In years to come, the art of our time is likely to be more kindly remembered for its sunny side -- for Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Calder, Leger and Lkee -- than for its cold, cerebral abstractions.
And in public esteem, the sunny architecture of Josep Lluis Sert is sure to eclipse the glassy rigidity of orthodox modern.
Sert, who received the 1981 gold mdeal of the American Institute of Architects last week, is the heir of Le Corbusier, the century's most radical architectural revolutionary.
Le Corbusier set out to transform buildings into sculpture and cities into forests and towers. Sert makes sense of these ambitions. He uses Le Corbusier's "vocabulary," as architects call the elements that make up an architectural style, for his own clear and coherent language.
Sert is also one of those very few architects since the Renaissance, including Le Corbusier, who manages to integrate art and architecture for the greater glory of both.He is a close friend of Miro and most other great sculptors and painters of the Mediterranean persuasion.
One of his first jobs was the design of the pavilion of the Republic of
One of his first jobs was the design of the pavilion of the Republic of Sprin for the 1937 World's Fair for which Picasso painted his famous "Guernica." The pavilion also included a fountain by Calder and a large painting by Miro.
Sert was born in Barcelona 78 years ago and has his office (Sert, Jackson and Associates) in Cambridge, Mass. He has taught at Yale and Harvard, succeeding Walter Gropius as the dean (from 1953 to 1969) of the Graduate School of Design. Some of his best-known buildings are along the Charles River.
Sert's influence, however, is worldwide. He is one of the dozen or so architects who shaped the face of the 20th century, and with Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer, one of the three still alive. But Sert probably built more practical social concern into his form-giving and urban design than the others. It is hard to imagine a public housing project by Mies van der Rohe or Philip Johnson. Sert designed several apartment buildings for low-income families.
Sert stepped directly from Barcelona's architecture school into Le Corbusier's office in the Rue de Sevre in Paris. At the time, Le Corbusier was busy organizing an international organization of modern architects, known as CIAM by its French initials.Before long, it was joined by every modern architect worth his T-square. Sert became deeply involved in CIAM's cause and became one of its leaders.
The cause was not only the propagation of the modern, so-called international, style of buildings with flat roofs, glass walls and the absence of ornament. It also became the survival of the city in the flood tide of automobiles.
Automoviles spread the city all over the landscape and led to the decay of the traffic-jammed center city. Corbu's and CIAM's simplistic solution was to abolish the fabric of narrow streets and house people in high-rise slabs neatly arranged in a park.
Sert still believes, as he put it last week in his gold medal acceptance speech at the AIA convention in Minneapolis, that "the skyscraper will one day find its true setting when properly related to expressway networks and parking facilities."
But he was among the first CIAM leaders to acknowledge that the super-human dimensions of skyscraper parks and freeways cannot be imposed on the old, intricate fabric of the city without destroying it.
He also acknowledges that it is a bad idea to stack families with children in high-rise projects. In his Roosevelt Island residential community in New York City, he has shown, however, that the fault may not be with high-density, high-rise buildings, but with the absence of community services. There is no isolation and alienation on Roosevelt Island because it was designed as a community -- mere "housing" is balanced with the other essentials of living, such as day-care centers, schools, shops, recreation and greenery.
Sert moved to the United States in 1939 and at first devoted himself primarily to city planning and urban design, particularly in South America. All told, he and his partners designed master plans for 12 large cities as well as numerous college campuses and neighborhoods.
Sert sees no conflict between the art of architecture and its social purposes. His Roosevelt Island apartments, which house families of all income groups, are no less artistic than his jubilant little museum in St. Paul-de-Vence, France, which houses the Miros, Giascomettis, Chagals and Braques of the Fondation Maeght. Nor is the museum less "functional" than the apartments.
Unity of form and function in Sert's work comes as naturally as in a flower, a bird's next or -- a Mediterranean hilltown. You can hardly tell a Sert house on Ibiza from a native-grown peasant house on that smallest and loveliest of the Balearic Islands.
Sert's Ibiza houses are built with the same indigenous instinct for god shelter, economy and respect for the land. Sert accommodates modern demands --for picture windows, plumbing, gadgets and spacious living -- gently, unobtrusively. He went to great pains to continue Ibiza's thousand-year-old architectural harmony.
Mediterranean flair --"the correct play of light and shadow under the sun," as Le Corbusier defined architecture -- is the essence of Sert's style. Critics have said that our gray skies makes this style inappropriate here. Are glass boxes more indigenous to America's climate or culture?
Sert's architecture, at any event, seems more earthly and closer to nature and human nature than conventionally abstract architecture. That also makes it more appealing to most people.
"There is a negative attitude among the general public toward modern architecture that is both human and understandable," said Sert in Minneapolis. "The majority of 'modern stuff' is vulgar and cheap looking, monotonous, identified with 'boxlike,' flat facades and roofs, curtain walls, etc., which are repeated for miles, the same in every city. . . .
"For too many years architects have . . . usually ignored the human values of livability which should have been given priority . . . .
"[But] the modern city has not been built . . . The great historical event that the appearance of modern architecture represents, its wide acceptance and worldwide influence, is too recent to be judged.
There is no doubt that new directions are emerging . . . . Modern architecture is not dead. It has not yet followed its full course. If you have a sense of history and compare it with other great changes in different periods, you will find it is still young and very much alive . . . ."
The task of modern architecture, said Sert, is to integrate the old and the new and to re-establish "a lost sense of human measure and balance."