Message - Re: tradition and innovation and authenticity

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 16, 2002 at 08:24:23:

In Reply to:  Re: tradition and innovation and authenticity posted by Kevin Matthews on September 14, 2002 at 00:21:21:

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, "It's not what you do, but how you do it" that counts--at least in art. Most of us were indoctrinated with a tradition developed in the nineteenth century about "morality" in art, which was really about supposed relevance of one style versus another. This suggested that a "moral" architect who did forumlaic work in the preferred style would be superior ethically to the charlatan who did accomplished work in the disapproved style.

We look back now on the quarrel between the Gothic-revivalists and Georgian traditionalists as silly, recognizing that the idiom didn't guarantee architectural quality, and that plenty of bad work was done in either style. Similarly, when the Modern style was co-opted by corporate and institutional architects at the mid-twentieth century, we saw plenty of bad work--much of it worse than that of the "traditional" designers done in the earlier part of the century. Being "modern" no longer sufficed to rationalize the quality of the architecture. There will be good and bad work done in any style.

In the same way, I'm not concerned that a beautiful house by Stern may have been designed in a mock Cotswold-cottage idiom. So what? What's the problem? If Stern evidences the designers' "good eye" for composition and genuine taste in appropriateness, given that general gestalt, then the work can be very fine architecture in my view. I happen to like Cotswold cottages, of course--but I like all architecture, not merely current fads (which I often like far less, as you know).

The "authentic" issue here is not about authenticity to the Zeigeist, of course, since stone cottages are obviously an anachronism today. The authenticity is a matter of internal consistency, the parts being integrated into a whole by the envisioned gestalt, or wholeness, sensed by the designer. In a word, this is what we call "taste," in the sense of sensitivity to appropriateness, rather than as an awareness of fashion or adherence to a manifesto.

I can recognize authenticity in Piano's work, even when I regard it as becoming obsessed with technical gimmickry. There is the "good gestalt" that holds it together in a persuasive and compelling manner. Whether it's "modern" or "progressive" is not the criterion, but whether it it's recognizable and believable as architecture.

Regardinng the Postmodern STYLE, I'll agree that I find the work of architects like Moore and Graves to be less convincing in terms of authenticity than that of architects such as Aalto (recently discussed) and Piano. That's not a matter of style, however. It's a matter of conviction and intensity of concern. The Postmodern architecture STYLE (again, as distinct from postmodernism in the larger sense) was not even a real style, in my view, but merely the mannerisms of a few designers who seemed large concerned with decorative effects. I'm not a proponent by any means of misappliying fragments of history and painting racing stripes on fašades. I am a proponent, however, of designing coherent buildings in any style, whether Cotswold-cottage, Roman classical, High Modern, or High Tech. It's all the same to me, so long as the architect is a good architect.

I share Oscar Wilde's view that, "It's not what you do, but how you do it" that counts."

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