modernism vs. traditionalism
At residential architect's Reinvention conference in New Orleans last week, I sat in on the annual meeting of the Congress of Residential Architecture.
Up for discussion, among many other topics of interest to residential
architects, was what one CORA member
termed the "Style Wars." In particular, some present at the meeting
protested the dominance they believe modernism exerts in architecture
education and the media.
As a representative of one of those
institutions, I have given the matter a great deal of thought over the
years. Before I became a writer, my work as a designer and builder was
firmly in the traditional realm. As a journalist, though, I strive for
openness to all schools of thought. When I'm scouting projects to write
about and photographers ask me what style I'm looking for, I say that
I'm not interested in a style; I'm interested in quality of design.
Still, I often find it harder to locate traditional projects that I view
as worthy of publication. Does that reflect a change in my taste? An
evolution in technology and architectural practice? A structural bias in
the media toward the new? A scarcity of quality work on the traditional
side? An educational establishment that devalues the classical
tradition and funnels the best young architects toward modernism? The
answer may be all of the above, plus other reasons I haven't thought of.
me quickly add that I am quite satisfied with the balance of coverage
we provide in residential architect and Custom Home, and that in the
shelter press in general. And traditional architecture is still alive
and healthy. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robert A.M.
Stern, one the profession's most prominent practitioners, educators, and
authors, and winner of this year's Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture
from the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. Students at
the Yale School of Architecture, where he has been dean since 1998, may
not produce traditional work, but I don't believe they will turn their
nose up at it either. And most of them, upon graduation, will encounter a
clientele that strongly prefers traditionalism to modernism.
do we have a problem here at all? Whether we do or not, I find the
Style Wars fascinating, and a spur to healthy discussion in the
professions concerned. Traditionalists should be called on to defend
their work's continuing relevance, just as modernists should be
challenged to provide a clear rationale for what they do. And those of
us who cover the field in the media should always be ready to defend our
choices in coverage. If you have thoughts on the subject, I would love
to hear them.
Happy Holidays. --B.D.S.