The American Institute of Architects has announced its sponsorship of a new set of tours that even I would be happy to take. They are not the tours I would expect the AIA to host, not with its almost exclusively modernist agenda. That isn’t to say its tour brochure, “Explore the world through architectural adventures,” published on ArchNewsNow.com, excludes modern architecture. You are advised (as a sort of “trigger warning”) that Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao is on the tour of the Atlantic coast of Europe, and that Antoni Gaudi is the designer of “Modernist” marvels.
What struck me, rather, was how much care was taken to assure potential tour-goers that they will not have to put up with modernism exclusively. For example, text for its tour of London refers to “towering triumphs,” and the modernist heart surely flutters at the prospect of mounting the Shard. But then we learn it’s just Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s.
I’m sure the AIA wants to make money. Focusing on the world’s iconic modernist buildings probably would not help sell tour packages, any more than atonal music helps fill seats at a concert hall. Music directors usually sandwich such ear-benders – which they somehow feel a sort of scholarly mandate to program – between classical masterpieces so it’s harder to avoid a Bartók without missing something you like. How much easier it would be to simply drop a modernist tour brochure into the wastebasket and forget it!
So while the AIA leadership cabal must cringe, they are doing the right thing. In these big-ticket fundraising efforts, the marketing folks must be paid heed.