Column: Modern architecture’s coup d’etat

Robinson Hall, at Harvard, home to Graduate School of Design, 1936-72. (Wikipedia)

Robinson Hall, at Harvard, home to Graduate School of Design, 1936-72. (Wikipedia)

How did modern architecture suddenly replace the traditional architecture that, by the 20th century, offered a wide variety of joyful styles to house human activity? Why, in just three decades, were three millennia of beauty replaced so entirely by ugliness in the built environment?

Didn’t anyone stand up and say no?

Well, no. Not really. Traditional architecture, anchored by the Beaux-Arts classicism of the academy, saw no rivals. The City Beautiful movement was spreading across the United States. The “Ornament and Crime” critique of Adolf Loos in pre-World War I Europe was separated by an ocean from architecture in America. The idea that the folly of monarchy and the carnage of war could be blamed on buildings must have seemed patently ridiculous, and unthreatening, to most architects.

To read the rest of this column, please visit The Providence Journal.


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Column: Modern architecture’s coup d’etat

  1. seishonagon3 says:

    Dear mr. Brussat, I have read your article in The Providence Journal and I couldn’t agree with you more. I would like to invite you to read my latest blogpost about a similar subject “Do today’s architects still have what it takes?”. After having read all comments on my post, I would love to know also your opinion on the subject. The blogpost is located here:
    With kindest regards, Olga


    • Dear Olga, many thanks for your kind words. In answer to your basic question, I would say that some architects have what it takes, but most do not, and the institutions of architecture (nor of art) do not foster any attempt by anyone outside their own narrow circle to learn what it takes, nor support any who have learned. By “what it takes” I mean a more general creativity, built, as most creativity is built, on the creative history of art and architecture, a creativity that seeks to do what has been done only better, rather than do the relatively simple task of doing something that nobody has done before (probably because it wasn’t worth doing, was not beautiful, was not difficult – and was probably a copy of some past effort anyway, generally unacknowledged, though not to the artist himself). Please excuse the run-on sentence. As for the art nouveau, I have always loved it, more so than art deco, and although I don’t pretend to know it very well I do respect your ability to distinguish between faulty efforts to reproduce the art nouveau and skilled efforts to create it. Your blog and its illustrations are very elegant. All the best, David


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