Even a skyscraper got out of the Bauhaus box in 1978.
But the most modern of modern buildings of the year was also the year's greatest architectural hit.
Recycled and newly-designed downtown agoras made the most splashy suburban shopping centers look bumpkin, and restored to some old cities a busting charm they probably never had.
A new word -- "gentrification" -- entered the language in 1978, denoting a trend that most applaud and some fear, but that can no longer be dismissed as insignificant. And even Newark -- yes, Neward, New Jersey! -- which only a decade ago was pronounced irreddmable, showed signs of recovery.
Cleveland's default, on the other hand, makes clear that, countrary to greatly exaggerated reports, not all of the urban crisis has left town.
All this leaves me with but one reckless year's end conclusion:
As we approach the 1980s, the future, as conceived in the '50s, is at last behind us. The "Star Wars" sets are out. A new sensitivity to human values and historic continuity is in.
Even my friend and colleague Peter Blake no longer asks why we need old cities. Fast food chain restaurants are changing their decor to warm colors, imitation wood and brick -- settings conductive to eating slowly and chewing your food.
The fugitive skyscraper mentioned above is Philip Johnson's proposed AT&T headquarters on Manhattan. It starts with a granite bang -- portal colonnade, majestically articulated facade -- and ends with a super-bang -- a roof formed into a broken pediment.
Architects, whom the Bauhaus disciples have brainwashed to believe that the only way to end a building is to slice it off flat when the money runs out, are still sputtering unintelligibly about it. The best they can say is that Johnson's "Chippendale" is "a mounvment of 'post-modernism,'" That is rubbish.
"Post-modernism," as defined and practiced by its proponents (of which there are about a dozen), is not a new style of building that you can house corporation offices or anything else in.It is a form of capricious outdoor sculpture, with a lot of hollow spaces and super-sized jungle gyms.
Reminiscent of the bold architectural fantasies of the Soviet constructivists of the 1920s, "post-modernism," although much talked about, has as much historic and social significance as the "art" of stringing a 24-mile-long nylon fence across the California landscape, as Christo Javachff did two years ago.
Charles Jencks, the prophet of "post-modernism," accuses Johnson of having shrunk a glass and steel skyscraper to "a grandfather's clock imprisoned within a granite cage." But Jencks adds: "Beyond the controversy is an interesting possibility, the skyscraper might lose its bland, economic coding and return to its former position as a major fantasy form of capital (whether capitalist or secialist)" What is so bad about that?
I am sure that the unveiling of Johnson's Chippendale, which is to be completed in three years, will make 1978 a memorable year in architectural history. It reinforces the evolution of a late 20th-century style -- which is moving away from glass, steel and concrete abstactions and which grows from the roots of the past.
The critics who (rightly) giggle at the unspeakable architectural banality of K Street might also remember that the new historicism came largely from Washington. Our own Arthur Cotton Moore was the first architect east of San Francisco to pick up the Ghirardelli idea and adapt old buildings to new use, echoing old motifs in his new buildings.
Our own Hugh Jacobasen has quietly been building houses all over the country -- in Darien, Conn., Eastern Maryland, Lexington, Ky., Selins Grove, Pa., and Wayseta, Minn. -- that reinterpret Greek and Gothic Revival forms for our time with delightful results.
It was Washington's Pennsylvania Ave. nw Development Corporation which, only a few days ago, rejected a K Street design in favor of an exciting scheme by New York architects Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer to restore the old Willard Hotel in a uniquely sophisticated setting.
And it was in Washington that the year's, if not the decades, most important architectural event took place -- the opening of Ieoh Ming Pei's East Building of the Naional Gallery of Art.
We have all been saying for years now that modern, abstract architecture is a failure mainly because people do not relate and respond to it. It has remained an elitist architecture, an architecture ordinary folks may want to visit, but do not want to live in.
And yet, as one architect put it, "The major cultural statement of recent years is not only modernist, but is greeted enthusiastically by the public and almost orgiastically by the press."
The East Building has all the modernist trappings -- monster scale, large expanses of unadorned marble and a relentless geometry that relates to L'Enfant's city plan, but only in a cerebral way to traditional images. And yet it touches most people emotionally. I would guess that many visitors come to like the modern art inside because of the building rather than the other way around.
I cannot decide what causes this. The buildings exquisite craftsmanship? The mastery of Pei's design? Perhaps it is not the stule that counts but how well it is done.
But that can't be entirely true, either. The other important building by a renowed architect that opened in 1978 was the late Louis Kahn's Yale Center for British Art. It is also expensively crafted. But it leaves most people cold.
Much as the conversion of the old Ghirardelli chocolate factory into a shopping center and tourist attraction launched the notion of "adaptive reuse" of old buildings a dozen or so years ago, so did the fabulous success of Boston's recycled Faneuil Hall Marketplace launch and revive downtown markets.
Not all of them are housed in historic buildings. Philadelphia's Gallery Market East is a new, glass-enclosed, multilevel structure. So is the Rainbow Center Mall in Niagara, which is somewhat reminiscent of Joseph Paxton's famous Crystal Palace at the London world's fair of 1852.
Some of these downtown market places, with their variety of boutiques, stores, restaurants and bars, fill enclosed inner courts, such as architect John Portamn reintroduced in his hotels in Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles.
A proposed $100-million office and hotel complex in Dallas will have a skating rink in one of three such atriums.
The proliferation and success of these downtown agoras, open or enclosed, have given many old cities a vitality that seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. T. D. Allman, a contributing editor of Harpers, proclaimed flatly that the urban crisis is over and moving to the suburbs. Nor is the boom confined to downtown.
According to Allman, European, Mideast and Japanese money is pouring into American cities and 70 percent of all areas considered "deteriorating" only a year or so ago, are reviving. "From Boerum Hill in Brooklyn to Capitol Hill in Washington," Allman wrote in the December issue of Harperhs, "the fastest growing social problem was not the departure of the placement of the poor and nonwhite, as affluent, taxpaying professionals bid up the prices on brownstone houses and cooperative apartments in what once were dismissed as unsightly slums. Urban specialists now refer to this process as inner-city 'gentrification.'"
The answer is not to try to stop it, but to build low-cost housing out where the jobs are. Unless this is down systematically and with determination, the urban crisis will indeed move to the suburbs as Allman suggests.
This is not to say that all is well in the cities. Unemployment -- particularly among young blacks -- and malnutrition did not much improve in 1978. It was a year of urban despair and urban renaissance at the same time. It was not a year of realistic policies to organize the rapid changes that have almost imperceptibly taken place.
What 1978 did bring, however, is, in the words of Donald Canty, editor of the ALA Journal, "a new public sensitivity to the quality of the built environment, an increased consciousness of the impact of architecture on the faces, and the lives, of communities."