Response to Donna, re: Traditional Architecture


Donna wrote:

EKE don't leave yet - you've been spectacularly patient on this thread, and I am impressed.  That said: what do you like about Classical architecture, or think is appropriate about its use in the 21st Century?  How is Krier's work *not* empty form-making relying on a nostalgic imagined past?  I studied in Vienna at the architecture school where Rob worked (works?) and while Eurpoean historic cities seem more suited for the Krier approach, European architects are also producing the boldest, most interesting new work currently, and it has great urbanistic characteristics.  Why do we need to be afraid of new forms?


Donna - I thought I'd start a new thread to respond to your post, since I said I was done with the last one :)

Thanks for your kind words.  I'd be happy to try to answer your question, but it may take more than a quick post.  For me, the answer is part theoretical and part personal.

The personal part: I was in first year of art school at UCLA when I first became really interested in architecture.  I took a history of architecture elective from Thomas Hines, and became mesmerized by early 20th century modernism in California...Wright, Neutra, Schindler, Harris, Ain.  That class was the turning point for me.  I transferred from UCLA to Cal Poly SLO and got my degree.  As nearly all architecture students in the USA,  I received a modernist education in architecture. My senior thesis was a research project on Rudolph Schindler.

Then I did some traveling, including tours of some great European cities.  This experience affected me greatly.  Although still a modernist true-believer, my perspective on design was widened.  As a Los Angeles native, born and bred, I had never experienced the kind of nurturing, appealing urbanism that was so effortless and common in places like Florence, or Rome, or London or Paris. It was eye-opening for me.

I remember walking through the streets of Paris, and thinking to myself, "These streets and buildings are so beautiful, so humane.  Why can't we design buildings like this today?  Why would that be wrong?".  I was so thoroughly indoctrinated by school professors that this was a guilty thought for me.  I could almost hear Walter Gropius talking to me, "Rubbish!  We must start from zero!  Ornament is crime! Tabula Rasa!" (picture a little Gropius sitting on my shoulder in an angel/devil costume (you decide which)  :)

So I started working for architects who had eclectic approaches to design, and I learned a lot from them.  The trajectory of my career has been interesting, and I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on lots of different building types, in lots of different places.  I'm a partner in our design firm here in LA, and we do work in a variety of languages, modernist work and traditional work, and the very interesting projects that occupy a space somewhere in between.  I am very much an advocate for "both-and" rather than "either-or". 

To directly answer your question about theory:  My advocacy of the relevance of contemporary classicism is underpinned by a few fundamentals.  First... I believe that beauty is crucially important to human happiness, and creating beauty for people is my highest aspiration.

I don't put much credence in the idea of a zeitgeist. I know that technology may change, and many of the details of our lives may be different now, but I believe that humans are fundamentally the same as they have always been, with the same core needs and aspirations.  I don't think that architecture should necessarily be obsessed with technology, fetishise it, or necessarily derive its forms from it.  We are NOT our technology.  I believe that the "where" and the "why" of our urbanism is far, far more important than the "when".

I see architectural style as a language, conceptually the same as Japanese or Sanskrit or HTML. Because of that, I think that style in some root sense value-neutral.  I can write a great novel in English or German or Italian.  What matters most is not the medium, but the message.  When I look at architecture, I'm most interested in questions like:  How is this building communicating with me?  What is it telling me?  What are the values that the creator of the building want to convey?  What is this building saying about people, about their relationship to society, or nature, or the cosmos?  What is this building doing to try to convince me to want it to be the way that it is?

I do think that the choice of style is important, because it frequently can place a building within a local traditional context.  I also think that certain languages are more appropriate to tell certain stories, of course.

So, full circle... why classicism?  Many reasons, but an important one is that I think that classicism is a language that can be an astonishingly efficient engine for delivering both meaning and beauty.  Not the only one, mind you, but a very facile and nuanced one.  The language of classicism has proportions that are carefully related to the human form.  It is capable of providing visual interest by addressing all scales, from the very large to the very small.  This is an attribute that it shares with natural, organic forms, and is fractal in its self-similarity. This is also an arena where most modernist buildings fail.  They tend to address the large scale articulately, but zoom in on them, to the scale of human beings, and they often become featureless, sterile and mute.  View Gehry's Disney Concert Hall here in LA and you can see what I mean.  From a distance it is very detailed and engaging.  Walk around it at the scale of a few meters and it becomes textureless, banal.

For me, doing work in traditional styles has almost nothing to do with nostalgia, pining for an imagined past, conservatism, or fear of the new.  I'm certain that Leon Krier would agree with me.  It's all about producing buildings, communities, and cities that connect with and nurture people, that make their lives better.  For me, that goal outweighs any need on my part as an architect to be viewed as novel or unique.  I'm not saying that uniqueness or "newness" is not often something to be sought, but I do not believe it to be a universal or determining virtue in architecture.  Once you are able to get over the idea of a zeitgeist or a "style of our time", then traditional languages cease to be connected with nostalgia or "historicism" at all.  They simply become languages you use to tell the story about a particular client, a particular institution, a particular locale or place.  There are attributes of traditional architecture that absolutely connect with people, that they respond to, and find nurturing and uplifting.  In my opinion, our profession should let go of the idea that if the public doesn't like modernist buildings,  they must be stupid or uninformed or foolish, and instead try to carefully, open-mindedly understand the reasons people respond that way to traditional architecture.  If they could do that, then they would be poised to craft a modernism that connects with people and is loved by them.

This is a big subject, and I could go on for quite a while.  But I'll conclude now by answering your last question:

Why do we need to be afraid of new forms?

I'm not.  Why do we need to be afraid of old ones?

Mar 23, 12 4:15 pm

well said eke.

Mar 23, 12 5:40 pm

"...our profession should let go of the idea that if the public doesn't like modernist buildings,  they must be stupid or uninformed or foolish ... instead try to ... understand the reasons people respond that way to traditional architecture.  If they could do that, then they would be poised to craft a modernism that connects with people and is loved by them."

Great post, EKE.  I remember architecture school in those heady, post-modern '80s.  We were, as you say, taught to be modernists.  But there were a few instructors teaching another way.  They recommended we look at Graves, Venturi, and Moore.  But, fortunately, the thrust was not "do what they do," but instead "look at what things like symmetry, or a pitched roof, or a bearing wall punctured by individual windows, or a colonnaded loggia can do for you as an architect, and for people in general."   (Christopher Alexander was helpful in all this, of course.)

The form-giving qualities of these and other traditional (not necessarily classical) forms, both for buildings and for urban spaces, was stressed over high-style PoMo mannerism (thank God).  I'm grateful for that view, even if it was the minority report.

The general disdain among many architects for the general population may be about more than just "style," I fear.  But that's a topic for another day.


Mar 23, 12 7:27 pm

thanks for writing that eke.

how do you feel about le corbusier or mies?  both express classical traditions in profound and deep ways in all of their work.  with your criteria i would expect more love for them.


personally i think people matter more than style. 

the public is not against wal-mart for instance ( because the shed is representative of a modern cornucopia of some sort  ? ).  in same way the public is also stubbornly not against car-dependent housing in american suburbs; nor are they against strip malls and all the rest of the detritus of modern life.  the public has not chosen paris, except in paris (and that was not a pubic choice but the result of dictatorship).  everywhere else its the complete opposite. more to the point, mcdonalds will not improve with a classical facade so am not sure what role style is going to play if we decide to turn this into a discussion about populism. 

under a populist regime classicism also gets dumped into the elitist pit of doom. hm, now i think on it gehry is pretty popular when it comes to the masses.  if we really try to turn this into an argument for what speaks to people i think the answers will not work for lovers of classical architecture.  populism is a stick that is held at both ends after all.  so many neo-cons forget that.


the issues of modern life are too fundamental to take them on with solutions based in style.  we need more. and the public liking or not liking some particular construction is not really so useful as starting point.  the public likes all kinds of stuff that is unhealthy, so appealing to them for justification makes no sense to me. heck, wren was wildly opposed when he was building in london, damn modernist that he was.  i imagine gehry is going to be in the same position. given time.  


Mar 23, 12 7:48 pm

"Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historica   sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity."   


TS Eliot - "Tradition and the Individual Talent"




Mar 23, 12 8:15 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

citizen - that was me, Cal Poly SLO class of '82

Will- Thanks for your comments.  I completely agree with you about the nature of style.  My argument is that it's really secondary to meaning in importance.  I see style-meaning as a map-territory relationship.  

The rest of your post is another variation of the "people are too (choose adjective: stupid, dim, uninformed, foolish, uneducated) to be trusted to like the correct things when it comes to architecture" argument.  That's exactly what I am advocating we get beyond.

What you are saying is, "The public likes lots of things that are bad, so we shouldn't bother trying to do work that they like."  That strikes me as a recipe for a profoundly alienated profession, and a profoundly unsustainable architecture.  If we don't build lovable buildings, they will be demolished.




Mar 23, 12 8:49 pm

great post.


A lot of buildings and spaces we will end up doing over the course of our careers are simple rectangular boxes... why not learn how make a really nice one?

Mar 23, 12 9:26 pm

you are all conformists celebrating conformity and tradition, this thread could make some of us gag

Mar 23, 12 9:31 pm
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It's time for me enlarge/combine both my houses.

The program is simple: add lots more period rooms.

Mar 23, 12 9:32 pm

EKE thanks for starting this discussion.  I'm on only three hours of sleep and have to be up at 5am again tomorrow so I just don't have the strength to respond well right now.  But while I can't disagree with anything in your post, I also can't disagree with anything in Will's.  I do love good discussions coming from educated people, it's fun we can all talk this way here!

But I do want to add this other point of view: I've never really understood, on a personal level, the notion that Classical architecture can, for people of color, people not from the West, women, and other "others", symbolize oppression.  I mean, I can see why it would be so, but I didn't really "get it".  Lately, with all the sh*t going on around gay and women's issues in the States, I finally get it.  I look at white columns, and in particular Notre Dame and Driehaus, and I see oppression.  I'd prefer that we live in a place where everyone really is equal and architecture doesn't have to hold that symbolism, but I can't get past it lately.  It would be lovely if American adoption of Greek democratic ideals really did come to represent equality for all….but I don't see it happening.   Not that strip malls represent that ideal, either, of course.  I'm not sure any built form can.

Mar 23, 12 9:35 pm

please end this discussion, its unproductive

Mar 23, 12 9:36 pm

You are free to leave at any time, Pierce.


Mar 23, 12 9:37 pm

Oh, this too:

When I finally saw this church in person last summer, it was breathtaking.  Awesome in the sublime sense of that word.  Made me aware of my breathing and my body in space and time.  Magnificent, confident, calm…really perfect.

Mar 23, 12 9:41 pm

only trying to help.
when I was in that building there were a mob of gypsies, making it look even uglier than it already is

Mar 23, 12 9:51 pm

you are all conformists celebrating conformity and tradition, this thread could make some of us gag


unless you are the sole survivor of some obscure planet from another solar system, you are a conformist.  you have a computer, and you're posting stuff online - you, like thousands of others, created an archinect profile... you buy name-brand things from stores.  conformity.


and tradition?  do you celebrate holidays?  do you eat food?  do you wear clothing?  do you use language?  oh wait - obviously you use english - hey - that's both tradition AND conformity!  


Unless you're subverting the system from within.  good luck with that.  otherwise I expect all your posts from now on to be complete gibberish.

Mar 23, 12 10:00 pm

Great discussion!

As far as I'm concerned, we're all historisists at this point.  Even in some of the most original (modernist) work I see today, it's easy to pick apart the details and cite precedents in much earlier work.  Seeing what is Miesian in any modernist building is as easy as seeing what is Palladian in a more classical structure.  This applies all the way to somebody as 'edgy' as Gehry or Kellogg... Gaudi did it a long time before they did! :-)  And at least in Gehry's case, a lot better... in my opinion.

A lot of Modernists don't give Classicism it's due credit.  All the proportions, scaling, and descriptive qualities we find engaging in our favorite mod structures can be traced right back to classics in nearly every case.  The Golden Mean is just as evident in the Robie house as it is on the Acropolis; though spoken in two completely divergent tongues.

EKE's essay above pretty well sums up my own feelings 100% - I like almost any 'style' as long as it's done well, stands up to at least a fair amount of intellectual reduction, and serves it's occupants and locality well.  That's the real test of a building's 'goodness', I think.

For anyone who finds this topic engaging, you've got to read Edward Ford's 'Details of Modern Architecture', both volumes.  Those books really changed my attitude about 'style' and what underlies it.  Friendly reading recommendation, there - you'll not regret it!

Ed Lutyens was the one who really hit it (for me) with his fascinating fusion of Modernist and Classical grammars in a single building. His work has all the creature-comfort warmth and charm of a classical language effortlessly blended with the clean, mechanised precision of modernism.  I never tire of studying his details and techniques.  For something that could be viewed as a compromise, his work always gives the viewer a start and a smile - whether they lean Mod or Classic.  It's telling that neither Classicists or Modernists wanted old Ed in their 'club'!!  Love that guy... God rest his soul.

Eliel Serrinen was another that had a fantastic 'fusionist' groove. 

Conformism?  Yeah.. I'm a conformist.  If your work isn't conforming to your client's needs and tastes, and is not enhancing it's immediate surroundings, then it's a failure.  Be a non-conformist if you must, but take plenty of pictures of the finished work... because as EKE has noted, it won't be there long!

To quote the great bassist Jason Newsted, "Yeah, we're sell outs... We sell out every show we play!"

OT - Mrs. DMS and I got a tour of a Quigley house yesterday while we were out measuring up a remodel on Beach Road.... Awesome buiding with a fantastic sense of scale and a fascinating mix of industrial and vernacular materials.  Too bad it leaks like a sieve.  My contractor friend who was doing the remediation work on it said, "This guy may be a hot shot, but he needs to learn how to FLASH a building!'.  Some things never change, eh? <g>




Mar 23, 12 11:00 pm

Folks - is there a way for me to send a private E-mail to a member of the forum?  TIA!

Mar 23, 12 11:06 pm

Additional note - I don't know who's fault it really is  why there's leaks on that house (could be the builder's as easy as the architect's)... But it was a funny story in light of all the famous projects we know of that do indeed leak!  That's one argument for classicism, too... It weathers fairly well.  All the stuff we try to strip off a building to make it more abstract are the things that generaly evolved to prevent the climate from getting in so easy!  Food for thought.

Anyhow... Wanted to say that... I still admire Quigley's work a lot, anecdotal accounts not withstanding.  Not sure who caused the problems in that case.

Modernist buildings are a PITA to weatherproof.

Mar 23, 12 11:31 pm
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5th Year Studio Projects, Fall 1980, critics: Allen Greenberg, John Christopher Knowles.
Seeds of what ultimately became Quondam 1996.

3133 elements for a House for Karl Friedrich Schinkel
3134 schematic sketches

3135 House for Karl Friedrich Schinkel
3136 transformations
3137 Court Gardner's House - Römischer Bäder :: Museum of Architecture
3138 museumification
3139 Museum of Architecture, Venice
3140 their respective positions throughout the museum.
3141 Museum of Architecture : : Fragment Museum


In preparation for a forthcoming Quondam exhibition of "The Philadelphia School," just yesterday I began (re)reading Scully's Louis I. Kahn (1962) where we see Kahn's early 1920s Beaux Arts architectural education being somewhat of a hindrance during the 1930s and 1940s, but then significantly informing the beginnings of his mature design work from the 1950s onward. And, by the late 1950s we begin to see the influence of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius, e.g. First Unitarian Church, scheme 1, 1959; Salk Institute Meeting House, 1959; Bristol Town Hall, 1960.


Mar 24, 12 9:20 am

Humans are animals and are governed by the laws of nature.  Architecture and cities evolve with us.  I believe that some traits of architecture are essential to our very nature, and are universally appreciated on a deep psychological level.  Natural light, human scaled detail, proportion, materiality, rhythm, water, nature, etc.  I would tend to agree with EKE on that.

However, as we evolve (as a society), our creations evolve.  We are not necessarily evolving towards a ideal form, but instead adapting to natural and man-made forces.  At times evolution requires random mutations to adapt to these outside forces, such as climate change, catastrophe, empire, politics, economics, technology, social forces etc , so flexibility is  good.   

In my opinion, in order to allow architecture to evolve into a form that best suits our needs and desires at any given time, we need to pass on those things that are essential and shed the things that are not.  We often shed too much in a pursuit to bypass evolutionary design in pursuit of some instant self gratifying ideal.  But this ideal does not exist and never has.  In fact, evolution never really has an end result, but is rather a perpetual process of adaptation.  Sometimes change for the sake of change can be detrimental to this process. 

We should not so easily dismiss the past, or trade old ideas for new ones.    We sometimes need to put our own desires aside and keep things that work; like a shark or crocodile that has changed so little over the past 100 million years,  because their form is well suited for their function.  However, we also need to get rid of things that are not important and be willing to change when needed, therefore nostalgia is also detrimental to this process.  I think classical architecture expresses many characteristics that are essential, but this does not mean that the expression of those characteristics must be limited to classical forms.  It also does not mean that new forms are better at expressing those characteristics just because they are new. 

Mar 24, 12 4:22 pm

I was speaking of approaches towards architecture, not the other items you listed, which are separate matters that have their own roads to non-conformity. Unless you think that because we eat food, we should design more classical buildings??

You can't honestly say that this thread isn't riddled with conservatism, that's my beef with it.

And yes, there are plenty of us challenging things from within, which unfortunately doesnt happen by reflecting upon the works of Allen Greenburg (barf) and the days of modernism, at least for some of us. I'll leave it at that, will leave the educating to you.

Mar 24, 12 8:03 pm

What is there to do for contemporary architects in classicism? 

Mar 24, 12 8:40 pm

Meaning, dia, what is there for an architect to design if they are using Classicism as a style,  besides making sure the proportions are correct?  I think that's a good question.  It probably has a pretty simple answer, but not one I can come up with.  Anyone else?


As an aside, I'm completely over "the roof leaks" being a valid criticism of the architectural value of a building.  All kinds of stuff leaks, both masterpieces and crap, and as DMS says, it could as easily be the builder's fault as the architects if it does leak.

Mar 24, 12 11:32 pm

dia, in my opinion classicism is not a style, it is a language the same way that modernism, or deconstructivism is.  I don't think any "ism" has ever been fully explored.  Lets think about music for a second....Classical music can be performed in many differnet ways once someone masters the fundamental rules and notes.  Are contemporary classical conductors just copy cats?  Can we write new classical music today that is relevant to the times?  Philip Glass?   I don't think anyone is saying that we should design buildings that look like they are from 500 years ago.  We can use the language of the past and speak it with a contemporary slang.  We are not talking about classical revival.  In my opinion it is more about the fundamental rules of the launguage that can be be reinterpreted with modern forms and materials. This is why I guess I like and hate new urbanism.  I like the meat and bones of it, the walkable streets, local business, tree lined sidewalks, human scale,'s an urban form that works on many levels, however I don't like the way it literally recreates the "town"- seems stylised and nostalgic.  I would also argue that critical regionalism is very important in this debate. 

Mar 25, 12 1:23 am

dia (and donna) - is that a real question? there's as much to mine, design wise, as there is in any other architectural language. as jlarch points out, there's a kind of assumption that 'academic classicism' (based on palladio, vignola and others) is the only form of classicism there is. which is crazy - what all those cats at the turn of the 20th c were doing was exploding the possibilities within classicism. is loos 'modern' or 'classical'? does it really matter?


andres duany is working on a book that catalogs 'orders', within the context of classical definitions (not necessarily styles). having seen the draft, it's weirdly fascinating because almost every single example, be it august perret, plecnik, gilly, or even eero saarinen's dulles airport, all follow similar 'rules' even across such wide ranges of expressions. 


all of this is to say: why are we so obsessed with architectures that try (increasingly) to deny any connection with past traditions? does the work that solely refers to a conch shell hold any greater meaning than work which builds upon a kind of shared dialogue or contributes to a regional or local 'identity'? i agree that frampton's work in this regard is important, but so is a recognition that novelty alone isn't a guarantor of great work. in that regard, there's plenty of artistic room to move within classicism, just as there is within it's offshoots. drawing a moral equivalency around one as inherently 'better' simply limits one's range of inspirations. as an artist, why would that inherently be good?

Mar 25, 12 9:23 am
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Palladio, Piranesi, Kahn, Kahn, Kahn, Kahn, Kahn


I have a feeling that the Stalinist Architecture Revival Style won't emerge until sometime in the 22nd century. I mean, it's just much too soon for such an ultra avant-garde to happen this century.


[I suppose 1985 can no longer be considered contemporary, but] regarding "contemporary architects in classicism" see Stephen Kieran (of Kieran Timberlake) "The Image in the Empty Frame: Wu Hall and the Art of Representation."


Mar 25, 12 10:23 am

Gregory there is definitely room to move - and design - within worked inspired by Classicism.  I'd say any column supporting a beam can refer to Classical proportions, even if the column itself is a W-flange. But contrary to what jlarch said - "We are not talking about classical revival" - I think many people *are* talking about historic revival Classical as being the only "true" form of architecture.  Which is ludicrous.

Mar 25, 12 7:42 pm

ds - of course. except i'd say it's a very distinct minority who are pushing that view. driehaus  may be one (and one with a big platform) but even duany and krier wouldn't push that angle.


but, i'd argue one can practice as a classical architect, not just being inspired by it. 

Mar 25, 12 8:16 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

If I write a contemporary novel in English, a language devised thousands of years ago, and used by Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales, am I an "English Revivalist" novelist? :)

Mar 25, 12 10:20 pm

When I think about classical architecture, I think about a normative process - archetypes, glacial progress (doric, ionic etc), rote learning (the scribe copying texts, and making little amendments and mistakes along the way) but largely being faithful to the ethics inherent the forms i.e. that classical architecture is in and of itself 'correct'.

If that is your position, then anything you do outside of these forms is an aberration, and this is the position that is often taken by classicists.

Classical architecture cannot do anything for affordable housing for example - it is too costly, too reliant on vanishing craftsmanship, too heavy and inappropriate.

Nostalgia for a time and place in which you didn't exist and can only make assumptions about is an indulgence, albeit a very seductive one.

Mar 25, 12 10:42 pm

Yes, but Chaucer wasn't using todays english - he was using the english of his time. English is not a classical language - it is a modern one.  If you want a classical language, look to Latin.

Mar 25, 12 10:50 pm

chaucer was mostly writing in a germanic/english hybrid.   the footnotes so we can understand the text is as long as the tales of canterbury itself.  it is not accessible at all.  neither is latin for that matter (dead language).  in which case the metaphor you make is that only extreme linguists are interested or can even comprehend the old stuff.  kind of apt, actually.

i agree with dia about the normative too.  classical architecture is often used in a pretty rigid way amongst the people promoting it in this thread.  i suppose graves is like michelangelo with the crazy monumental columns stuck on st peters (what a madman!), but who else is out there really trying and pushing with the same kind of skill?

the idea that the lessons of classical times are lost in modernity rings untrue to me.  We haven't lost any of the old logic of construction.  trabeated frames and arches are well understood and all the tricksies of proportion and scale and cetera are still here.  Those ideas were deeply entrenched in modernism by it creators, losing prominence only in the ;ast few decades with the popularization of pomo (ironically).

i think that was a liberation, not a bad thing at all (even if graves is responsible for all those lousy strip malls)


as far as thinking the public is too dumb, to the contrary i have more faith than most.  i am quite ok with the public choosing wal-mart and suburbia over the pantheon and new urbanist planning.  my feeling is like dia's above, classical architecture has little to say about the real problems we face today, and given my druthers i would prefer starting with what is rather than what "ought to be".  i think we will get further that way, and possibly find something new in the process.  with classical architecture all we can find is what we already know.  not enough in my book.

Mar 26, 12 12:46 am

Would keeping the focus more broad on traditional be helpful here, as opposed to the narrower subset of classical?

Mar 26, 12 1:33 am

I don't think the public has a choice.  I tend to agree with Framptons crit. of Denise Scott Brown's learning from pop where he states that "the pop landscape is for the people rather than by the people."   

Mar 26, 12 1:46 am

 Demand is created at the top not the bottom.   There are very few instances where bottom up demand takes root.

Also, suburbia and walmart are affordable.  Cities have become too expensive for most people to afford.  Especially people with families.  Look at went from ("wheres brooklyn at wheres brooklyn at" - to - "brooklyn has such nice coffee shops"..) Gentrification is rampant!   Cities where once places of industry and had economies that could only exist in cities (like the garment district).   outsourcing has changed that. Now cities are places of commodity and white collar jobs.  I'm not sure that New Urbanism is the answer.   

Mar 26, 12 2:13 am

What will continue to happen is decentralization.  There will be "new", master planned communities that offer a diversity of jobs, scales, architecture and provide modern amenities.  There are many multi billion dollar examples starting across the country.


People buy what they are told is "good'.  If you grew up looking at the mansions in Greenwich as being "success", then that's what you will aspire to owning.  If you were privy to the modern gems right next door, in New Canaan, etc., then you might reach towards those modern masterpieces.

But generally, the public looks to "Housewives of Orange County" to "learn" what is "success" and what you should hope to own someday. 

Nothing different than most of music - play the crap enough and people will think it is "good" and buy it.  All comes down to marketing and exposure. 


Further, there are plenty of "bad" classic examples, so people get exposed to it in pieces and can see what their next raise will get them across the street.  It was only in this last boom that we saw (at least I saw) more "modern" designs sprout up via lofts, duplexes, and a few master planned communities (via the "variety" approach). 

The public has responded very favorably to it due to the exposure and the growing association with a more "contemporary" lifestyle, etc.


Quality design can make money and people will like it, more than anything (they/we are dumb, but not that dumb).  Look at Apple.  They'd managed to promote and sell quality design.  The difference is #1 Functionality is superb and #2 they spend billions on advertising (and have some great ads).


Problem with architecture promotion, like the AIA's campaigns, is "ALL architecture is good".  That's crap.  That's like saying "go buy a cell phone, all are equal!". 

Mar 26, 12 10:26 am
Erik Evens (EKE)

My point point with the English/Chaucer metaphor was simply to suggest that a traditional language created hundreds and hundreds of years ago, that is still used today, can be employed to say relevant things about contemporary life, without being "revivalist" or without engaging in nostalgia. I'd also like to note that most cultures which have created great architecture, including obviously Western European cultures, have a range of architecture, a spectrum from the vernacular to the classical. Most buildings are vernacular, with some hints of the classical. The truly classical ideal is reserved for only the most important structures, and is used sparingly. Regarding where demand for architecture comes from, I believe it comes both from the top down and the bottom up. The secret is to find an architecture that engages the expectations of the public in a real way, but doesn't pander to them.

Mar 26, 12 10:43 am
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I guess the irony here is that pandering to the public is indeed one of the ways to make lots of money these days.

Then again, 'how to make lots of money' isn't one of the things taught in architecture school, is it?


Mar 26, 12 11:20 am

"Also, suburbia and walmart are affordable.  Cities have become too expensive for most people to afford.  Especially people with families.  Look at went from ("wheres brooklyn at wheres brooklyn at" - to - "brooklyn has such nice coffee shops"..) Gentrification is rampant!   Cities where once places of industry and had economies that could only exist in cities (like the garment district).   outsourcing has changed that. Now cities are places of commodity and white collar jobs.  I'm not sure that New Urbanism is the answer.   "

Bingo. Well said. 

When I went to school the common theme (at two different schools) was post war planning and utopia. Utopian communities were taught and retaught and the successes were hammered home. Radburn, Reston, even Levittown were put forth as the new way to plan community living. Architecture of the modern times would relate to the planning of modern times. Not the farm and yet not the city. Unfortunately what many people (and designers) took away from that wasn't the things that made those places work (well maybe Levittown I personally never saw how that was included on utopian discussions) The masses just took way cookie cutter cheap production and suburban sprawl, while ignoring the bigger picture of how and why those communities actually worked.  The inter-relationship of all parts of the community and needs as a whole were the goal as opposed to the needs of one entity. There must be some success for  the thought process that went into places like Radburn that today, even in this economy that houses are still wait listed. 

The computer age entering architecture didn't help anyone to  think for themselves, if they weren't already inclined to do so. It became too easy to replicate and and coast for so many that we can see the results all around us and finding an individual thought became an uncommon thing.  "Starketects" rise to stardom simply because they have had an individual thought wether it be good or bad and the ability to get it built. While there has to be a certain amount of respect for that, I wonder, over time how they will hold up compared to their historical counterparts. I mean for some time just successfully completing a unique thought into built form was/is all it took to bring notoriety. I think this is why/how we see so much of our 'modern' architectural 'history' (or should the word be context? notoriety? ) condemned to destruction whilst people have no issue coming up with the $$ and desire to support/restore/maintain classic architecture. 

I haven't seen or felt any 'enthusiasm' for a community wide or  societal concern for architecture/planning as a mode for improving life for the whole community (as opposed to someones personal agenda or bankroll) in a long time. (I guess I need to insert the disclaimer that those comments are in reference to the USA and certainly there are some exceptions but not many) the 70's, 80's and 90's were about either the latest elite vacation house or the best multimillion dollar ode to capitalism, or the most possible units for the least cost. I rarely saw major effort that took on the holistic approach that was prevalent in post war community building. Prevalent was ME ME ME! architecture to reflect the ME ME ME society. Spurred on by builders and developers whose objective was to make as much $ as possible rather than to build the better anything. "better" simply became what you could sell for more while spending less. As opposed to actually looking at what might be better and striving for it.  Architecture reflected the ME ME ME society in it's embrace of waste and sprawl and the almighty dollar was prime in the thought process of design. It showed, even in good Architecture, but most certainly in thoughtless architecture. ( won't capitalize that one)

More recently (last not quite a decade maybe) I do see the effort being made to engage the community as a whole, to think about it as a whole, and to respond to it as a whole. Thankfully, the 'sustainable' thought process itself encourages, no practically requires,  the designer to think more in whole terms. (Which in essence is not a new thought process either, just put a new 'spin' on the classical approach that was taken naturally for centuries. )  

In order to stand the test of time, Architecture has to address the needs of more than just the clients pocketbook, has to address more than how much can I get for how little. It has to address  the community directly(sometimes despite the client ).  In essence I think good design, no matter the language or dialect of it, comes more from a thought process of respect and consideration for cost efficiency as well as needs based planning and space, form, and beauty all on near equal footing while still addressing the  place in which it will exist. 



Mar 26, 12 11:36 am

I was speaking of approaches towards architecture, not the other items you listed, which are separate matters that have their own roads to non-conformity. Unless you think that because we eat food, we should design more classical buildings??

You can't honestly say that this thread isn't riddled with conservatism, that's my beef with it.


the stance you're taking is calling someone who is trying to come to terms with centuries of collective knowledge as "conservative" - which is akin to thinking that a chef learning from traditional methods of roasting food over an open fire is "conservative" because we have microwaves.


the OP is looking back at a particular historic style as a starting point for something they see lacking in our contemporary design language.  I agree there are things to learn by looking back at historic vernaculars and construction, but looking back uncritically can be pretty dangerous - just as dangerous as someone who refuses to look back at all (i.e., people who are rigidly opposed to things like gable roofs and trim for some inexplicable reason).


I don't think EKE is being as rigid and dogmatic as people think - I think it's just a reaction to the current state of architectural discourse that has completely swung toward systems and there is almost no coherent discussion of form, scale, and proportion.


Mar 26, 12 11:42 am

  trace I agree. Decentralization is something that I have been preaching for years. The challenge is to offer "real" communities and not just use gimmicks like "live work play" as some marketing tool. Annoys the hell out of me when "organic" or "green" is used as a marketing tool because people become desensitized and gain a sense of "doing something big" even if the real effect is minor, kind of like going to church for an hour a week makes people feel that they are better than others even if they are assholes the rest of the week. 

I was watching my favorite show "Bizarre Foods," and Andrew Zimmer was in West Virginia. Us urbanites tend to feel like we are more "green" because we use recycled cups for our Starbucks grande crapachinos with processed skim milk, but these folks truly live off the land. They hunt, grow, and sell local. The idea of shooting a squirrel for dinner seems so "not politically or environmentally correct" to most, but this is such a more sustainable way of life than living in a tower block with a green roof.       

My point is that we should first respect and learn from what has been done for generations, before we claim superiority and dictate the "New." There is wisdom in old societies that results from generations of trial and error. To deem the "old way of life" as uncivilized or archaic is unproductive. It is also a big fallacy that modern problems require modern solutions.  I think most of our problems are caused by modernity. The modernist international city offers less of a solution to our problems than the more traditional localized city in my opinion. There seems to be an idea that "progress" is linear.  I would disagree with that.  It may be that the Native American settlements were the height of civilization and everything since was down hill. 

I am not saying that the past was “better” and that we should romanticism it.  I'm saying that the future may be more like the past than the present.  Nerd out for a sec....Ever see Yoda's crib?  He lives in a tree.  Will we eventually become hi-tech bushmen? 

Mar 26, 12 12:00 pm

the stance you're taking is calling someone who is trying to come to terms with centuries of collective knowledge as "conservative" - which is akin to thinking that a chef learning from traditional methods of roasting food over an open fire is "conservative" because we have microwaves.

YES!  I agree 100%

I am not a conservative.  But I am also not an "all believing" progressive.  Seems that there is a liberal "bubble" that is just as destructive as the conservative "bubble." (to quote Bill Maher)

labels need to be replaced with rational thought so that we can be open minded and find what works.  The only thing that we should believe in 100% is good old common sense.

Mar 26, 12 12:20 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

Great posts, all of ya.  This is a very good conversation.

toasteroven wrote:

"I don't think EKE is being as rigid and dogmatic as people think - I think it's just a reaction to the current state of architectural discourse that has completely swung toward systems and there is almost no coherent discussion of form, scale, and proportion."

I certainly don't think I'm being rigid and dogmatic in the least, actually.  I'm the one who's advocating for diversity in architectural language.  I truly believe we should have "both/and" rather than "either/or".  I'm a language agnostic.



Mar 26, 12 12:46 pm

It is interesting at the moment.

There is some discussion (via Kurt Anderson in Vanity Fair - about how there has been no real change in the last 20 years.

One could argue that in a period of stasis, where nothing is compelling, new or challenging, one does look back to where things had some impact. If I think about the last time a building

Then you get this piece from George Dyson via (intro):

What we're missing now, on another level, is not just biology, but cosmology. People treat the digital universe as some sort of metaphor, just a cute word for all these products. The universe of Apple, the universe of Google, the universe of Facebook, that these collectively constitute the digital universe, and we can only see it in human terms and what does this do for us?


We're missing a tremendous opportunity. We're asleep at the switch because it's not a metaphor. In 1945 we actuallydidcreate a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that's not just a metaphor for something else. It actually is. It's a physical reality.

Architects are asleep at the wheel, and they have been riding the highway of mass, shiny, indebting consumption (to use a poor metaphor).

We haven't even started to crack how technology will change not only architecture, but the whole built environment. Not only have we not started, we haven't even really thought too hard about it.

Mar 26, 12 5:26 pm

Screw depending on or using technology to change Architecture for the better....before that can happen, there has to be an understanding of what exactly IS something better. Better has not happended...we peaked at mid century. A movement of forward thinking design produced some of the finest Architecture ever at mid century, and things have gone down since. The Green Movement has sputtered , and no other movement has given birth to what could be the great Architecture of now. Looking back to traditional approaches is just that...looking backwards.

Mar 26, 12 6:34 pm

green movement is not sputtering, just limping along, and i would say getting stronger. look to germany or even UK, which is becoming much more pro-active through legal mechanisms designed to ensure energy conservation that would make an american keel over.

i'm working on a project now to redesign a city that was destroyed by the tsunami that hit japan last year.  my partners are climate scientists and energy researchers and a group of students studying social entrepreneurship.  whether we get to build is another question but in our look at precedents around the world there is no question that this kind of thing is becoming more prevalent.  oddly enough the past is not really the model for much of those efforts.  it can't be, for just the same reason that reading chaucer cannot teach anyone how to write like robert frost.  it is too disconnected with the modern word and modern needs. 

since architecture is common sense more often than not, all the basics are covered no matter the style as long as the architect is half competent.  classicism is not actually lost to modernity, nor is the vernacular.  parts of it may be covered up by air conditioning and nuclear power but it is hardly the wasteland that Driehaus implies.  I think that is just ego getting in the way...if we are aiming for something more intelligent that is great, but vernacular or classical are not needed.  not at all.

Mar 26, 12 7:07 pm

I want to make two points:

1- Regarding what Donna and Dia and others are saying about classical not being only revivalist - Would anyone here agree that David Chipperfield is as much a Classicist as he is a modernist?

2- To go back to OP and what you wrote about your travels - I would argue that a lot of people mistakenly attribute the good and humane feeling of the European city to its dominant architectural style or history as it applies to buildings individually. It is the eclectic collective that gives you that feeling; it is the city as a whole. The city that was designed for the human scale before the invention of automobile. What they call "cozy."

And that has everything to do with how the streets are designed and planned and not much to do with how the individual buildings are designed, other than a few key elements. It's really the residual space that has the biggest impact on us. I would recommend Jan Gehl's latest book Cities for People. I think it especially applies to this argument since no one really thinks the interior of a building when you hear "Classicist." There was also this article recently that reminds me of this conversation.

Of course, there is a build up and layering of history that you can't just build overnight, which is why postmodernism failed, and why "the new master-planned communities" will fail at large scales (we are talking about suburbia, right?)... Unless.. they follow a few simple rules. Rules of planning with the intention of having a humane, pedestrian oriented city - not rules of a particular architectural style.  This, obviously, also has its  place in the green movement.

Then there is the inner sense of "quality" as defined in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I digress for now...


Mar 26, 12 8:14 pm

nice post miesian.

Mar 26, 12 9:44 pm

I wouldn't agree that Chipperfield is a classicist.

Screw depending on or using technology to change Architecture for the better....before that can happen, there has to be an understanding of what exactly IS something better. Better has not happended...we peaked at mid century.

Better has not happened because we haven't been interested in better. And we certainly haven't taken a proactive role in how technology may influence architecture.

Mar 26, 12 9:58 pm

I also agree with Miesian. I imagine wandering through Paris, London or Florence would propel some to ecstasy.

Disclaimer: I live in Auckland, where the oldest building was built in the 1840's, and I have never visited Europe.

Mar 26, 12 10:22 pm
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been reading (and writing in) this thread

last night (while reading here) thought of the architecture of Aldo Rossi, especially the late works; quickly glanced through Aldo Rossi: The Life and Work of an Architect

been reading (intermittently the last few weeks) Durand's Precis of the Lectures on Architecture; I now see a strong connection between Rossi and Durand

this morning, did a google search (see Mies on the front page today) rossi durand precis and 'found' several things including:

Rossi does reference Durand's Precis within The Architecture of the City; it's now many years since I've read this book; should read it again soon

a pdf entitled "Can the language of classical architecture be used legitimately today?" (1998)



now imagining a pdf entitled "The joy of using the classical language of architecture illegitimately today"



otherwise, working on The Philadelphia School deterritorialized

"Trust me, deterritorialized thinking isn't necessarily brillant, although for the most part uninhibited."



Mar 27, 12 10:28 am

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