Andres Duany in his treatise Heterodoxia Architectonica engages the concept of classicism’s relation to language. Umberto Eco, in his On Literature, engages the concept of language’s relation to style. This blog is about the “style wars” of classicism versus modernism. In that regard, in terms of how the meaning of the concept of style has evolved, a quote from Eco’s essay “On Style” is quite interesting:
[S]peaking of style means discussing how the work of art is made, showing how it gradually emerged (even though sometimes this is only through the purely theoretical progression of a generative process), explaining why it offers itself to a certain type of reception, and how and why it arouses this reception. And, for those who are still interested in pronouncing judgments as to aesthetic value, it is only by identifying, tracking down, and laying bare the supreme workings of style that we are able to say why a given work is beautiful, why it has enjoyed different kinds of reception in the course of time, and why, although it follows models and sometimes even precepts that are scattered far and wide in the sea of intertextuality, it has been able to gather those legacies and make them blossom in such a way as to give life to something original. Only then will we be able to say why, although each of the different works by one artist aspires to an inimitable originality, it is possible to detect the personal style of that artist in each of those works.
What is the difference between originality and novelty? I have often criticized modern architecture for its focus on novelty at the expense of beauty. Originality is the effort to engage creatively within a set of rules, pushing against and even past them, with knowledge aforethought. Novelty is the effort to engage creatively without a set of rules.
Even the most orthodox classicist can barely avoid adopting his own personal approach to designing a building within the rules of classicism. Meanwhile, the modernist architect strives to generate a personal style that will differentiate himself from all other modernist architects. He doesn’t acknowledge the existence of any set of rules that bind him, often not even the laws of nature. In his claim to novelty he may fudge a bit, but his primary goal, unlike the classicist, is to be different rather than to create beauty. The style wars are fated to continue.
Classicism has more style than modernism. Anybody who knows anything about style can understand why. Architects whose sense of how to design includes when to obey the rules and when to disobey them will produce work that can be judged – that is what a stylist wants! The winners of the Pritzker Prize have won an award with little intrinsic value, since modern architecture has no genuine standards by which it may be judged. The winner of the Driehaus Award has demonstrated a tightrope walker’s command of architectural nuance that is worthy of celebration, admiration and emulation. The Pritzker is for celebrities. The Driehaus is for masters.