Object Lesson

 

I Want To Go To Yale

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I may lose a few friends for suggesting this, but I think the time has come to reintroduce traditional design into mainstream architectural education. “What's the point?” you may ask. “Is the modernist movement bankrupt?” Now that's a loaded question, but the short answer is no. Cities across the United States—even ones in the red states—are scrambling to build radical landmarks by Coop Himmelblau, Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, and other extreme innovators. But for every duly celebrated iteration of the Bilbao effect, we still get a thousand over-scaled McMansions and themed shopping centers. It's tempting to place the blame on builders and developers, but it's not entirely fair. They don't exactly have a huge pool of traditionally trained architects to chose from.

The avant-garde, for all its well-deserved recent success, has never delivered on its 100-year-old promise to slay the popular taste for traditional architecture. At this point, it's not a problem: Modernism's having a great ride, even though it's still got competition. The real problem is that the profession is largely unwilling and unable to meet the never-ending demand for tradition—in no small part because architecture schools teach their students to despise it. So why should architects be surprised that the lion's share of what gets built in a historicist manner looks like so much dog duty? Sure, I'd like to see the avant-garde triumph, but I'd just as soon see some improvement in the design of the typical suburban house.

Believe me, I understand the fear and loathing that many architects feel for traditional design. I went through the same boot-camp indoctrination in the principles of Modernism that most of this magazine's readers did. Born from the shining brow of Walter Gropius at the Dessau Bauhaus, and seeded in the U.S. through institutions such as Harvard and the Illinois Institute of Technology, it's a closed mind-set that perpetuates to this day at nearly every architecture school in the country. The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture has accredited some 250 North American programs, yet the Prince of Wales' International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture, and Urbanism names just 32 U.S. programs that offer some traditional design faculty or courses, and only two—at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Miami—that are entirely committed to the teaching of traditional design.

I'm not suggesting that architecture schools across the country drop everything and dedicate themselves exclusively to the production of the next Stanford White or Julia Morgan. What I am suggesting is that the schools—and the profession as a whole—drop the attitude about historicist architecture and find themselves a middle road. It's perfectly possible. Just look at Robert Stern, who has transformed Yale during his tenure as dean from a decaying bulwark of Modernism into a world-class incubator of eclecticism and crossplatform debate. In the current climate of institutionalized Modernism, Stern's agenda seems absolutely radical. Where else on Earth would I be able to choose between studios run by Peter Eisenman and Léon Krier? If I were looking at architecture schools today, Yale would be my first choice.

 
 

Comments (29 Total)

  • Posted by: justyourpaycheck | Time: 9:57 AM Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Raj, it seems I've touched a nerve in a guilty party, O Defensive One. I work with architects daily--luckily ones who are both talented and grounded--and the "axioms" of which you apparently disapprove and assume are only my own are representative of some of the ends for which they strive. They know that architects are not the only "educated men"--and women--on the planet. But it doesn't even take an education to know a building should be usable by people. A building can have form AND function, and if you can't handle that, you don't deserve the title of Architect. Thank you for completely missing--and proving--my point.

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  • Posted by: Raj999 | Time: 10:34 PM Thursday, January 03, 2008

    justyourpaycheck-You are the one who seems to be suffering from a god complex. You come onto a thread and berate a group of educated men over their own profession as well as laying down axioms to your very own architectural philosophy.*bows down*...

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  • Posted by: justyourpaycheck | Time: 6:51 PM Friday, December 28, 2007

    This is nauseating. As a potential client I wouldn't hire half of you because you demonstrate no desire to solve daily problems I would have living/working in one of your conceptual "masterpieces". You're so busy imposing your will, or the styles of others because you have no original solutions of your own to the problem of making a building not only attractive and relevant to its time, climate & surroundings, but more importantly truly functional or livable, that you utterly alienate the very entities on whose funding you rely. I am not an architect. I have a highly refined aesthetic sense, but I also possess practicality, which is lost on some of you obviously suffering from god complexes. To the rest of you who remember who the client is and why you're there (and are reminding your peers)--the world needs more of you--you are the ones who will win the bids as the public wises up.

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  • Posted by: DCarchitect | Time: 6:00 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    .. I really even hate having to say "modern" architecture, because that does implies an era or a style, I prefer contemporary, and as a contemporary architect I design for 2007 looking forward to 2010, or 2030, etc. Great architecture "celebrates" the poetic in life (as great architecture has throughout the ages) but in this time; in the here and now, and we celebrate it w/ a contemporary language ... that is why the Vietnam memorial (architecture and death) is so much more powerful as art / architecture than the Korean memorial ( imbued w/ traditional forms) and much more powerful than the WW II memorial, which as a "classical" monument built in the early 21st century memorializing a mid-20th century war... borders on the simplistic and shallow … if not the cartoon-ish...... Understanding history is critical...to mimic it ( as style) is a disservice .....

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  • Posted by: philadelphia.architect | Time: 5:17 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    It is interesting to see the variety of comments on this topic. It looks as though the moderns have the upper hand in this discussion in terms of numbers. A question for consideration: is an architect today who is quoting heroic modernist elements from the 1920's really modern? Isn't everything we see today essentially post modern in that everyone is referential, and everyone is using architectural elements in a picturesque composition, not functionally derived?

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  • Posted by: tjcaine | Time: 6:26 PM Wednesday, December 05, 2007

    The misconception is that schooling people in history is stalling forward progress or creativity in architecture. This is not really true. Humanity is a continuum and for the vast majority of its existence, so was architecture; continuously building on itself to improve and evolve to the present. Modernism produced some great design, but it ended this sequence, disconnected itself with all of history and marginalized non-architects. All present is informed by the past and cognizant of the desired direction of the future. There is no present without the past. Modernism's flaw was deeming our time so exemplary that previous genius no longer applied. Historic learning does not mean architects build Beaux Arts homes. It leaves them enlightened enough to take brilliance of the past and evolve it into the present. Do not teach the past so people who want it don’t end up with an insult to our profession. Anyone better schooled in the past will create better modern designs.

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  • Posted by: JCHENRYAIA | Time: 6:17 PM Monday, November 26, 2007

    We were inculcated with Bauhaus Modernism (BM) but design on a base sub-variant of it or vernacular traditionalism. More new work/remodeling is based on contemporary classicism.The residential field is est. 95% non BM. NUrbanism claims no anti-Modern bias, but is overwhelmingly built out in period styles. Clients have forced us to learn independently what was taught not to be done.More pedestrian Modernism has been foisted onto our landscape in the past 50 years than ill conceived period work. BM, coming from a socialist agenda, continues to be touted by the arts intelligentsia marginalizing traditionalism.It is backed by the liberal media while against the conservative media.It follows that traditional architecture is preferred by red state minds while modern is venerated by the blue.We were sanitized to believe otherwise -- that architecture is amoral and simply the result of function best solved. Psychological imagery, connection to the past, human scale, etc. was not emphasized.

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  • Posted by: nicobar | Time: 10:31 AM Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Eisenman and Krier as studio options? Sounds like undergraduate education 1986. How do these two rarified examples address the problem you describe?

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  • Posted by: Rebecca | Time: 11:44 PM Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    The architect Charles Rennie McIntosh said it best. ___ “There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfection of the mere stylist”. That, I believe, applies to either, and any, die hard stylists.

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  • Posted by: kimdel | Time: 9:09 PM Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Fortunately I was "older" when I went to a modernist school who also has one of the top 3 historic preservation programs around - odd coincidence that helped me tremendously. "Modernism" is becoming another "style" whether the purists admit it or not and rejecting/ignoring the past dooms us to repeat it, right? Much of sustainable design has historic/traditional design to thank-- window trim that keeps rain out, awnings, porches, etc. that solve climate issues by design. Let's not ignore that which is helpful because of a prejudice against being called a stylist. That said, arch programs need to address designing for climate. period. styles are usually named after they are well established or over so teaching any style and not just principles, including modernism, should be in the history classes, not the design classes.

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  • Posted by: lesuerg | Time: 10:45 AM Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Congrats to Ned for opening this can of worms in such a winsome way! Moderism's dominance of the academy in North America is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Witness the modernistas here saying, "Shut up! We're through with history." What modernism is really all about is denial of all authority, which is how tradition expresses itself in building. To use the medical analogy, a "modernist" doctor would use the latest fad cures without any regard to their efficacy because he/she refuses to be subject to the authority of scientific study. I sure don't want to go to that doctor! Architecture is a conversation that goes back 6,000 years. About 1920 we decided that the conversation was over. I don't think that was a good idea. I welcome the return to the larger conversation that includes traditional ways of building.

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  • Posted by: tristram | Time: 6:04 PM Friday, November 16, 2007

    There is a HUGE issue of the built environment devolving aesthetically for many decades due to scant public Discussion, Awareness, Demand and thus Supply from developers. This is a direct result of the media that leaves the public ignorant. This lack of demand for design talent means developers must believe the public will want great design. Whether it’s Pre-Classicism to Meta-Rationalism or the 53+ …isms in between, Traditionalism to Modernism symbolizes this wide spectrum that needs to be taught if our profession is to evolve. The art of Architecture is gloriously evolving far beyond the first great Modernist palette, but the public needs awareness of the greatness in design in order to demand it to be built. No discussion, no awareness, no demand, no supply. Media is the KEY to start an evolution and kill the very real devolution.

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  • Posted by: Marcantonio | Time: 7:04 AM Friday, November 16, 2007

    Thank you, Mr. Cramer, for this courageous editorial. It's about time the profession deal with its disconnect with the general public. I also know, as I teach at Yale, that there's a hunger among students for traditional architectural instruction--there's no good reason why they shouldn't have it.

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  • Posted by: emcee0007 | Time: 10:10 PM Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Thank you for your hyperbole, john999999.

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  • Posted by: john999999 | Time: 5:01 PM Thursday, November 15, 2007

    No one is suggesting that modernism be thrown out but that the architecture profession become open minded enough to teach a variety of design theories and to god forbid, question modernism. Fine, if you only want to design in a modernist way, but at least let me be able to choose not to. For proof of how narrow minded people are about this topic just look at the post above that having one editorial discuss this topic briefly makes the entire magazine publication trash. Or the all-out vicious and hateful attacks that anyone who wishes to work with traditional architecture must want to also bring back slavery, Victorian medicine and must somehow like Hitler. I have never heard such hateful things said about anyone, not even out of Ann Coulter's mouth, than modernist architects attacking another architect who doesn’t work in a Modernist way. Look what was said about Morris Lapidus, for example.

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  • Posted by: emcee0007 | Time: 2:08 AM Thursday, November 15, 2007

    The fact that this is being discussed in Architect magazine is the reason I toss all my issues in the trash. The journal is no longer relevant and advocating a return to the past based on tenuous reasoning is exactly why.

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  • Posted by: kmoffett@bullocksmith.com | Time: 11:00 AM Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    I couldn't agree more; this matter has been troubling me for years. If anything my own position would be even more "radical." A very select very few highly talented "founders" loosed modernism on the world and, while there is a good measure of good work that has been done in that vein, most is quite inept. And as noted, most historicist design is quite inept as well, due to the fact that the schools have chosen to disdain thousands of years of evolved experience in what architecture can be. My admittedly limited impressions are that the typical nature of architectural education is, by and large, bereft of many things it should be, and does a disservice to students and to society.

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  • Posted by: tpellowski | Time: 6:12 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    What goes around comes around. As an undergrad in the early 80's, I saw historicist students revolt against their modernist faculty. By the time I was a graduate student in the late 80's, it was clear that PoMo had already run it's course. In retrospect, it provided us with a refresher course in proportion and composition that had been ignored when modernism was on steroids (in architects' minds anyway). I'm sure the pendulum will swing many times during our careers. In the meantime, our work should transcend issues of fashion, style and taste to the extent that we can. I continue to find a great deal of inspiration from architects like Aalto, Kahn and Wright who's work has endured and can not be pinned down to a particular style. Hopefully, all of us life-long students of architecture will focus on integrity of materials, light, human scale and sustainability. If we do a good job at that, "style" will take care of itself.

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  • Posted by: bob@knightarchitect.com | Time: 4:30 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    The issue is not really "modernist" or "historicist", it's "Is it good design". Is it well executed, does it solve the program, does it fit the site, is it good looking?" Unfortunately a great deal of contemporary designers feel that if they don't do something that hasn't been done before, it can't be any good. That in fact, if it is "new" it is by definition "good". So they try too hard. Very few designers are form givers who can show the rest of us the way to new forms. Trying to be one usually means very shallow trendy work. Although there are many architects who would disagree, “modernism” is a style, a vocabulary choice. Perhaps it wasn’t for Mies or Gropius, but it is for you unless you are one of very few great architects. Try to solve the problem and use all the tools in the box--and that can include traditional styles.

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  • Posted by: palpac@comcast.net | Time: 2:49 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    Iread all the stuff Yale Arch. Sch. sends their alums, and I must say I do not see much "traditional" work being done by the students. In fact I think it is more radical than it was when I was ther. All we got was Mies and the hot guys from Europe who turned our heads away from traditional forms, primarily because it was cheaper to build modern. We were rebuilding a broaken world in the fifties and cheap was in. Lavish embelishment was out. So-maybe the world is rich enough now that we can afford to do anything. Hooray

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  • Posted by: philadelphia.architect | Time: 2:34 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    I began my architectural education at North Carolina State University where as you say I was brainwashed to be an ardent modernist of the brutalist persuasion. Graduate school was UCLA under Charles W. Moore, where I was freed from the modernist yoke. He was a true humanist who thought it more important that we give people some joy in their life than it was to prove an aesthetic point. I remember designing the reflective glass elephants for the Buildings for Best Projects exhibit at MOMA with him. Never have I felt so much guilt from my modernist training, and seen so much joy from the people who saw the design. I think that Stern's Yale is a great model not because it has tradition alone but because it has pluralism and true freedom of expression.

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  • Posted by: grca@sbcglobal.net | Time: 2:19 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    Re: Reintroducing traditional design into architectural schools, your argument seems to me analogous to the notion that because American culture has historically nurtured predudices against people of color, and in many instances still does, racism should therefore be taught as a legitimate alternative in public schools. It is in my view O.K. to teach about so-called "traditional" design, but not - it. History class takes up enough time, and there are good books on the subject aplenty. Insofar as massive compression structures are concerned, I think engineering curriculum probably handles it well enough. Have we not sunk far enough into reactionary thinking these days?

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  • Posted by: Pinerworks | Time: 2:16 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    I appreciate the debate, but in my mind and with my training (UC Berkeley and UPenn) what really is at stake here is not style, but substance. Styles change -- but the present and future world are about the very real significance of good and careful design that will make buildings timeless. The 21st century is going to be all about resource and energy conservation -- whatever "skin" this design value gets placed in should rightfully grow out of a dedication to that responsibility, and should hopefully include the classic understanding of proportion and natural mimicry (for example the origins of column orders are all based on natural proportions found in nature and in musical harmonics) that makes a building attractive and stand the test of time. If design is taught and practiced in this way it will be both fresh, relevant and timeless, connecting all facets of what the profession needs to serve.

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  • Posted by: anthony1620 | Time: 2:13 PM Monday, November 12, 2007

    Ned, Would you ever go to a doctor and suggest that he use archaic, wasteful and unsatisfactory forms of diagnosis and treatment? Or do you go to medical professional seeking the best, up to date advice and treatment that the profession has to offer?

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  • Posted by: CINTA.D | Time: 7:25 PM Saturday, November 10, 2007

    I don't understand the fascination with trying to recreate the past. Architecture is about moving forward. Europeans come to the U.S. and laugh at our lame attempt to create their old world. I say study traditional architecture but build what the future demands.

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  • Posted by: CINTA.D | Time: 7:03 PM Saturday, November 10, 2007

    I don't understand the fascination with trying to recreate the past. Architecture is about moving forward. Europeans come to the U.S. and laugh at our lame attempt to create their old world. I say study traditional architecture but build what the future demands.

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  • Posted by: atlanticeast | Time: 11:58 AM Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Haha... "please try not to make it blog" should read "please try not to make it about how great you think you are."

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  • Posted by: atlanticeast | Time: 11:55 AM Saturday, November 10, 2007

    I find it completely unsurprising that "Gunslinger" failed to quote the ranking system he/she claims ranks the University of Toronto as "#5 in the world." First of all, the only credible (scratch that - the only widely accepted) global university ranking system is that of the Institute of Higher Education, in which the University of Toronto appears at #24. This, behind 18 US universities. To most impartial observers, this won't be surprising at all. When you comment on a story or blog entry, please try not to make it blog. PS- Way to keep your comment relevant.

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  • Posted by: Gunslinger | Time: 2:18 PM Thursday, November 08, 2007

    Though facinating, I find it difficult where to gauge all of the information relative to my eduation at the University of Toronto. World rankings, the last time I saw something published in 2002, was Toronto was ranked #5 in the world. It would be interesting to see where these US rankings end up under the same "yardstick"

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About the Blogger

Ned Cramer

thumbnail image Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, and editorial director of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, ECO-STRUCTURE, and METALMAG, published by Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based business media company. Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Cramer served as the first full-time curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), where he organized public programs and exhibitions such as "A Century of Progress: Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair" and "New Federal Architecture: The Face of a Nation." At CAF, projects under Cramer's direction received support from foundations and corporations such as Altria, Boeing, the Driehaus Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the McCormick-Tribune Foundation. He speaks regularly on architecture, design, and related issues. The Avery Architectural Index lists nearly 100 articles with Cramer's byline, many written in his former capacity as executive editor of Architecture magazine. The recipient of an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cramer has held positions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Menil Collection in Houston. Cramer is an alumnus of the Rice University School of Architecture. He was born and raised in St. Louis.