Message - Re: the relation between design and theory

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Posted by  Paul Malo on October 02, 2002 at 08:47:27:

In Reply to:  the relation between design and theory posted by stephen on October 02, 2002 at 06:57:57:

You're talking about "Contextualism," I suppose. I was never a student of Rowe, who conducted the graduate Urban Design studio at Cornell, but as our school was nearby and because many of my faculty colleagues were Cornellians, I absorbed much of the attitude. It 's an "attitude" more than a stylistsic formula. It's an ethic, rather than an esthetic. A theory? Maybe, but Rowe was not, in my view, a theorist so much as an appreciative critic of urban form.

You can read about Contextualism elsewhere, so I won't volunteer a primer here. As the name suggests, it's concerned with context, or the fit of buildings into the large place. Even more broadly, it's about PLACE-making. This is not the same as BUILDING-making, which was more the focus of the Modern school, as perpetuated by the Bauhaus-Gropius-Harvard line.

Contextualism was revisionist, and looked back to history, particularly of the European Renaissance, to relearn lessons of place making. It's architectural style, however (if there was a "style") was not nostalgic for the classical tradition directly, but only indirectly. Rowe understood how Corb (despite his futuristic polemics) was really continuing the classical tradition of Europe. Stylistically, many Contextualists revered Corb, and much of the work tends to appear Mieresque, or even "Modern Classicism," as Steve, I think, referred to it in this forum.

Rowe's program at Cornell was a font of pedagogy, and it produced many design faculty of architectural schools, particularly in the US, and particularly in the Northeast. Their influence continues, even though Cornell's architecture program drifted into DeCon and other avant garde fads after Rowe's retirement. It's not the same place now.

As you may guess, I consider myself a Contextualist.

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