architecture greatly is Mexican architect Luis Barragan, born 1902. Barragan, Legorretas spiritual father, is known for his abstract minimalist style, and his rich use of color. When awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1980 he said: 'Architects should design gardens to be used, as much as the houses they build, to develop a sense of beauty and the taste and inclination toward the fine arts and other spiritual values. Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.'

Michael Graves is no doubt among leading theorists and practitioners of postmodern architecture. His work has always stressed the historical continuity of architecture and preserves close relationships with traditional modes of design and decoration: 'While any architectural language, to be built, will always exist within the technical realm, it is important to keep the technical expression parallel to an equal and contemporary expression of ritual and symbol.'

In his acceptance of the Pritzker Prize in 1985, architect Gottfried Boehm protested the blind quotation of historical content in postmodern architecture. 'History has a natural continuity which must be respected. A building is a human beings space and the background for his dignity. New buildings should fit naturally into their surroundings, both architecturally and historically, without denying or prettifying the concerns of our time. You cannot just quote from history and above all you cannot take it out of context, in however humorous a fashion.'

A great part of 20th century architectural achievement is preserved for the Japanese. The founding father, Kenzo Tange, believed that, 'The development of a new architectural style will result from further study and work on three elements: human, technological and social communicational structure of space.'

His much influenced follower, Tadao Ando said: 'My concern is not geometric forms in themselves but the spaces to which they give birth. Patterns of shadow are thrown against the evenly finished concrete surface. I firmly believe that the individuality of an architectural design will come to be judged by how well the structure harmonizes with a particular locationÕs history, culture, and other distinctive features.'

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, whose great contribution to 20th century architecture was the integration of locality in the international style, claimed: 'The very essence of architecture consists of a variety and development reminiscent of natural organic life. This is the only true style in architecture. There are only two things in art - humanity or its lack. The mere form does not create humanity.'

Juha Leiviska, matured in the Finnish tradition in harmony with Alvar Aalto, said in his Carlsberg award acceptance speech in 1995: 'Buildings must be an organic part of their surroundings. I am not so impressed by an individual piece of architecture, for it is nothing in itself and only achieves significance as a counterpoint to its surroundings, to life and to light.'

The subject of conservation is of the most prominent architectural stream as a result of the awakening following the damage caused by brutalist architecture to cities worldwide. Alvaro Siza said: 'I dream of the moment in which such an intimate and collective need will not be dependent on a degree in architecture.'

Zaha Hadid - the most influential woman architect of this century - sees her urban projects as, '...rising from an urban carpet... I believe that architects, like artists, have the possibility of making culture. Like artists, architects should strive to be slightly ahead, so they can focus attention on whats happening.

I dont mean we can impose an idea on people. But if the building can remain fresh, unpredictable, forward looking contemporary, then we will have succeeded.'

The peak of 20th century architecture can be seen in the architectÕs ability to express the intellectual aspects of technology. This idea has already been demonstrated by the 17th century British architect Christopher Wren. His greatest opportunity rose with the rebuilding that followed the London fires of 1666. Yet, citizens of Windsor can still witness his 300 year old balcony, with the deliberate space between the 'supportive' columns that Wren was forced to build by the town engineer in order to protect passing pedestrians, and which he, apparently, felt was unnecessary.

One of the most illustrious architects of the Italian High Renaissance, Andrea Palladio, was active in Venice, in Vicenza, and throughout the Veneto. He fashioned a vocabulary of architectural proportions and motifs that he first discovered in ancient Roman ruins and then rationalized in his own distinctive way. So far-reaching and influential were his ideas, which he articulated not only in buildings but in writings, that he is the only architect to have given his name to an architectural style whose hallmarks include: geometric and harmonic proportions generated from the number three, both in the facade and in overall plan, whether axial or radial; horizontal lines accentuated emphatically in the facade; giant columns articulated on a grand scale beneath a pediment with another, smaller pediment split and placed in support on either side over smaller columns.

The somewhat controversial architect Peter David Eisenman presents a modern interpretation of Palladios ideas. As a founder of the textual architecture in the 20th century he says: 'A text which does not lead to a truth or evaluating conclusion, but, on the contrary, to an erroneous interpretation. An endless process.' And: 'Whenever I draw a circle, I immediately want to step out of it.' Eisenman, along with Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier, was one of the architects known as the New York Five. His first major institutional building (1989; with Richard Trott), the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts at Ohio State University, attracted wide attention with its white grid framework.

16th Century Francesco Borromini, was the first Roman high-baroque architect to break with the classical concept of architecture as formulated in the era of Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1466). In place of this principle of planning, which involved the multiplication of arithmetic units called modules, Borromini adopted geometric units.

In this respect, Frank Gehry can be considered a continuation of this concept. As one of the founders of De-constructive Architecture he is no doubt one of the symbols of the end of the 20th century. Through him it is possible to reflect upon the many wonders that stand before architecture today. 'I am obsessed with architecture. It is true, I am restless, trying to find myself as an architect, and how best to contribute in this world filled with contradiction, disparity, and inequality, even passion and opportunity. Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and to enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for lifeÕs drama. In trying to find the essence of my own expression, I fantasized the artist standing before the white canvas deciding what was the first move. I called it the moment of truth.'

But not everyone thinks so. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who gained his name mainly after he published his book, 'Small, Large Medium', commented on Frank Gehry, 'I see Gehry as an example of an architect whose transition to bigger and more major briefs has turned him from a maximum authentic into, lets say, a maximum fake'.

 





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