Over the past few years, I’ve had occasion to think about architects who have produced work of various kinds outside the mainstream certified by the historians and critics who make up architectural academia, or otherwise influence the climate of opinion. To some degree, my thinking was prompted by my own work and where it might be placed in today’s critical categories. Yet, what interests me here is other architects whose work has had enough impact on the mainstream to be visible, but is kept by the critics at arms (or barge pole) length from the historical canon.
Part of my interest comes from a conversation I had in 1997 with Toshio Nakamura, the legendary editor of Japan’s A+U (Architecture and Urbanism), who wanted to commission from me an ‘alternative history’ of modern architecture to be published serially in his journal. I, of course, accepted immediately. What an exciting prospect it was! However well done most histories of modern architecture are, one gets tired reading about the same buildings, the same architects, tired of shuffling time and again along the same worn path. Maybe the conventional histories get it right–maybe contemporary architecture is influenced most by a score of canonical buildings about which we have all read countless times. Or, maybe the repetition creates an influence at least equal to that of the buildings themselves. Maybe we become so influenced by the historical certification that we gullibly follow along, drawing on what we’ve ‘learned’ in school and beyond.
In any event, there have been a number of buildings, and their architects, whose influence has more or less seeped through the filters of architectural education–and mainstream architectural journalism–and yet has impacted architectural thought and design, despite the inattention of critics and historians. What a history that would make!
Well, Mr. Nakamura left A+U shortly after our conversation. Otherwise, I would have been obliged (following the principle of kiri) to write the history I had promised to him. Maybe I’m still obliged. If so, I’m taking my time, and I haven’t lost my interest, and bits and pieces of progress are visible—at least in my files.
Who are these ‘outsider’ architects? Which of their buildings, or un-built designs, are significant? What is important to say about them? How do we bring them into our thinking today? Or, should we? Maybe they should stay “outside, in the cold, a little longer.” Here’s several at the top of my list:
Rudolf Steiner (Goetheanum I and Goetheanum II).
Hermann Finsterlin (speculative projects)
Frederick Kiesler (Endless House)
John Hejduk (Masques, Cathedral)
Surely there are others, and it would be very interesting to hear who they are, and to discuss and debate their ideas, buildings, and their place in the ongoing flow of modern architecture.
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- October 1, 2007 / 9:26 pm
- Lebbeus Woods