Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within thy blessed borders today?
I doubt it seriously. Every child goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine replacement-parts wholesale distribution warehouse. Not even the school commissioners, who commissioned it and approved the plans, can figure out how it happened. The main thing is to try to avoid having to explain it to the parents.
Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery. I once saw the owners of such a place driven to the edge of sensory deprivation by the whiteness & lightness & leanness & cleanness & bareness & spareness of it all. They tried to bury the obligatory white sofas under Thai-sild throw pillows of every rebellious, iridescent shade of magenta, pink and tropical green imaginable. But the architect returned, as he always does, like the conscience of a Calvinist, and he lectured them and hectored them and chucked the shimmering little sweet things out.
Every great law firm in New York moves without a sputter of protest into a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and 7-foot-10-inch concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls and pygmy corridors -- and then hires a decorator and gives him a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn these mean cubes and grids into a horizontal fantasy of a Restoration townhouse. I have seen the carpenters and cabinetmakers and search-and-acquire girls hauling in more cornices, covings, pilasters, carved moldings and recessed domes, more linenfold paneling, more (fireless) fireplaces with festoons of fruit carved in mahogany on the mantels, more chandeliers, sconces, girandoles, chestnut leather sofas and chiming clocks than Wren, Inigo Jones, the brothers Adam, Lord Burlington and the Dilettanti, working in concert, could have dreamed of.
Without a peep they move in! -- even though the glass box appalls them all.
These are not merely my impressions, I promise you. For detailed evidence one has only to go to the conferences, symposia and jury panels where the architects gather today to discuss the state of the art. They profess to be appalled themselves. Without a blush they will tell you that modern architecture is exhausted, finished. They themselves joke about the glass boxes. They use the term with a snigger. Philip Johnson, who built himself a glass-box house in Connecticut in 1949, utters the phrase with an antiquarian's amusement, the way someone else might talk about an old brass bedstead discovered in the attic.
In any event, the problem is on the way to being solved, we are assured. There are now new approaches, new movements, new isms: Post-Modernism, Late Modernism, Rationalism, participatory architecture, Neo-Corbu and the Los Angeles Silvers. Which ad up to what? To such things as building more glass boxes and covering them with mirrored plate glass so as to reflect the glass boxes next door and distort their boring straight lines into curves.
I find the relation of the architect to the client in America today wonderfully eccentric, bordering on the perverse. In the past, those who commissioned and paid for palazzi, cathedrals, opera houses, libraries, universities, museums, ministries, pillared terraces and winged villas didn't hesitate to turn them into visions of their own glory. Napoleon wanted to turn Paris into Rome under the Caesars, only with louder music and more marble. And it was done. His architects gave him the Arc de Triomphe and the Madeleine. His nephew Napoleon III wanted to turn Paris into Rome with Versailles piled on top, and it was done. His architects gave him the Paris Opera, the new Louvre and the Rue de Rivoli. Palmerston once threw out the results of a design competition for a new British Foreign Office building and told the leading Gothic Revival architect of the day, Gilbert Scott, to do it in the Classical style. And Scott did it, because Palmerston said to do it.
In New York, Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt told George Browne Post to design her a French chateau at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, and he copied the Chateau de Blois for her down to the chasework on the brass lock rods on the casement windows. But after 1945 our plutocrats, bureaucrats, board chairmen, CEO's, commissioners and college presidents undergo an inexplicable change. They become diffident and reticent. All at once they are willing to accept that glass of ice water in the face, that bracing slap across the mouth, that reprimand for the fat on one's bourgeois soul known as modern architecture.
And why? They can't tell you. They look up at the barefaced buildings they have bought, those great hulking structures they hate so thoroughly, and they can't figure it out themselves. It makes their heads hurt.
Our story begins in Germany just after the First World War. Young American architects, along with artists, writers and odd-lot intellectuals, are roaming through Europe. This great boho adventure is called "the Lost Generation." Meaning what? In The Liberation of American Literature, V. F. Calverton wrote that American artists and writers had suffered from a "colonial complex" throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and had timidly imitated European models -- but that after World War I they had finally found the self-confidence and sense of identity to break free of the authority of Europe in the arts. In fact, he couldn't have gotten it more hopelessly turned around.
The motto of the Lost Generation was, in Malcolm Cowley's words, "They do things better in Europe." What was in progress was a postwar discount tour in which practically any American -- not just, as in the old days, a Henry James, a John Singer Sargent or a Richard Morris Hunt -- could go abroad and learn how to be a European artist. "The colonial complex" now took hold like a full nelson.
The European artist? What a dazzling figure! Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Tristan Tzara, Picasso, Matisse, Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Valery -- such creatures stood out like Brancusi figurines of polished stainless steel against the smoking rubble of Europe after the Great War. The rubble, the ruins of European civilization, was an essential part of the picture. The charred boneheap in the background was precisely what made an avant-gardist such as Breton or Picasso stand out so brilliantly.
To the young American architects who made the pilgrimage, the most dazzling figure of all was Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. Gropius opened the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919. It was more than a school; it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to Epicurus' Garden. Gropius, the Epicurus of the piece, was 36 years old, slender, simply but meticulously groomed, with his thick black hair combed straight back, irresistibly handsome to women, correct and urbane in a classic German manner, a lieutenant of cavalry during the war, decorated for valor, a figure of calm, certitude and conviction at the center of the maelstrom.
Strictly speaking, he was not an aristocrat, since his father, while well-to-do, was not of the nobility, but people couldn't help thinking of him as one. The painter Paul Klee, who taught at the Bauhaus, called was too gaudy for so fine and precise a man. Gropius seemed to be an aristocrat who through a miracle of sensitivity retained every virtue of the breed and cast off all the snobberies and dead weight of the past.
The young architects and artists who came to the Bauhaus to live and study and learn from the Silver Prince talked about "starting from zero." Gropius gave his backing to any experiment they cared to make, so long as it was in the name of a clean and pure future. Even new religions such as Mazdaznan. Even health-food regimens. During one stretch at Weimar the Bauhaus diet consisted entirely of a mush of uncooked fresh vegetables. It was so bland and fibrous they had to keep adding garlic in order to create any taste at all. Gropius' wife at the time was Alma Mahler, formerly Mrs. Gustav Mahler, the first and foremost of that marvelous 20th-century species, the Art Widow. The historians tell us, she remarked years later, that the hallmarks of the Bauhaus style were glass corners, flat roofs, honest materials and expressed structure. But she, Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel -- she had since added the poet Franz Werfel to the skein -- could assure you that the most unforgettable characteristic of the Bauhaus style was "garlic on the breath." Nevertheless! -- how pure, how clean, how glorious it was to be . . . starting from zero!
Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Henry van de Veld -- all were teachers at the Bauhaus at one time or another, along with painters like Klee and Josef Albers. Albers taught the famous Bauhaus Vorkurs, or introductory course. Albers would walk into the room and deposit a pile of newspapers on the table and tell the students he would return in one hour. They were to turn the pieces of newspaper into works of art in the interim. When he returned, he would find Gothic castles made of newspaper, yachts made of newspaper, airplanes, busts, birds, train terminals, amazing things. But there would always be some student, a photographer or glassblower, who would simply have taken a piece of newspaper and folded it once and propped it up like a tent and let it go at that. Albers would pick up the cathedral and the airplane and say: "These were meant to be made of stone or metal -- not newspaper." Then he would pick up the photographer's absent-minded tent and say: "But this! -- this makes use of the soul of paper. Paper can fold without breaking. Paper has tensile strength, and a vast area can be supported by these two fine edges. This! -- is a work of art in paper." And every cortex in the room would spin out. So simple! So beautiful . . . It was as if light had been let into one's dim brain for the first time. My God! -- starting from zero!
And why not . . . The country of the young Bauhausler, Germany, had been crushed in the war and humiliated at Versailles; the economy had collapsed in a delirium of inflation; the Kaiser had departed; the Social Democrats had taken power in the name of socialism; mobs of young men ricocheted through the cities drinking beer and awaiting a Soviet-style revolution from the east, or some terrific brawls at the very least. Rubble, smoking ruins -- starting from zero! If you were young, it was wonderful stuff. Starting from zero referred to nothing less than recreating the world.
American architects were bowled over by Bauhaus architecture. The fact that the Bauhaus style developed out of the ruins of Germany after the First World War, in the name of socialism, and with the ideal of creating Perfect Worker Housing -- that is, in a setting that bore no resemblance to the United States -- didn't matter in the slightest. When the Silver Prince himself, Walter Gropius, head of the Bauhaus, fled Germany and arrived at Harvard in the 1930s, he and many of his Bauhaus comrades were received like white gods come from the sky. The course of American architecture changed overnight. For the next 30 years American architecture -- of every sort -- would be based on designs and concepts devised for German worker housing in the 1920s.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s the client in America began to realize that something very strange had taken place among the architects. At Yale the first of the rude jolts -- many more would follow -- came in 1953 with an addition to the Yale Art Gallery. Barely 10 years before, on the eve of war, Yale had completed a building program of vast proportions that had turned the campus into as close an approximation of Oxford and Cambridge as the mind of man could devise on short notice in southern Connecticut. Edward Harkness, a partner of John D. Rockefeller, and John Sterling, who had a railroad fortune, donated most of the money. Eighteen Medieval fortresses rose up, tower upon tower, in High Collegiate Gothic, to house 10 residential colleges (Yale Mid-Atlantic for dormitories), four graduate schools, a library, a power plant whose buttressed smokestack reminded people of the Cathedral at Rheims, a 10-story gymnasium known as the Cathedral of Sweat, and the 21-story Harkness Tower, which had a carillon on top. All these soaring structures had rusticated stone facades. Gothic Revivalism was carried to the point not only of putting leaded panes in the casement windows but also of having craftsmen blow, etch and stain panes with medieval designs, many of them detailed representations of religious figures and mythical animals, and installing them at seemingly random intervals. The result was a campus almost as unified, architecturally, as Jefferson's University of Virginia. For better or worse, Yale became the business barons' vision of a luxurious collegium for the sons of the upper classes who would run the new American empire.
The art gallery addition, at York and Chapel streets in New Haven, was Yale's first major building project following the Second World War. A gray little man named Louis Kahn was appointed as architect. His main recommendation seemed to be that he was a friend of the chairman of the architecture department, George Howe. The existing gallery, built just 23 years earlier, was an Italian Romanesque palazzo designed by Egerton Swartwout, a Yale architect, and paid for by Harkness. It had massive cornices and a heavy pitched slate roof. On the Chapel Street side it featured large windows framed in ribbed stone arches.
Kahn's addition was . . . a box . . . of glass, steel, concrete and tiny beige bricks. As his models and drawings made clear, on the Chapel Street side there would be no arches, no cornice, no rustication, no pitched roof -- only a sheer blank wall of small glazed beige brick. The only details discernible on this slick and empty surface would be five narrow string courses of the same beige glazed brick at about 10-foot intervals. To a man from Mars or your standard Yale man, the building resembled a Woolco discount store in a shopping center. In the gallery's main public space the ceiling was made of gray concrete tetrahedra, fully exposed. This gave the interior the look of an underground parking garage. Yale's administrators were shocked. Kahn had been an architect for 20 years but had barely half a dozen buildings to his credit. All of them were of the scale and proportions commonly known as dinky. He was not much to look at himself. He was short. He had wispy reddish-white hair that stuck out this way and that. He wore wrinkled shirts and black suits. The backs of his sleeves were always shiny. He always had a little cigar of unfortunate hue in his mouth. His tie was always loose. He was nearsighted, and in the classrooms where he served as visiting critic, you would see Kahn holding some student's yard-long blueprint three inches from his face.
But that was merely the exterior. Somewhere deep within this shambles there seemed to be a molten core of confidence . . . and architectural destiny . . . Kahn would walk into a classroom, stare blearily at the students, open his mouth . . . and from the depths would come a remarkable voice:
"Every building must have . . . its own soul."
One day he walked into a classroom and began a lecture with the words: "Light . . . is." There followed a pause that seemed secen days long, just long enough to recreate the world.
His unlikely physical apperance only made these moments more striking. The visionary passion of the man was irresistible. Everybody was wiped out.
Kahn stared at the administrators in the same fashion, and the voice said: What do you mean, "It has nothing to do with the existing building"? You don't understand? You don't see it? You don't see the string courses? They express the floor lines of the existing building. They reveal the structure. For a quarter of a century those floors have been hidden behind masonry, completely concealed. Now they will be unconcealed. Now the entire structure will be unconcealed. Honest form -- beauty, as you choose to call it -- can only result from unconcealed structure!"
Unconcealed structure? Did he say unconcealed structure? Baffled but somehow intimidated, as if by Cagliostro or a Jacmel Hoongan, the Yale administration yielded to the destiny of architecture and took it like a man.
Administrators, directors, boards of trustees, municipal committees and executive officers have been taking it like men ever since.
Here we come upon one of the ironies of American life in the 20th century. After all, this had been the American Century, in the same way that the 17th might be regarded as the British Century. This is the century in which America, the young giant, became the mightiest nation on earth, devising the means to obliterate the planet with a single device but also the means to escape to the stars and explore the rest of the universe. This is the century in which she became the richest nation in all of history, with a wealth that reached down to every level of the population. The energies and animal appetites and idle pleasures of even the working classes -- the very term now seemed antique -- became enormous, lurid, creamy, preposterous. The American family car was a 425-horsepower 22-foot-long Bucik Electra with tailfins in back and two black rubber breasts on the bumper in front. The American liquor store delivery-man's or cargo humper's vacation was two weeks in Barbados with his third wife or his new cookie. The American industrial convention was a gin-blind rout at a municipal coliseum the size of all Rome featuring vans in the parking lot stocked with hookers on flokati rugs for the exclusive use of registered members of the association. The way Americans lived made the rest of mankind stare with envy or disgust but always with awe. In short, this has been America's Elizabethan era, her Bourbon Louis romp, her season of the rising sap -- and what architecture has she to show for it? An architecture whose tenets prohibit every manifestation of exuberance, power, empire, grandeur, or even high spirits and playfullness, as the height of bad taste.
We brace for a barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world -- and hear a cough at a concert.
In short, the reigning architectural style in this, the very Babylon of capitalism, became worker housing. Worker housing, as developed by a handful of architects, inside the compounds, amid the rubble of Europe in the early 1920s, was now pitched up high and wide, in the form of Ivy League art-gallery annexes, museums for art patrons, apartments for the rich, corporate headquarters, city halls, country estates. It was made to serve every purpose, in fact, except housing for workers.
It was not that the worker housing was never built for workers. In the 1950s and early 1960s the federal government helped finance the American version of the Dutch and German Siedlungen of the 1920s. Here they were called public housing projects. But somehow the workers, intellectually undeveloped as they were, managed to avoid public housing. The called, it simply, "the projects," and they avoided it as if it had a smell. The workers -- if by workers we mean people who have jobs -- headed out instead to the suburbs. They ended up in places like Islip, Long Island, and the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, and they bought houses with pitched roofs and shingles and clapboard siding, with no structures expressed if there was any way around it, with gaslight-style front-porch lamps and mailboxes set up on lengths of stiffened chain that seemed to defy gravity -- the more cute or antiquey touches the better -- and they loaded these houses with "drapes" such as baffled all description and wall-to-wall carpet you could lose a shoe in, and they put barbecue pits and fishponds with concrete cherubs urinating into them on the lawn out back, and they parked the Buick Electras out front and had Evinrude cruisers up on tow trailers in the carport just beyond the breezeway.
As for the honest sculptural objects designed for Worker Housing interiors, such as Mies' and Bruer's chairs, the proles either ignored them or held them in contmept because they were patently uncomfotable. This furniture is today a symbol of wealth and priviledge, attuned chiefly to the tastes of the businesmen's wives who graze daily at the D & D Building, the major interior-decoration bazaar in New York. Mies' most famous piece of furniture design, the Barcelona chair, retails today for $3,465 and is available only through decorators. The high price is due in no small part to the chair's Worker Housing honest machine-made materials: stainless steel and leather. Today the leather can be ordered only in black or shades of brown. In the early 1970s, it seems, certain bourgeois elements were having them made in the most appalling variations . . . zebra skin, Holstein skin, ocelot skin and pretty fabrics.
The only people left trapped in Worker Housing in America today are those who don't work at all and are on welfare -- these are the sole inhabitants of "the projects" -- and, of course, the urban rich who live in places such as the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York. Since the 1950s the term "luxury highrise" has come to denote a certain type of apartment house that is in fact nothing else but the Siedlungen of Stuttgart, Berlin and Zehlendorf, with units stacked up 30, 40, 50 stories high, to be rented or sold to the bourgeoisie. Which is to say, pure nonbourgeois housing for the bourgeoisie only. Sometimes the towers are of steel, concrete and glass; sometimes of glass, steel and small glazed white or beige bricks. Always the ceilings are low, often under eight feet, the hallways are narrow, the rooms are narrow, even when they're long, the bedrooms are small, the walls are thin, the doorways and windows have no casings, the joints have no moldings, the walls have no baseboards and the windows don't open, although small vents or jalousies may be provided. The construction is invariably cheap in the pejorative as well as the literal sense. That builders could present these boxes in the 1950s, without a twitch of the nostril, as luxury, and that well-educated men and women could accpet them, without a blink, as luxury -- here is objective testimony, for those too dim for irony, to the aesthetic sway of the compound aesthetic, of the Silver Prince and his colonial legions, in America following the Second World War.
Every respected instrument of architectural opinion and cultivated taste from "Domus" to "House and Garden" told the urban dwellers of America that this was living. This was the good taste of today; this was modern, and soon the International Style became known simply as modern architecture. Every Sunday, in its design section, The New York Times Magazine ran a picture of the same sort of aprtment. I beagan to think of it as "that apartment." The walls were always pure white and free of moldings, casings, baseboards and all the rest. In the living room there were about 17,000 watts' worth of R-40 spotlights encased in white canisters suspended from the ceiling in what is known as track lighting. There was always a set of bentwood chairs, designed by Le Corbusier, which no one ever sat in because they caught you in the small of the back like a karate chop. The dining room table was a smooth slab of blond wood (no ogee edges, no beading on the legs), around which was a set of the S-shaped, tubular steel, cane-bottomed chairs that Mies van der Rohe had designed -- the second most famous chair designed in the 20th century, his own Barcelona chair being the first, but also one of the five most disastrously designed, so that by the time the main course arrived, at least one guest had pitched face forward into the lobster bisque. Somewhere nearby was a palm or a dracena fragrans or some other huge tropical plant, because all the furniture was so lean and clean and bare and spare that without some prodigious piece of frondose Victoriana from the nursery the place looked absolutely empty. The photographer always managed to position the plant in the foreground, so that the stark scene beyond was something one peered at through an arabesque of equatorial greenery. (And "that apartment" is still with us, every Sunday.)
So what if you were living in a building that looked like a factory and felt like a factory, and paying top dollar for it? Every modern building of quality looked like a factory. That was the look of today. You only had to think of Mies' campus for the Illinois Institute of Technology, most of which had gone up in the 1940s. The main classroom building looked like a shoe factory. The chapel looked like a power plant. The power plant itself, also designed by Mies, looked rather more spiritual (as Charles Jencks would point out), thanks to its chimney, which reached heavanward at least. The School of Architecture building had black steel trusses rising up through the roof on either side of the main entrance, after the manner of a Los Angeles car wash. All four were glass and steel boxes. The truth was, this was inescapable. The compound style, with its nonbourgeois taboos, had so reduced the options of the true believer that every building, the beach house no less than the skyscraper, was bound to have the same general look.
The one remaining problem was window curtains. Mies would have preferred that the great windows of plate glass have no curtains at all. Unless you could compel everyone in a building to have the same color curtains (white or beige, naturally) and raise them and lower them or open and shut them at the same time and to the same degree, they always ruined the purity of the design of the exterior. In the Seagram Building, Mies came as close as man was likely to come to realizing that ideal. No tenant could add curtains. He could use only the ones built into the building, and there were only three intervals where they would stay put: open, closed and halfway. At any other point they just kept sliding.
No intellectually undeveloped impulses, please. By now this had become a standard attitude among compound architects in America. They policed the impulses of clients and tenants alike. Even after the building was up and the contract fulfilled, they would return. The imitators of Le Corbusier -- and there were many -- would build expensive country houses in wooded glades patterned on Corbu's Villa Savoie, with strict instructions that the bedrooms, being on the upper floor and visible only to the birds, have no curtains whatsoever. Tired of waking up at 5 o'clock every morning to the light of the summer sun, the owners would add white curtains. But the soul engineer would inevitably return and rip the offending rags down . . . and throw out those sweet little puff 'n' clutter Thai-silk throw pillows in the living room while he was at it.
In the great corporate towers the office workers shoved filing cabinets, desks, waste paper baskets, potted plants, up against the floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass, anything to build a barrier against the panicked feeling that they were about to pitch headlong into the streets below. Above these jerry-built walls they strung up makeshift curtains that looked like laundry lines from the slums of Naples, anything to keep out that brain-boiling poached-eye sunlight that came blazing in every afternoon . . . And by night the custodial staff, the Miesling police, under strictest orders, invaded and pulled down these pathetic barricades thrown up against the pure vision of the white gods and the Silver Prince. Eventually everyone gave up and learned like the haute bourgeoisie above him to take it like a man.
Not even the bottom dogs, those on welfare, trapped in the projects, have taken it so supinely. The lumpenproles have fought it out with the legions of the Silver Prince, and they have won a battle or two. In 1955 a vast worker housing project called Pruitt-Igoe was opened in St. Louis. The design, by Minory Yamasaki, architect of the World Trade Center, won an award from the American Institute of Architects. Yamasaki was a true Corbu believer, faithful to the master's vision of highrise hives of steel, glass and concrete separated by open spaces of green lawn. The workers of St. Louis, of course, were in no danger of getting caught in Puritt-Igoe. They had already decamped for suburbs such as Spanish Lake and Crestwood. Pruitt-Igoe filled up mainly with recent migrants from the rural south. They moved from areas of America where the population density was 15 to 20 folks per square mile, where one rarely got more than 10 feet off the ground except by climbing a tree, into Pruitt-Igoe's 14-story blocks.
On each floor there were covered walkways, in keeping with Corbu's idea of "streets in the air." Since there was no other place in the project in which to sin in public, whatever might ordinarily have taken place in bars, brothels, social clubs, pool halls, amusement arcades, general stores, corncribs, rutabaga patches, hayricks, barn salls, now took place in the streets in the air. Corbu's boulevards made Hogarth's Gin Lane look like the oceanside street of dreams in Southampton, N.Y. Respectable folk pulled out, even if it meant living in cracks in the sidewalks. Millions of dollars and scores of commission meetings and task force projects were expended in a last-ditch attempt to make Pruitt-Igoe habitable. In 1971, the final task force called a general meetings of everyone still living in the project. They asked the residents for their suggestions. It was ahistoric moment for two reasons. One, for the first time in the 50-year history of worker housing, someone had finally asked the client for his two cents' worth. Two, the chant. The chant began immediately: "Blow it . . . up! Blow it . . . up! Blow it . . . up! Blow it . . . up! "Blow it . . . up!" The next day the task force thought it over. The poor buggers were right. It was the only solution. In July of 1972, the city blew up the three central blocks of Pruitt-Igoe with dynamite.
The part of the worker housing saga has not ended. It has just begun. It almost the same time that Pruitt-Igoe went down, the Oriental Gardens project went up in New Haven, th model city of urban renewal in America. The architect was one of America's most prestigious compound architects, Paul Rudolph, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was paying for the project, hailed Rudolph's daring design as the vision of the housing projects of the future. The Oriental Gardens were made of clusters of prefabricated modules. You would never end up with more disadvantaged people than you bargained for. You could keep adding modules and clustering the poor yobboes up until they reached Bridgeport. The problem was that the modules didn't fit together too well. In through the cracks came the cold and the rain. Out the doors, the ones that still opened, went whatever respectable folks had gone in in the first place. By September of 1980 there were only 17 tenants left. Five months ago the HUD itself began returning the Oriental Gardens' nonbiodegradable plastic modules to the free-floating molecular state from whence they came. They set about demolishing it.
In May of 1980 one of the Whites, a group of architects known for their white, 1920's-modern Corbusier-style buildings, was the lone architect amid 37 artists, composers and writers receiving awards from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters at their annual ceremonies at the academy's grand auditorium in New York. Michael Graves, professor of architecture at Princeton, stepped forward from his seat onstage and received the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize for Architecture. Seventeen awards later, Gordon Bunshaft, now 71 and an elder of the institute, was called on to read the citations for five painters and hand out envelopes with checks inside. After disbursing the last of them, Bunshaft turned toward the audience and said:
"I suppose this is something you don't see every day, an architect handing out money to artists."
The audience laughed faintly, acknowledging that a pleasantry had been attempted but n;ot quite getting it.
"But, then, a lot of things have changed," said Bunshaft. "We used to give prizes to architects for doing buildings. Now we give prizes to architects for drawing pictures."
Then he sat down. Not a peep out of the audience. Only a few souls, compound architects one and all, had the faintest notion of what he meant. But they did, indeed, get it. ybunshaft had made no mention of Graves, who was seated behind him on the stage, nor did he look his way. ybut Graves was the only architect who had recieved an award, and furthermore it was true: he had won the award for drawings. Or rather, for his drawings, for his theories, and for his status as Princeton's resident White or Neo-Purist. Not for buildings, in any event. You could count Graves' built structures on one hand. "Structures" -- an addition here, an alteration there, and one small house.
But so what! In the new mental atmosphere, in modern architecture's Scholastic phase, Graves' career shone with an unmistakable radiance. There was something sordid about doing a lot of buildings. Even amoung the Whites, the New York Five, Gwathmey and Meier wre spoken of, sotto voce, as the lighter weights, chiefly because they had going practices and actually made money from architecture. Meier ranked above Gwathmey because, in addition to building buildings, he taught at Harvard and enunciated suitably obscure theories. They wre not so profoundly obscure as Graves', however. When Graves talked about "the multiple meanings inherent in codes of abstraction" and "a level of participation that involves the reciprocal act of ourselves with the figure of the building," he almost achieved the Structuralist heights of Eisenman. (Almost, butnot quite; Eisenman had managed to become perfectly obscure.) The Graves approach was known and talked aobut in the architecture department of every important university in the country. His watercolor renderings of his own unbuilt buildings were mauve, blue, swift and terribly beautiful, like a storm. One had only to say "Michael," as his friends called him, and every aspiring architect on the circuit knew i was Michael Graves.
You couldn't say the same aobut Gordon Bunshaft -- despite the scores of behemoth glass glass buildings he had designed or inspired. Within the university compounds you could say "Gordon" or even "Gordon Bunshaft," and all you would get would be a look as heavily glazed as Lever House. The hell with the behemoth buildings! Every heads-up architect knew you had to excel, first of all, in the intellectual competitionof the compounds. The ideal career was the corbu career. Ther had been an unmistakable purity about Corbu, ion his career as in his designs. Corbu had triumphed through intellect and genious alone, through intellect and genius alone, through manifestos, treatises, speeches, debates, drawings, visionary plans and the sheer moral force of is mission. He had become one of the greatest architects of the world, respected and admired by every avant-garde architect; had created that Radiant City which was himself, Corfu -- without benefit of commissions, clients, budgets, buildings. All those things had come his way later. Eventually he owuld be handed commissions such as the Chandigarh complex in the Indian province of Punjab. The clients, the governments, the builders, the peoples of the world, had come to him because he was the Radiant City, which had been a creation of his mind and his mind along. Tghey ahd fought, at last, to set foot inside his compound, which had been called, appropriately enough, "Purism."
In 1976 Vincent Scully refused an American Institute of Architects award for architectural history on the grounds that they had not inducted Robert Venturi into their College of Architects. It was no honor, said Scully, to receive an award from an organization so insensitive -- in as much as Venturi was "the most important architect of my generation."
As to whether this assertion had any aesthetic merit -- well, di gustibus non est disputandum. But in terms of Venturi's influence on other architects, Scully once again had a point. Venturi's wing, the Grays, were slowly wining the great battle on the plains of heaven. The Whites were beginning to abandon their Purist position -- and their Structuralist jargon. (In the universities, Structuralism itself was being challenged by the new theory of Entropy, which held that there were no neat logical deep structure after all; it was a random, a stochastic, Barnum & Bailey world. Graves began to work extremely sub le variations on the Venturi approach. He sought a higher synthesis of White and Gray, one worthy of Abelard or Duns Scotus. He was still using White "codes of abstraction" -- but the codes referred to the familiar architectural environment of Venturi's poor Middle Middles. For example, in an addition to a house in Princeton he created a post-and-beam projection that looked like a David Smith sculpture as adapted by Rietveld -- and painted it blue. This was supposed to resonate with the familiar Middle Middle blue sky overhead as one walked under it. Whether anybody actually got that or not was not nearly so important as recognizing the sophistication of the approach. Later, Graves edged toward Moore's position of playing Classical forms, notably columns, against modern facades so thin that, quite deliberately, they had the look of cardboard. The results resembled the backdrops in the typical resort community production of "Aida."
By 1979 the evidence that Venturi was winning the battle of the compounds was decisive. Philip Johnson released rendering and models of his new corporate headquarters for AT&T, to be constructed on Madison Avenue in New York. It became the most famous unbuilt building of the 1970s. The most devoted Miesling of them all had designed a building with a top that seemed to have been lifted straight off a Chippendale highboy. Philip Johnson! Up off his knees at last! After 40 years!
Johnson had learned one lesson well. He had finally realized that in an age of esoteric, intramural competition among artists, it was folly to try to counter a new style by meeting it head on and calling it "ugly" or "ordinary." (So did the bourgeois.) The trick was to leap-frog the new style and say: "Yes, but look! I have established a more avant-garde position . . . way out here."
Venturi's partisans were furious. But Johnson remained as subtle and artful a tactician as Venturi. In speeches and interviews he managed to let the faithful know that in such areas as his attitude toward the client, he remained the classic modernist. He told how his client, AT&T, had been "so perspicacious that they gave us a clue. They said, 'Please, don't give us a flat top.'"
It as very reassuring! One could see the scene: the CEO, the chairman of the board, and the whole selection committee , representing the biggest corporation in the history of man, approach the architect, making imaginary snowballs with their hands and saying, "Please, Mr. Johnson, we don't mean to interfere in any way. All we ask is, please, sir, don't give us a flat top."
And what did the client think of what he got? Oh, that was a laugh and a half, said Johnson. "The chairman of the board said, 'Now, that's a building!' In others words, a building is a building; but a building isn't a building if it's a glass box. What's in their minds as to what a building is, I'm not quite sure. It's like saying. 'That is a house!' when you finally see a saltbox."
Inside the compound one could relax a bit. Johnson had committed apostasy, probably, but THEY still hadn't gotten it. They only paid for it. The outside world remained as out of it as ever. The new masses still struggled in the middle-middle ooze. The bourgeoisie was still baffled. The light of the Silver Prince still shone here in the Radiant City. And the client still took it like a man.