|2001: A Space Odyssey
An Aesthetic Cleansing
I just cringe when I hear a designer or architect say they are after a 'clean' look. What does a 'clean' look mean anyway? After all I think very few of us would prefer a 'dirty, unclean' look! 'Clean' is code for a sparse, minimalist design bereft of craft, cleansed of ornament, devoid of the polluting evidence of the human touch. A product of industry, possible only with the precision of the machine. We can practically place a date for when this pogrom against craftmanship began in earnest, January 21st 1910, with Adolph Loos' infamous lecture "Ornament and Crime". Ornament and craft were condemned as unevolved and degenerate relics of a primitive past. A self-proclaimed liberator of the craftsman, Adolf claimed their employ by the privileged was abusive and immoral. A progressive society would free them of their toil:
"We have out-grown ornament, we have struggled through to a state without ornament. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfilment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will glow like white walls! Like Zion, the Holy City, the capital of heaven. It is then that fulfilment will have come.” - Adolf Loos
The foretold aesthetic cleansing arrived, carried to its logical fulfillment. The former craftsman freed from his toil, liberated from his art could now slave as a laborer in the factories supplying the materials of industry or assembling them as a "mechanic" in the field.
A School, a Style, and the Rise of the Machine for Living
The early efforts of the Bauhaus laid the grounds for an "International Style" unveiled in 1932 at the Museum for Modern Art in Manhattan, NY. What made the this style "international"? It certainly did not embrace the millennia of accumulated cultural traditions of many nations and peoples from across the globe. Commonly held among those various humanistic traditions, man had always been held as the subject of architectural design, the building was to be the objective reality, an outward expression reflecting his inner, spiritual nature. In stark contrast, the International Style enforced the complete extinguishment of any lingering artifacts of human culture, employing a complete reversal of the traditional thought process of design. The new doctrine dictated that "Form" was to follow only practical "Functions". The building and the attendant practical efficiencies of construction usurped the position of subject, placing people as just one amongst many objects such as chairs, toilets, stairs etc. populating the structure. The International Style might have been more appropriately called the Extranational Style, it reflected an aesthetic beyond the cultural influence of any nation or culture. It was the first step towards a new architecture, a Utopian architecture of "no place" in particular.
Progress and Propaganda, The Freedom of Limited Choice
|Proposed Clemson Architectural Center
|Tianjin EcoCity Ecology Museum. Courtesy Steven Holl Architects
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Contributed by Patrick Webb