Message - Re: Traditional architecture and the question of authenticity

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 16, 2002 at 17:06:53:

In Reply to:  Traditional architecture and the question of authenticity posted by BRUTUS on September 16, 2002 at 14:10:54:

A culture is comprised of subcultures. To use an overworked metaphor, it's a tapestry woven of many strands. There is no single tradition for a culture. In America, the African-American experience, subculture, and traditions are not identical to those of Native Americans, or Irish-Americans or any other group. The traditions of the Northeast are not the same as those of the Northwest.

Probably the culture of some places is far more monolithic than that of the US and Canada. Even so, the notion of "nationalism" in art is currently suspect, since we have seen so much propogandistic exploitation of "folk: ("volk") loyalty in the twentieth century.

This is not to say there are no traditions--only to say that definition of THE national tradition may be implausible, certainly for the US, but probably for many places on the globe.

Sense of heritage naturally varies among individuals, of course. It's a matter of one's particular experience. In another post I recently mentioned French gardens, for instance. They are genuinely significant culturally to me, in part because of my French heritage, in part because I have traveled widely in France, and in part because I am an architectural historian. French gardens leave most Americans cold, however. They're literally meaningless. I have a garden of my own that (to me) recalls French garden art--but it leaves most others who see it likewise cold. They simply don't share the same subcultural tradition.

The quest for the ideal, or universal solution--in this instance the pursuit of cultural relevance (e.g. the utopian notion of a universal, all-purpose International Style)--is futile. There is no universal, or national, or even regional tradition that is shared by everyone in a particular place.

There are some traditions that transcend national boundaries, however, although they are not shared by everyone within any nation. We experience this frequently in architecture schools, finding that visiting architects from varied lands speak the same architectural language, at least understanding one another's architectural views if not always agreeing with them. There is a culture of architecture which they share, in addition to other cultural traditions which are different.

And then there ARE certain traits more common in some places than in others. Architects from some places, visiting us in the American northeast, frequently are astonished to see all the detached, wooden houses, most commonly painted white, lined up in tidy rows along straight village streets. We take this for granted, having lived here, but others find it curious.

Class (a consideration avoided today in many "politically correct" circles) is a real factor in cultural issues. In India, Britain, or the US, the subculture of the upper class is considerably different from that of others. Architects need to recognize these distinctions, even if such distinctions seem abhorent philosophically. (I recall someone in this forum commenting, "There you go again, Paul, with your class consciousness"). Like it or not, we have to know and understand our users and clients, and they are not all the same, sharing identical values and cultural traditions.

There is no "authentic" American architecture, or genuine architectural tradition here. There ARE architectural traditions (plural) however, some of which are shared by some people in some places. I've designed French chateaux, for instance, for clients whose culture is cosmopolitan. Others of my clients find this tradition alien and incomprehensible. I've designed log villas in the mountains for some of those clients. I've done urbane Modern villas for others. Who is right or wrong? Is there any right or wrong in this? The only "right" solution I see is the one that is appropriate, first of all to the user and the user's culture (which may or may not be the prevailing culture of architects).

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