The rest of Banham’s Wolfe

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Modernistly decorated apartment with Barcelona chair, left. (johnroscigno.com)

Here is a link to the rest of Reyner Banham’s review of Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House, in the London Review of Books. Readers may pick up where they left off in Banham’s “The Scandalous Story of Architecture in America” at the sixth paragraph (“Not only is it …”). [Click on the PDF link below.] In it, Banham continues to probe why modernist architects were so angry at Wolfe’s book. Banham’s analysis chastises Wolfe for, among other things, his insufficient respect for the early worker-housing benevolence of European modernists. Nevertheless, Banham concludes his review, it seems to me, in agreement with Wolfe’s basic sentiment that modern architecture is a load of bunkum.

Scandalous Story of Architecture in America Reyner Banham

(Tip o’ the cap to Peter Van Erp, who provided the link.)

Here is Banham’s conclusion, which follows a long quote from Wolfe describing the typical New York young modern architect’s apartment, in which everything cheap and tatty bows down to the inevitable throne, the Barcelona chair. So where is the young architect two decades on? Baynam’s arch cruelty is perfect:

Currently shacked up with his second or third wife and as many as four Barcelona chairs, that fledgeling architect, now grey-haired and a little overweight, serves, it seems, as professor, chairman or dean of practically every architecture school in the English-speaking world. Perhaps that explains the book’s bad reception in expert circles.

As a bonus, here is Tom Wolfe’s Fantasy Bauhaus, the review by furniture designer George Nelson referred to (“mostly they lost their heads”) in Banham’s review of Wolfe’s book. It is a PDF of the December 1961 AIA Journal. You must scroll down to page 74.

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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4 Responses to The rest of Banham’s Wolfe

  1. zuludelta45 says:

    I remember reading that book. I still think about it. Zulu Delta

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    • I reread it every few years, Zulu Delta, and I expect to read it again soon as I gear up to write another book (my first, Lost Providence, came out last year). It will be about the same period that Wolfe describes – the period during which ugliness dethroned beauty as a principle goal of the architectural establishment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Peter Van Erp says:

    That Nelson article is a beauty! He testifies to visiting Stuttgart in 1933 where a new housing development called Weissenhofsiedlung had been built under the direction of Mies. It was to rebuild a section of Stuttgart, which “had been literally pulverized and the piles of rubble were not to be believed.” One question: who pulverized Stuttgart? It was not shelled, bombed or even anywhere near any fighting in the Great War. Perhaps it was tender ministrations of Mies and his colleagues from the Bauhaus. Or perhaps we cannot rely on the memories of George Nelson to accurately report the past (or the present).

    The link to Reyner Banham still goes to the original LRB article. To read the entire article, you have to sign in for a free 24 hour preview, then be prepared for a long series of pleas to become a paid subscriber.

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    • After getting news of the link failure from a reader, Peter, I added a note to the effect of what you did. Maybe some readers will take advantage of that.

      When I had my original discussion with Seth Weine after reading the Nelson piece, I started to bring that up, wondering, hey, Stuttgart was bombed only minimally (I looked it up) in WWI. Maybe Nelson was mistaking WWI with WWII. Probably not. I think basically he was exaggerating the WWI damage to Stuttgart in order to reinforce his point and make Wolfe look bad. In short, he was not above lying to strengthen his case.

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