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.
Editor in Chief