An idea for visual pushback

Steven Holl's aggressive new building confronts Rennie Macintosh's famous Glasgow School of Art building.

Steven Holl’s aggressive new building confronts Rennie Macintosh’s famous Glasgow School of Art.

Architecture, along with almost every other major human endeavor outside of food and music, is largely visual in its effect. Traditional architects rely on the appeal of their work to the eye as they try to push back against the dominance of modern architecture. Some people greet modernism’s increasingly twisted sterility as “the shock of the new,” ongoing now for a century. Most people prefer the gentle caress of tradition in building.

Alas, because of modernism’s ability for more than half a century to suppress tradition from participation in major building commissions in America and around the world, the effectiveness of new major works of tradition in prosecuting the style wars is limited. It does not compare with that of old buildings which have survived the modernist onslaught. People still flock to them, but even their power is undermined in the style wars by modernism’s fake but effective retort: That’s the past, not the future.

In Chicago, celebrating Thomas Beeby’s Driehaus award in 2013, I was astonished by the virtuosity of Carl Lubin’s painting on display at the ceremony of work by Driehaus winners assembled as a city. It was beautiful, and if it could somehow be transmitted into the collective consciousness of the world, the modernist movement would hit a wall and crash to the ground immediately. An equally powerful effect would be felt if the same could be done to implement a recent idea offered anonymously:

Being strategic and controversial is hugely important to get media attention.  For example INTBAU [International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism, an organization based in Europe] and the Classical Conference in Utah have had architects working together on a large drawing which is then auctioned off.  Instead of producing a classical vignette, however, why not find a controversial new modern building in a traditional urban context and paint over it a classical building that contributes to the urban scale?  This would certainly get much more press and start a conversation with the public and the profession about modernism and its contribution to the urban realm. I propose Holl’s Glasgow School of Art building for next year’s painting assignment.

Great idea. Above is Steven Holl’s travesty across from Charles Rennie Macintosh’s GSA building of 1897-1909. Too bad that idea cannot also be inserted into the collective consciousness with the snap of a finger. The participation of the media is required, and it will not be forthcoming. Nevertheless, press onward!

Carl Lubin's landscape composed of the architecture of Driehaus prizewinners.

Carl Lubin’s landscape composed of the architecture of Driehaus prizewinners.

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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