OUR READER BAMBALL AND THE RETURN OF THE HUMAN BEING AS AN ARCHITECT’S CONCERN:
‘Formalist criticism, made to fit nicely in easy-to-read chapters in books on Modern Architecture. Note the great modernist architectural photographs published in Post war magazines never showed humans in the images. People in the buildings would muss up the picture, thus ruin the purity of the work.
Most american architects practicing now were educated in method of education codified in places like the Bauhaus. Those teachers like Gropius fled WW II, and brought their system into the American ivy league colleges, which through their influence in subsequent decades, spread it through North America. These original teacher-practitioners were social architects first, and formalists second–the work was about people. Maybe now, in hindsight we can see that it was idealized a bit too utopian for the masses, but the social program ideas were there, and those early works were built following the degradation wrought by WW I because of the idealism of these early designers.
But through the years, typological and morphological formalism was all that was left of the great heroic (original) modern movement–the social program, which drove the early works, was stripped out as the “style” became the dominant aesthetic of modern architecture, which became the style of capitalism. The functionalist instincts of the work also lost any connection to anything other than “cost” and “program”, two things which weren’t about social policy anymore, but were rather two words used to create Post War architectural works glorifying materialist pursuit of the american dream and the american way to truth and freedom, no communists allowed. Functionalism became a word synonymous with boring boxes without spirit.
In the hands of masters, great works can be fashioned. But any good idea, like using a common urinal to make an important statement, has its context and reasoning intrinsic to its purpose, but is then always followed by poor imitations and copies that never really understood what it was copying in the first place. And those copies are made by people who just don’t get it. And a lot of these people who just don’t get it, go on to write books based on false premises. It’s easy to look at two things and say “hey, they look alike, that must means they are the same.” You can sum up the written history of 20th century modern architecture in that sentence, just further subdivide into even more specific chapters. Chapter 1: Squares. Chapter 2: Rectangles. Chapter 3: Circles. And so on.
Luckily in the last few economically troubled years, with a new younger generation looking to rebuild their own future in the mess left for them by us older folks, you see a resurgence of social program in the architectural profession, that seeks to re-inject some human spirit into the work.’