You know you are being targeted when your clickbait stories include video of a 2001 panel led by Charlie Rose (transcript included) discussing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Paul Goldberger, Phyllis Lambert (a liquor distributor’s daughter who hired Mies to design the Seagram Building in the 1950s) and Barry Bergdoll, a curator at MoMA. Yes, so even the internet is incompetent in its targeting. Here is a segment from that panel discussion that is fun because it reveals how vapid these people are. Well, no. They are intelligent people, I suppose, but they are being forced to discuss Mies, who was vapid himself, so perhaps you can’t blame the panel for its vapidity. A better word may be incoherence. Enjoy!
15:56 Charlie Rose: Right. Right. Right.
16:00 Phyllis Lambert: – and he said, he said, ”Yes, but it’s too mechanistic.” He said, ”We have to have our feet on the ground and our head in the clouds.”
16:04 Charlie Rose: Yeah. But can you define this philosophy – we’ve talked around it – that comes from him?
16:08 Phyllis Lambert: A philosophy?
16:10 Charlie Rose: Of – yeah. Did Mies have a philosophy? Did he have –
16:16 Phyllis Lambert: He talked freely about – I think under – it’s, it’s the internal thing. He didn’t talk about it much.
16:21 Charlie Rose: Right.
16:24 Phyllis Lambert: When he describes his buildings, it’s always fairly much a description of how they, what the pieces are. And in the office in Chicago – I mean, all of this – I was speaking to Gene Summers, who was his right-hand man for 17 years. And I said, ”Mies – did Mies ever talk about,” you know, ”his philosophical intent?” And he said no. He was interested in making things clear. He was interested in structural architecture.
16:45 Charlie Rose: Yeah. Clarity.
16:48 Phyllis Lambert: So that there was these two – yes. Absolutely. (crosstalk) There are these two levels that he was – he was on, you know, and, and—
16:56 Paul Goldberger: But they had qualities that he never talked about, but he could convey in the work, that nobody else could. And there’s a serenity to a Mies building that is not present in most sort of imitation Mies buildings, most—
17:10 Charlie Rose: But he wouldn’t talk about it.
17:13 Paul Goldberger: He wouldn’t talk about it, particularly.
17:17 Charlie Rose: He wouldn’t talk about the achievement of—
17:18 Paul Goldberger: Although, although I think when Phyllis—
17:20 Charlie Rose: —Serenity.
17:21 Paul Goldberger: —talked about his dislike of mechanistic things, he was sort of – that was as far as he could go, to say that. It’s very interesting that the images you showed at the beginning [of the panel] all had figures in them, which is right because, in fact, people feel right inside a Miesian space. They don’t feel that it excludes them the way so many modern spaces do. There’s something about the way the human figure is in that space that feels as perfect as the presence of the human figure in any kind of architecture throughout history. It is as natural and right.
17:48 Barry Bergdoll: Well, I think there’s a connection there. I think the big – if one could say I want to put my figure on a Miesian philosophy, it is the hard one where he takes on this – there’s a kind of crisis of confidence in this issue of the technological, but it doesn’t lead to a retreat from the technological because he emphatically says this, the 20th century, is the moment of a technological transformation of society. It cannot be denied. It cannot be undone. But we need to both struggle with it, transform it and transcend it. And so there’s a kind of – there’s a realism in the sense of wanting to deal with what he will over and over again call the facts of the epic, with this desire towards spirituality, towards a restoration of something that might be either lost or endangered but without nostalgia. And I think that that is one of the reasons why he suddenly seems to be of such contemporary relevance in—
18:40 Charlie Rose: Express that again because I want to make sure I understand.
Well, that’s as good an end point as we are likely to get in this rambling conversation about Mies. But let’s be clear on the need to exclude nostalgia in referring to the restoration of something that might be either lost or endangered.
The passage just concluded was preceded by conversation equally vapid, and followed by the same. It’s hard to criticize because it’s hard to find any assertion within all the goo that one can grab onto, examine and assess. It’s the same thing that enables the Pritzker prize and its winners to float in a cloud of rhetorical gauze – how, one can only wonder, did the jury decide that this whirly-gig of a building was superior to that loopy-doopy building? If you had locked Rose, Goldberger, Lambert and Bergdoll in a room and forced them to discuss the work of McKim, Mead & White without using the word “nostalgia,” would the level of incoherence be identical? I imagine we will never know for sure.