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The Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns (sequel #______ )

threadkilla

EKE, Thayer-D, etc.: You've asked me in the past to present evidence in support of my claim that we find modernism's inception in the 14th century, or at least sometime during the Enlightenment.

I have complied, elsewhere, with an extremely limited selection of sources tracing modernism's lineage to the 17th C., which mostly concerned Emil Kaufman's work on the identification of Kant's notion of autonomy with the modernist project, as exemplified by the architectural projects of Ledoux. Eisenman's PhD thesis is built on the idea that most modernist architecture before Peter Eisenman didn't have enough autonomy to be truly modern. So I understand this disciplinary autonomy business as being an important part of what constitutes modernism. Far more important than leaky flat roofs, shear glass facades, or anything else you lot seem so quick to dismiss as the glaring failures of modernist style. I take exception to your use of the term style, but perhaps we can have more on that later..

Kenneth Frampton says modernism began somewhere between Claude Perrault's denunciation of Vitruvian concepts of universal beauty and proportion and the splitting of architecture and engineering, which is signaled in 1747 by the foundation of the Ecole des Ponts aux Chausées in Paris. I've learned to take Frampton with a fist-sized grain of salt, but Claude Perrault is indeed an interesting figure to consider.

Instead of providing the precise definition for the correct proportioning of various elements in architecture, with his translation and commentary on Vitruvius (published in 1673) Perrault offers a sub-division of various levels of perceiving beauty in architecture. All because beauty, to Perrault, is for the most part subjective and affected by several external factors, such as the level of an observer's education and the fashion of the times. He claims that absolute proportions, which can be found in the universe and the human body, cannot be discerned in architecture. Beauty in the way parts of buildings are proportioned is a result of social consensus on perception, not necessarily the product of reason or the laws of nature. Perrault ridicules the concept of 'ideal proportions,' on the grounds that there are so many body types, and doubts that classical columns could derive their proportion from the human body at all. Instead of meticulous research into extant ruins of antiquity, widespread in his time, he proposed a modular system of median values of common measurement systems for the various orders. Sounds to me like the kind of work that might have inadvertently grandfathered Corbusier's Modulor system. More importantly, it's the kind of work that claimed for architecture the importance of responding to it's own time, instead of outdated dogma.

So yeah sure, let's have another round of the Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns, but let's try to stick to specific examples, and maybe try to confine the discussion to this thread instead of hijacking other ones?

I will continue posting material in support of my understanding that modern architecture began with Alberti's treatise, that a lot of the stuff some people want to return to was/is modern, and that a good deal of 20th century modernism possesses a great deal of respect for classical/traditional design principles.  All of you who hate on modernism can post evidence that I am full of shit. I'm hoping to learn through doing this, so opinions only matter if they are well-informed, and illustrations are always welcome.

Maybe tomorrow we can see some repressed contemporary classicism, eh EKE? Failing that we might have to tear into some Palladio Award winners for assessing the status of so called 'traditional architecture' in the present.

Good night!

 

Mar 8, 15 12:18 am

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Mar 8, 15 10:21 am  · 
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Non Sequitur

I refute it thus:

Mar 8, 15 11:12 am  · 
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Here's one that I just posted in the Rudolph thread:

This month's Architect Magazine (the AIA "official" journal) features the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville by David Schwartz AIA. It's labeled "A Paragon of Classicism" and its main concert hall is described as "...a sophisticated house style redolent of Art Deco, Stripped Classicism, and Viennese Secession."

Yet somehow there's a conspiracy by the AIA to ignore any kind of traditional styles?
Mar 8, 15 11:21 am  · 
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Volunteer

So what are the Anasazi cliff ruins if not "modern"? The fraud of the modernists was to lay claim to a style that has exited since the dawn of man, with the Bauhaus group being the most amazingly arrogant.

Mar 8, 15 11:54 am  · 
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modern (adj.) c.1500, "now existing;" 1580s, "of or pertaining to present or recent times;" from Middle French moderne (15c.) and directly from Late Latin modernus "modern" (Priscian, Cassiodorus), from Latin modo "just now, in a (certain) manner," from modo (adv.) "to the measure," ablative of modus "manner, measure". In Shakespeare, often with a sense of "every-day, ordinary, commonplace."

Historically, the pre-modern age was dominated by religion. It is no coincidence that by definition  the term modern dates back to the Renaissance. This does not mean that the concept did not exist or does not apply to previous cultures or civilizations dating back to prehistory.

Mar 8, 15 12:12 pm  · 
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The Great Pyramids, Machu Pichu, Ise, Chichen Itza, Pont du Gard, the Acropolis, etc. would not exist without advanced technology.

Mar 8, 15 12:37 pm  · 
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The advanced technologies of their time of course. Some of which have been lost. 

Mar 8, 15 12:58 pm  · 
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Volunteer

Just for example there are "modern" style backcountry ski and hiking huts in Colorado and the Great Smoky Mountains that don't have plumbing or electricity and the heating is by fireplace yet they are unmistakably modern in design.

Mar 8, 15 1:37 pm  · 
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Perhaps a more appropriate way to distinguish architectures is to categorize them via the technologies that the existence of the varying architectures are dependent upon.

I've already proposed CADilism as as a period that includes styles such as Wavy Gravy and Parametricism.

Mar 8, 15 3:39 pm  · 
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Volunteer

I'll be glad to go through and post a few examples in a bit, but the sheer number of "A" frames and modern yurts in the backcountry would seem to be self-evident. In addition one of the "xs" books featured several ultramodern shelters, many of which could be positioned by helicopter in remote areas.

Mar 8, 15 4:31 pm  · 
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Volunteer

Not at all. you wanted examples of modern architecture without electricity, running water, and mechanical heating systems. I'm sure you could haul many of these structures to remote areas in kits with pack mules if you desired.

Mar 8, 15 4:53 pm  · 
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Volunteer

"Modern in design' is a constantly moving target. You could not exactly duplicate any of the Bauhaus buildings today because of changes in building codes and availability of materials. You could build a Bauhaus-style building today, and it would be as poor an example of "modern" compared to the Anasazi's or the Inca's as the original Bauhaus buildings were.

Mar 8, 15 5:42 pm  · 
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curtkram

apparently every generation of architects is worse than the one who preceded it? 

Mar 8, 15 6:45 pm  · 
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Volunteer

Here are three photos

http://1drv.ms/1E4hChC

http://1drv.ms/1E4hsGR

http://1drv.ms/1Gwc8jc

Mar 8, 15 7:31 pm  · 
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Volunteer

first photo link above now works, sorry for the error

Mar 8, 15 7:35 pm  · 
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JLC-1

Never built, but to the point; I could never think in terms of "modern" vs. "traditional", because while we are at this discussion, buildings are built everywhere in a most "traditional" way; brick upon brick, or better yet, wavy gravy over bent steel. To me, the distinction should be made between expressed physicality  and "dressed appearance", which is very obvious if you compare the baroque's like gehry and zaha, and the realists like rick joy or tom kundig. 

Mar 9, 15 9:55 am  · 
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JLC-1

you know what I mean, don't play with words,that's what writers do, not architects.

It's not the technologies that makes the architecture, it's the intentions. 

Mar 9, 15 10:40 am  · 
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JLC-1

you are trying to put, "classicism" and "modernism" in black and white, it's not (Besides some authors and educators that like to maintain a certain status by classifying everything in categories). I really believe what makes a difference is whether you have to (or you want to) "ornate" or "compose" a solution to make it work, rather than put the emphasis in space, light and materials without ornate and without the canons of classical composition. In that sense, Gehry could care less about the space he generates, but he cares a lot about the sheen of the titanium. Same with Zaha, her buildings could be made of plastic if that was readily available and the result would be the same. You can't say a Rick Joy house would be the same if built in any material. That's why I started with no modern vs classic. both redefine themselves all the time. And it's not the technologies that move this forward, it's the point at which society wants the architecture to be. technologies follow social evolution. 

Mar 9, 15 11:17 am  · 
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threadkilla

My intention is to show that it isn't all black and white, polar opposites, but that there are aspects of tradition in modernity, and kernels of what is typically called modernism in design work that was still operating with reference to antiquity. I'm not on a quest for origins, I'm simply hoping to present a bit of a genealogy of thought and projects to illustrate how muddy these lines between modern and traditional design have become.

However, it is exactly because of this blurriness that we have to be precise with how we talk about things. I don't believe any sort of 'traditional' design is being suppressed for unwarranted reasons, unlike some other posters on these boards. See the Palladio Awards above. I personally think there is nothing wrong with GFRP, GFRC, and fiberglass mouldings as a type of building product available to architects and builders, but I don't think the principle of reproducing ancient ornamental Greek details has anything to with our current social, political, or economic reality. I think the values behind constructing physical reproductions of the Acropolis in Texas, or anywhere else really and especially when done at extraordinary cost, are suspect at best, and in no way deserving of awards. I think this precisely because of the blatant disrespect for multiple traditions that such practices embody, under the guise of upholding tradition.

I will post more later and try to address all the respondents so far. I see that Thayer and EKE are abstaining from speaking here, perhaps because being asked for specifics means being bullied to them. Sorry to have singled you guys out, but you are by far the loudest voice on the forums for this "Contemporary design is out of touch with people, stop the cultural repression of the Classical canon in our institutions" sentiment.
I, like many others, don't understand what repression you're even talking about - see again, the aforementioned Palladio Awards. Could it be that while 'traditional' design is in fact preferred by the un-educated public, that the reasons behind that preference have to do more with marketing, availability, and socially constructed ideals of how one displays their wealth to others than with good taste, or any kind of perception of beauty?

Sadly I must admit defeat at trying to keep the discussion on topic in the Rudolph thread, where we now have a bunch of dudes talking about all manner of things that barely have anything to do with Paul Rudolph, his Orange County building design, or the extremely important facts behind the story of how that building is meeting it's end.

Mar 9, 15 6:35 pm  · 
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threadkilla

Also, to echo Miles Jaffe, it's no accident that just about everyone agrees to classify the history of humans as pre-modern before the time of the Western Renaissance, and as modern after the 15th century. Many (not all) agree that we are currently in a period of Late Modernity, but just about everyone agrees that humans were pre-modern before the invention and widespread use of the printing press and the scientific method. I would argue that modernity does have something to do with the kinds of tools we make (technology), but that it has to do more with how we think and share our thinking - in other words, that tools and techniques for information gathering and distribution precede most other forms of technological progress in the modern era. It is with that in mind that I would argue that ideas about the aesthetics and functions of space, and ideas about the process and purpose of construction define what may be called 'modernist' far more than technology, such as HVAC and interior plumbing...

Corbusier talks about technology, but his 5 points of modern architecture don't include electricity, HVAC, etc. so maybe he didn't think one needs all the gizmos to produce modern design.

...perhaps this is a good reason to re-read some Banham.

Mar 9, 15 6:51 pm  · 
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threadkilla

Sure, fineprint of fantasies, I'm not trying to downplay the importance of technology, just saying that our relationship to it, especially in regard to design, is more sophisticated than modern technology=modern design. The Palladio award winning buildings all use new technology, but that somehow doesn't make them any less 'traditional' to the people giving out the award. When you're reconstructing Hellenic temples in Tuscaloosa, you will use the latest tech. to save cost, weight, and attain LEED ratings, but you're still apparently "Constructing a genuinely classical civic building in the 21st century." ( http://www.architectmagazine.com/government-projects/tuscaloosa-federal-building-and-courthouse.aspx ) On the flipside, when you're using CNC water jets to shape things like the Sagrada Familia, and you still have masons putting on 'finishing touches' by deploying traditional tools and techniques, the work is still genuinely modern in spirit. Ditto for most CNC routered components that have to be hand-sanded to remove the router marks, in a remarkably medieval process.

Consider for a moment that before the invention of movable type, architecture was the main technology for the storage and dissemination of information.

I think if the printing press, and it's many offspring, was only ever used to reproduce the bible, and not to disseminate secular knowledge, we wouldn't be a modern society, even though we'd be using better tools than our forebears did. So, in my mind, one needs to asses how one thinks about technology, and the ends to which it is used, to determine whether something technological is modern.

...  maybe it's also time to finally dig into Stanisław Lem's Summa Technologiae...

Mar 9, 15 8:00 pm  · 
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+++++ 'killa Summa Technologiae

Mar 9, 15 8:20 pm  · 
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threadkilla

fineprint, your first point - thanks for clarifying how you think technology precedes design. Yes, skyscrapers are pretty hard to achieve without elevators and steel framing. Here's that style word again - at least your use of it seems sensible. I'm going to return to this later...

Your second point was not a mistake, I intentionally prefer stone to paper in terms of reliable data storage. Pardon the anachronism, but imagine the burning of the library of ancient Alexandria as one of the oldest remembered hard drive crashes. Which is harder (not to mention more stupid) to destroy, building or manuscript?
The accessibility of communication is important in my bias, as well. Like you say, historically the planet was populated by more illiterate people than those who were literate. I'm not even going to try reflecting on the history of language (here is a brief overview of the evolution of the english alphabet, to scratch the surface), but in terms of reliable means of information exchange, things set in stone trump other media in the pre-modern era. This isn't limited to Europe and the Gothic paradigm either, temples throughout Asia had raised writing on their exterior, so that rubbings could be made by both scholars and commoners using charcoal on scroll or cloth, for the purpose of study and worship. The technology of cuneiform writing is incredible, because once the clay dries and you get a 'hard copy', you're physically dealing with something that's more of a brick than a leaf. Maybe the Stele of Hammurabi isn't quite architecture by itself, but I see it as a tool that's aligned closer with the tradition of building than that of writing. I would bet that the use of stones to mark space and delineate borders predates their inscription, and eventual development of stelae by many civilizations.

Of course there are other means of information exchange that are more primary and used more widely than architecture: sign language and posture, speech and song, writing and reading. But if you only store it all in your mushy brain, it's gone when you are, and your disciples can twist your words to suit their circumstance. We have a need to record knowledge, to extend memory beyond the individual cranium. We invent technology to help us do this. Until fairly recently, only those privileged enough to have the required time and resources could learn the alphabet, the rules of syntax and grammar. Reading and writing relies on one's trained ability to represent sounds and thoughts in an abstract way. A monumental mass, intentionally placed into a landscape, communicates on a very primal level. When you begin arranging such blocks in various combinations, you begin developing more sophisticated modes of expression. My take is that as far as pre-modern information technologies go, the codification and sophisticated ordering of information in building form is more dominant (in a literal sense) than most other forms. Pyramids > papyrus scrolls.

Mar 9, 15 11:11 pm  · 
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Design and technology regardless of when are neither one in the same nor are they entirely exclusive of each other. Design always draws from technology including that technology which might not seem all that 'techy'. Inventions effects design but not all designs applies the most cutting edge inventions of the day as there is the cost curve of inventions and customarily the most deepest pockets employed the most cutting edge inventions of the highest costs to implement. However, those of more modest financial capacity adopted the most prevalent method that has the widest adoption. Widest adoption rate is an equation of affordability and means to implement in any given place in time. 

Where wood was prevalent, wood would often be the most cost effective method for construction on the person of modest economical means. In addition, construction was of minimal sophistication and easily put together by a single person with the occassional assistance of friends and family hence traditions like the barn raising which historically are not limited to barns but aiding in raising the framing which would not likely be possible by a single person.

It is folly to presume clean correlation because reality is much more muckier and less coherent than our romantic notions like 'modern technology=modern design".

Human reality doesn't make it easy for us because it is not how things happened. It never happened that cleanly.

Mar 9, 15 11:49 pm  · 
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CD.Arch
"Modern" is a constantly changing term. What was modern to the Incans and Egyptians is not modern to us anymore, just as what is modern today may not be considered modern in 5 years. A building's "modernity" is simply defined by how well it fits today's criteria for being "modern". In other words, being modern is defined by general opinion of what modern is in the first place. A completely outlandish building could be considered exactly that today, but in 5 years may be considered modern, simply by general opinion changing and defining it as such.

That being said, I believe modern architecture has a certain reliance on modern technology, however stylistically modern and technologically modern should be separated. A modern building could lack modern commodities, just as a completely un-modern building could house the most modern commodities known to man. So yes, the Incans and Egyptians WERE modern, and are no longer.
Mar 10, 15 12:32 am  · 
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Good follow up. True and correlates into my point finely. We can speak of modern by the general meaning of the word which would be synonymous with contemporary or we can use our architectural style/philosophy label which we are often taught in architecture school and art school which doesn't exactly correlate with general definition of the word as they are not the same. 

The Modern or "Modern" architecture style or philosophy as a design philosophy is largely and intrinsically linked to the contemporary technologies but in itself is not about the technology but the design composition principles. Which of course has routes in the philosophy that traces back centuries but also other so called architectural style also traces or borrow from some of these very sources but it is where the emphasis lies. Modern architecture as a design philosophy correlates with the "Progressive modernism movement" or strongly ties into "Progressive modernism" of the late 19th century and early 20th century. 

These styles or philosophies are more focal point differences but philosophically, some of us are basically like Vitruvius even through we may apply form elements of much later periods. While some of us are otherwise. At the end of the day, no one architect/designer is an explicit design philosophy or style that can be labeled other than "Architect/designer's name design philosophy". It gets meaningless at some point because to an extent my philosophy is neither entirely new nor is it a clean cut architecture school text book definition.

I don't think anyone is. Reflects back to how we humans makes things not so clean cut.

Mar 10, 15 1:14 am  · 
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Cliff dwellings use passive solar design without tech as some described in this thread. For their time, and arguably for ours, they are quite modern. If we reject industrial tech and build manually and intelligently out of natural materials, designs (not styles) that are in harmony with nature, would that be modern?

Mar 10, 15 8:56 am  · 
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Volunteer

The Bauhaus manifesto was supposed to be about arts and crafts as well as architecture, but here it does a face-plant also.. If I have a pre-Bauhaus piece of Shaker furniture it is not modern, but if I go down today and buy the same piece from Thos Moser it is modern? If I have a family heirloom Jefferson Cup from the 1770s it is not modern but the indistinguishable piece purchased today from Revere is modern?

 

http://1drv.ms/1Mq45os

Mar 10, 15 10:52 am  · 
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TIQM

Wow, missed this thread.  Sorry to be late to the party!

I have to run off to a meeting now, but I will say that Claude Perrault was full of crap...about beauty, that is.

Mar 10, 15 3:29 pm  · 
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