A daily blog on architecture in Chicago, and other topics cultural, political and mineral.
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The author of the article misses the point entirely as to why the Classicists do what they do. Modernism has in fact destroyed the fabric of the very cities we admire most. The examples abound, Chicago is no exception. Not one single classicist would insist that every building be a "temple." In fact, what the traditional architect seeks is a legibility of type and clarity of language such that our cities provide the forum for living the good life. Our cities, even American cities, are composed of blocks, streets and squares. This composition of the city provides the backdrop for discerning background from foreground, public from private, and profane from sacred. Modernists have deviated from such notions of architectural and urban language and have created a vacuum in the obsessive pursuit of originality for its own sake or the sake of the egotistical modernist architect. Contrary to what the author would have us believe, the classicists believe that the principles that created all traditional cities are worth keeping as part of our heritage and as contributing vital lessons in the continuity of civilization. It is not about the temples themselves, it is about the know-how, the craft, and the dignity of the human spirit that only traditional architect and urbanism can deliver. Tradition champions the most noble aspects of humanity by providing for the place to perfect one's nature. Modernism chooses to forget humanity and champions the ephemeral over the universal, the enduring, the true the good and the beautiful. Our Consitution speaks of these things, and by the way we borrowed the best ideas and made them our own, we did not invent them ex nihilo.
When will we ever get past the tired clichés in architectural writing? And why do so many architects and critics have such disdain for the tastes of the general public? After all, there are great many highly-educated and intelligent people who simply find classical and traditional architecture more beautiful, and that is what they desire in buildings. For years, I’ve heard architects whine that the public just doesn’t understand contemporary architecture, or needs to be “educated”. But I think we can see after nearly 100 years of modernism, that that simply doesn’t hold water. People are not stupid – they just don’t share the same tastes as architects and architectural critics. Get over it already – it’s a big world, and there is a lot of room for different opinions. But most annoyingly is the constant reference to classicism and politics (in your case, the barb about democracy). Umm, first of all we should note that the American system is a republic, much like the Roman system was conceived. And, the cradle of democratic thought was Greece. But putting that aside, what’s your point? That the modernism of the Bauhus, Corb, Mies, et al is somehow more appropriate? Strange, since they were all socialists or communists. And, that there architecture was most embraced by eastern bloc communist regimes, and corporate America. An interesting alliance, I suppose. I can take great pleasure in a beautiful piece of music, without having to be lectured about the curse of the modern condition. For many people, they take the same from architecture: they simply want to live in beautiful towns & cities, and don’t need to be reminded of the ugliness of life. If the majority sees that in new classical or traditional architecture, and votes with their feet, then so be it. If the modernists think they can accomplish the same, more power to them. But 100 years of modernism has not been encouraging.
Classical architecture is something very specific and not only the orderly array of old fashioned windows into a tripartite grid. So a building is called classical not because it happens to have a cornice, a couple of Doric columns and a stony look. What makes a building classical is its poetics of order, what Tzonis, Lefaivre and Bilodeau called, in Classicism in Architecture, its “taxis” (De Taal van de Klassicistiese Architektuur, 1983). Taxis was for Greeks and Romans a normative support. Any classical work is in a sense “a world inside the world,” it must have “unity” based on the Aristotelian sense of an orderly disposition of its parts. The taxis in a building was linked to the Platonic ultimate unity between the good, the true and the beautiful. It is ironic that the Driehaus prize winners got all of that wrong. By saying “..Who cares what is authentic and what is not? People only care about what is beautiful,” Demitri Porphyrios misunderstood the most radical of the classical principles: there is no beauty in falsehood. So the fake storm windows (louvers) of the Bernardin, its picturesque windows masking the parking floors, its “heavy” cornice and the base’s mansard roof do not redeem the building. On the contrary it seems to me they clutter a not beautiful but at least an honest tower. What we do not want is to “extreme makeover” the city’s car garages into opera houses. You write: “…There is not an ounce of authenticity to any of this, but there’s more life in the base of the Bernardin than in any of Quinlan Terry’s stillborn new classicist temples.” To which we Chicagoans reply, -And since when is Quinlan Terry’s architecture the standard to measure good architecture in Chicago? What if Greg Gorski of Antunovich Assoc and Quinlan Terry were the “intellectually confused” and not, as Leon Krier stated, our beloved Mies, whose Crown Hall has more “taxis” than all of the buildings of the former together? Lets remember, before giving up to this Disneyfication of Chicago, that as said by Tzonis, Lefaivre and Bilodeau, “...the swans, garlands, dolphins, wings, torches, volutes and sphinxes may crumble (as just happened to Charles Moore’s Piazza D’Italia in New Orleans), taxis, the normative support, will remain.
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