There are signs that the second architectural revolution, like the first, will be launched at Harvard.
The first architectural revolution, loosely known as Modern, came to this country in 1937 when Walter Gropius was appointed head of Harvard's architecture school.
Others, of course, also helped to introduce Europe's abstract architecture -- the architecture of Russian Constructivism, the German Bauhaus, Dutch deStijl and the Swiss-born Frenchman Le Corbusier -- to America. Foremost among them were Eliel Saarinen, Richard Neutra, Mies van der Rohe and Erich Mendelsohn.
But Gropius, who had founded and headed the Bauhaus school of design in Weimar, was not so much a great architect, whose personal style influenced others, as a great teacher.
He believed in teamwork and synthesis rather than the rigid master-disciple relationship which made the students at Taliesin virtual slaves of Frank Lloyd Wright's brilliant idiosyncrasies. As a result, Wright, regrettable perhaps, had hardly any influence on American architecture. Gropius' and Harvard's influence are immeasurable.
A preponderance of now famous American architects started with Gropius at Harvard -- Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Paul Rudolph, Benjamin Thompson and many others.
The insolent architecture the Moderns wrought had its great moments -- and much devastating effect. It never won the hearts and minds of the people. The Modern revolution somehow lost its social motivation.
And it lost itself in stylistic exhibitionism. Its classic wing (led by Mies van der Rohe) and its romantic wing (led by Le Corbusier) has merged, for the most part, into confused, eclectic mishmash.
The revolution is over. We have some inspiring individual buildings. I. M. Pei's East Building of the National Gallery in Washington is one example. But we don't have a coherent architecture of our time. We don't have anything but chaos to go down in history as the late 20th Century American School of Architecture.
Harvard's Graduate School of Design may become the catalyst. It may become the leading school of an emerging architecture and environmental design. An indication of this is Harvard President Derek C. Bok's most recent appointments.
A year ago, Moshe Safdie took over the urban design program. Safdie was 27 years old when his "Habitat '67" beehive structure at the Montreal world's fair made him famous. He has designed Coldspring at Baltimore, the most innovative and appealing high-density low-rise community in America. He is now working (with some Harvard students) on important urban design projects in Jerusalem, Montreal, Boston and other places.
Safdie is too young to be encumbered by the stylistic and ideological obsessions of the first generation Moderns. He studied with loner Louis Kahn, so he learned to ask different questions, although Safdie never adopted Kahn's mystically romantic and formalistic answers. Safdie is a practical artist who believes that the purpose of architecture and urban design is to give people happy places to live and spaces to be in. That can't be done without art. But art alone, Safdie says, is not enough.
This view of environmental design as a social art is also emphatically shared by General M. McCue, who will succeed Maurice D. Kilbridge as dean of the Graduate School of Design next summer. The school has departments of architecture, landscape architecture and city and regional planning, as well as Safdie's urban design program.
Kilbridge, who came from the business school 11 years ago, forged a restless and confused commune into a structured institution of learning. Its new building, George Gund Hall, designed by the Canadian John Andrews, reflects, I am afraid, much of the mindless macho of 1960s Modernism (Gund was opened in the fall of 1972). He straightened out the finances and boosted enrollment from 293 to 622 students. With John Kain (planning), Peter Walker (landscape architecture), Moshe Safdie (urban design) and McCue at the helm, Harvard is thus all set again to become a force in the American environment.
McCue, who is not yet 50 years old, gained some prominence as a young turk in California. He taught architecture in Berkeley before he took over Harvard's architecture department in 1976.
Like Safdie, he stresses that architects must learn to listen to people, who are their clients, and recognize their genuine needs and aspirations.
"Sure, the orthodox Modern movement rejected history as irrelevant," McCue told me recently. "But we cannot make up for that, as the so-called post-modernists are trying to do, by adapting historic trappings and ornaments without understanding the meaning of the architecture of the past."
Asked about his priorites for the School of Design, McCue said, "First of all, we must teach our students to build well. We must have quality in our environment."
Behind McCue, Safdie, the rest of the School of Design faculty and the Harvard come-back, if that's what it will prove to be, stands dean emeritus Josep Lluis Sert, who headed the school for 16 years after Gropius retired. He is very much a part of Harvard's contribution to the history of modern architecture. The Spanish-born Sert is an essential part because he softened and humanized Gropius' teutonic and rigidly ideological methodology. An associate of Le Corbusier's in 1929-1930, Sert introduced sculptural romanticism to the geometric Bauhaus classicism and married them at Harvard.
As one of the signers of the Athens Charter of 1933, the basic manifesto of the orthodox Modern movement, Sert is the doyen of the Moderns. As one of the signers (with Moshe Safdie and several others) of "The Habitat Bill of Rights," introduced at the United Nations Human Settlements conference in 1977, Sert proved himself still in the lead.
The thrust of the emerging Harvard philosophy, if I understand it correctly, is twofold:
One: Despite its many mistakes, the basic premise of the Modern movement was correct: A new mass society demands a new architecture and comprehensive environmental design.
The mistake was to attempt to reflect and represent the anonymous mass society with faceless megastructures. The challenge is to make life in the mass society more human, to evolve a designed environment which gives people opportunities to assert their individuality and personal dignity.
Second: "You cannot not know history," as Philip Johnson put it. Any architecture and design that wishes to reconnect with people and their affections must reconnect with history. After decades of militant anti-historicism, there is a deep nostalgia in the land.
But here is where the emerging Harvard school differs sharply with New York's "post-modernism," a fad not likely to prove more enduring, let alone socially significant, than fins on automobiles or "the peasant look" on rich women.
"Post-modernism" affects precious and precocious collages of historic motifs, such as Corinthian columns, or Romanesque arches -- kitsch decor, applied to the exterior of mostly insipid buildings.
That is the Bauhaus all over again. The Bauhaus said, "history is bunk." The post-Bauhaus artists say, in effect, "history yields pretty decorations, like Christmas tinsels."
"I don't object to having fun," said Josep Lluis Sert. "But who wants to live in a fun house?
"Architecture must be taken seriously. It must be taught not as a matter of personal self-expression but as an art and a science of social concern.