How to capture territory

25471851.thb[1]The classical revival has been expressed, in numerous threads over several years on the TradArch listserve discussion of classical architecture, as a matter of “recapturing territory” captured by modernism from classicism decades ago. Andres Duany, rightly famous for successfully leading the New Urbanist movement, is responsible for the muscular military rhetoric that has framed at least his contribution to this debate. He is publishing a treatise, “Heterodoxia Architectonica,” on how this must be done.

I have long feared that his treatise will go beyond recapturing old classicists like Louis Sullivan. I worry that he will try to capture actual modernists, like Corbusier (well, maybe not him), relabeling modernists as classicists because, say, a work of theirs may have columns, even though they are completely unadorned. I think that would confuse the issue. Those who favor a classical revival have as their chief strategic asset the greater regard of the public for traditional over modernist architecture. There is territory that classicism should not want to capture.

Participating in many threads, Andres and I have debated this subject, including whether classicists are too wedded to the classical canon. Here is a summary, sent at his request, of how I view what classicists must do to strengthen their attempt at revival in the 21st Century:

The issues of the 21C are mainly the same as in the late 20C:
        – spreading the word on tradition and beauty.
        – expanding opportunities for tradition and beauty in academia.
        – rolling back restraints on the free production of beauty through tradition.
        – identifying and publicizing weak points of modernism and modernist preservationism.
        – waiting for, or creating, events to leverage the public against actual modernist projects. Some examples:
             a. Ground Zero (failure to engage style war; no process, except for Lohrsen/McCrery proposal)
             b. Chelsea Barracks (success in style war publicity; in process, waiting to see)
             c. Eisenhower memorial (near success in publicity; limited success in process – Gehry implosion only partly due to style war concerns)
        – using said events and others to bring reform to a process that today prevents even playing field for tradition – e.g., Prince Charles pressing in Britain to strengthen the public voice in development projects 
        – positioning an increasingly educated and revitalized classical/traditional architecture (and allied arts & crafts) to recapture market forces if and when the above actions result in a tipping point.

* * *

In short, although a lot of intelligent reflection has taken place on this list regarding a Fifth Recall [as Andres refers to the movement he hopes to generate via his treatise] and other issues, including important ones like sustainability, attracting youth, educating the bad trads, etc., the real action in moving tradition forward into the 21C is taking place on other fronts. Actual traditional architects, including those working on New Urbanist projects, are taking back territory by building in tradition. Let classical be classical – canonical, heterodoxical, whatever.  Those who engage the enemy (and know who the enemy is) are preparing the ground for more progress.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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One Response to How to capture territory

  1. Pingback: Next for the classical revival? | Architecture Here and There

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