Message - Re: tradition and innovation and authenticity

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Posted by  Kevin Matthews on September 14, 2002 at 00:21:21:

In Reply to:  Re: tradition and innovation posted by Paul Malo on September 13, 2002 at 12:03:46:

Yes, a lot of the conversational divergence and adjustment is (necessarily, I think) due to langauge variations. This forum chews sometimes on pretty solid stuff for its strangely wonderful online medium, evanescent and persistent, public and personal.

Yes, I was interpreting Postmodern as refering to the style school of Graves and, more substanitally, Stern. I'm not so sure where the real substance lies in the more generalized literary or critical mode of the term.

On authenticity and modernism, I see Piano, for instance, as continuing an authentic strain of modernism, experimenting technically with materials for significant ends, seeking ornamental richness for instance in the texture of materials and the fabricating and connecting methods of contemporary methods, rather than in applied ornament or more literal historical referencing.

My own microdot history of authenticity in architecture goes something like this...

Vernacular architectures across time and around the world have tended inherently to be relatively authentic, representing the direct, slowy evolving solutions of locally grounded designer/builders to particular combinations of climate, materials, and culture.

The high Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Japanese classical buildings, for instance, all tended to be relatively authentic, being only one cultural generation as it were away from their respective vernacular roots.

From the Rennaissance onward, with various ups and downs, high European architecture repeated and revised mostly Greco-Roman forms in waves of variations, elaborations, and simplifications. Although great buildings were produced along the way, and a marvelous skein of interconnecting cultural refinements was developed over time, the conceptual system of references to references to references gradually eroded in authenticity. However, the fundamental structural disciplines of bearing masonry kept designers and craftsmen in touch with an underlying authenticity of shapes and proportions.

Those authentic constraints were relatively suddenly removed for the European buildings of the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s when availability of iron and then steel in quantitiy introduced new opportunities for tensile bearing and bracing. For a time most buildings incorporating these new structures were styled and finished as if they were still Greco-Roman bearing masonry throughout. Modernism, as a search for new styles and expressions appropriate to the new materials and methods, was born out of that collapse of authenticity.

Although its significance has often been underestimated by the art historical community, the pursuit of architectural Modernism during the course of the last century has been much more than just another cyclical variation in stylistic fashions. It is a confrontation with the first huge set of changes in the structural terms of architecture since bearing masonry heavy timber.

Over the last 75 years or so, this search for a new authenticity has been various pursued with passion, diminished, denied, co-opted, contradicted, and exploited. It has also succeeded repeatedly, if, inevitably, intermittently, to produce new great buildings.

Measured in terms of authenticity, the Postmodern stylistic movement was a relatively pathetic attempt to resurrect visual language developed for other materials and methods, and to apply it superficially, in simplified terms affordable to contemporary clients, on top of technically modern structures.

Next chapter: What can be the authenticity of curtain wall?   (Hint: What is wrong with applied ornament, anyway?)

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