The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized

Theories and History of Architecture     1976

4004t   u   v   w

2014.03.17 13:22
17 March
It's becoming more and more clear that lots of the fuel that burned Tafuri's contemporary-architecture-critique fire came from Scully's early 1960s writings. And, judging from a comment I once saw/heard Scully make about Tafuri, I think he [Scully] already knew it.

Theories and History of Architecture was first published in Italian: Teorie e storia dell'architettura (1976).
The following comprises all the mentions of Louis Kahn within Manfredo Tafuri's Theories and History of Architecture (1980).

pp. 6-7:
It is of particular relevance to note here, that ethnological structuralism in its original meaning, Foucault's 'archaeology of human sciences', the anti-humanist orgy of Pop Art, the search for a new objectivity by Kahn and his followers, insist--all of them--on the same ideal area (and we would have said ideological, if this term would not take on here the tone of polemical paradox). To discover that this ideal area is all based on anti-historical knowledge and activity might frighten or disconcert. But we shall be far less disconcerting if we try to go further, to dig deeper into the phenomena and not to be led by inadequate ideological pulls.
Has modern art not presented itself, from the very beginning, in the European avant-garde movements, as a true challenge to history? Has it not tried to destroy not only history, but even itself as an historical object? Dada and De Stijl are not all that antithetical if seen from this very particular point of view. But this is not all. The gap between Louis Kahn's myth of Order, with his hermetic delving into the material offered by history so as to de-historify, to the extreme, architectural planning; and the neo-plastic mysticism tending to resolve oppositions and contrasts in a messianic appeasement, is not as crucial as it may first appear, when we compare works like the Salk laboratories and the Schröder House.
The traditional anti-historicism of the avant-garde finds, then a kind of confirmation in the very experiences that are trying to overcome it. And there is a reason. 'Myth is against history' Barthes tells us, and myths carry on their mystification by hiding the artificial (and the ideological artificiality) behind the mask of a fake 'naturalism'. If we accept these premises, then the present moment, so totally bent on avoiding, through new myths, the commitment of understanding the present, cannot help turning even the researches that, with renewed vigor and rigor, try to plan a systematic and objective reading of the world, of things, of history and of human conventions into fashion and myth.

pp. 12-13:
The following year [1962] Sibyl Moholy-Nagy compared the function of the historian in architectural didactics to the stiffly formal gentleman who, during a royal banquet, proposes a toast to the king before the start of the ceremony:
...for about the span of a generation, from 1920 to 1955, the function of the historian in architectural teaching has been that of the pathetic proposer of toasts. His task was to bow, more or less self-consciously, to a cultural continuity by then without any real links with what architecture thought to be its real mission. The mission consisted, according to the masters of the modern architecture of the twenties, in starting from scratch. The muse of Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Oud and dozens of other did not allow illicit flirtations with history.
The price to be paid, according to Moholy-Nagy, is the new historicist eclecticism, partially accepted by her in post-General Motors Saarinen; in post-Miesian Johnson; in Rudolph's Wellesley Art Center, and in the last works of Kahn. In 1964 Moholy-Nagy takes up the subject again:
The failure of the International Style to stimulate either the creative imagination of the architect, or provide identification for the client, or answer to the need for historical consciousness in cityscapes, was the immediate cause for the reanimation of the historical corpse. It was a revival that did not start in the most logical place--the schools of architecture, which, at least in America, are servile camp-followers of every trend and not makers of architectural revolutions. The rediscovery of architectural continuity must be credited to practicing architects and the most successful ones at that. Saarinen was perhaps the first one with his Lombardizing chapel at MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], followed by Johnson, Rudolph, Kahn, Johansen, Yamasaki--even by Gropius, the celebrated Medicine Man of international Functionalism. They all tried kaleidoscopic combinations of historical and contemporary elements in an attempt to recover architecture from between the teeth of building technology. The results have been rarely successful, and frequently ridiculous..
An exalted role for the historian then, but architectural historicism is seen as an aberrant phenomenon, whose faults are firmly placed on the shoulders of the masters of the Modern Movement.

p. 42:
The anti-Renaissance polemic of Le Corbusier (so different from that of Wright's) has far less interest than his declaration of sympathy for the past, of fondness for the entire arch of history as a signal of human presence, so that we can, legitimately, place the Swiss master next to the other great friend of history, and for this very reason, as great a radical innovator--Pablo Picasso. This is perhaps why Louis Kahn recognized Le Corbusier as his master.

pp. 55-57:
If this doesn't actually happen it is because of the instrumental treatment of history, of laying history down on the drawing board, next to the other working 'materials' (from the drafting pencil to representational techniques), that helps to create, for Gregotti and for so much 'cultured' contemporary architecture, the sense of transience and chance of the tradition into which one tries desperately to merge. Compared to that of Marston Fitch and Stephen Jacobs, Gregotti's instrumentalization of history that dominates the present architectural debate. A guilt-complex that we have already seen in the neo-Liberty and that is fully and with rare clarity recognized as such in the more advanced American research of the last decade, particularly in the work of Louis Kahn.
The subtle ambiguity of Kahn's historicism has been outlined by Aldo Rossi in his study of the critical contributions that seemed to be contained in Kahn's work:
Let us note how Louis Kahn's formal and surface research on classicism and on the architecture of the eighteenth century, becomes in his work a widely used model; in fact Louis Kahn's Roman-ness is all played on half stylistical and half functional elements and references, and the result is certainly not systematic, nor does it offer itself as a mediation on the persisting forms of architecture.101
In other words, Kahn's complex cultural operation diffuses and vulgarizes a problem--that of the ambiguous link between contemporary architecture and its historical sources--rather than producing a concrete, motivated and to the point analysis of the values of the contaminated architectural systems.
At this point one can well ask whether Kahn has not already achieved his task through the transience of his historiographical data. In effect, as Kahn is certainly not trying to accentuate, polemically, the dehistoricization of modern art through the pastiche, or (against all appearances) to fix, unequivocally, a new code, or, again, to sieve critically the historical material he, successively, refers and alludes to, one begins to suspect that the misty and variable inconsistency of the Kahnian poetic, might be, after all, entirely coherent with its purposes. If we look at Kahn's work in the light of American architectural history, we see that it had a precedent in the City Beautiful movement, and that its ambiguity is a sort of denunciation, a way of coldly observing an unsolved dilemma of the modern American tradition and immediately loading it with a suggestive theoretical luggage.102
Kahn's is indeed a new objectivity. The kind of objectivity that presents with detachment the terms of a problem difficult to solve, lining them up in an abstract series: the high didactic quality of Kahn's architecture--or, rather, of his designs and methods, more than of his, often disappointing realizations--is in the ability of making objective and verifiable the path that leads to architectural communication, throughout its complex structures. We can say, therefore, that for Kahn too, history is only an ingredient to be manipulated. He uses it to justify choices already made or to shed semantic light, through the open allusion of the references, on values that aspire towards the symbol and the institution, but that, at the same time, try to be open and readable without betraying the code that rejects myths, symbols and permanent institutions.
The critical activity of Kahn's work is not, then, directed toward the historical material, but toward the manipulation of its forms carried out by the less advanced groups of the Modern Movement. With all this we mean to say that Kahn is not more advanced, but, in fact, lagging behind someone like Le Corbusier, for example, at least as far as the methods of dealing with the form go, even if Kahn is perhaps more up-to-date than the Swiss-French master because of his combinatory analysis of composition materials, that answers to a particularly contemporary felt need for verifiability. [103] The fast that the Kahnian rigorist school, with the exception of some work by Giurgola, Vreeland, Kallmann, Knowles and McKinnell and of the latest Pei, falls into an uncontrolled praise of the 'Master's' criticism, is something else altogether.
It is significant, though, that the analytical method of these rigorists (at least before it too became a consumer phenomenon) was found proactive by American and international circles. The historicism of the Kahnian school harks back to the European myth of Reason: as such it becomes a phenomenon opposed to the pragmatist American tradition, balanced, by now, between a fun-fair irrationality and a guilty cynicism.
How much can we accept, then, of Robin Middleton's statement that Gropius's negation of history serves, now, only as a pretext for an architectural game? Middleton writes about Rudolph, Kahn and Johnson:
Historical study had not served to enlarge their perceptions or strengthen their powers, it had prompted them to make a number of adaptations of the most limited and limiting kind. They are composing with fragmentary rubbish. It would seem that they are no longer prepared to accept engagement in the architectural struggle. They have turned it down. But are they daunted or dismayed? Not at all. Flourishing. It seems almost mean-minded and petulant to cavil at their success.104
Like some Italian authors, Middleton does not accept the meanings underlying the apparent historicism of the new American schools.105 Further on, we shall examine the critical value of this group of experiences. For the moment it is enough to observe that the most obvious element introduced by them is a new rigor in checking the architectural configuration, that might be echoed in a renewed relationship between architecture and historical pre-existence.
101Aldo Rossi, Introduction to Boullée's Architecture.
102The relation between Kahn's architecture and the City Beautiful movement has not yet been assessed. Cf. M. Manieri-Elia "Per una "città imperiale"', in La Città americana op. cit., and Thomas S. Hines, Burnham of Chicago, Oxford Univ. Press, New York 1974.
103About the verifiability of Kahn's architecture Manieri-Elia has used the phrase 'formal logic': a perhaps too literary hypothesis, but that confirms the logical and critical character of this architect. Cf. Mario Manieri-Elia L'archittura dell dopoguerra in USA, Cappelli, Bologna 1966, p. 113 ff.
104Robin Middleton, 'Disintegration' in Architectural Design, 1967, vol. XXXVII, n. 7, p. 204.
105There are many ways of deforming the meaning of American rigorism: interpreting it as a rescue of qualitative values that renounce urbanistic commitment and look nostalgically to the question of form; reducing it to a generic historicism, or, even worse, inserting it in abstract and arbitrary hypothesis based on unverifiable premises. As an example of the first attitude see: Carlo Melograni, 'Due culture anche in architettura?' in Rinascita, 6 Jan. 1967, n. 1, pp. 17-19. See also Marcello Angrisani, 'Louis Kahn e la storia' in Edilizia moderna, 1965, n. 86, p. 83 ff.; Maria Bottero 'Louis Kahn e l'incontro fra morfologia organica e razionale' in Zodiac, n. 17, 1967, p. 47 ff. An interesting statement on Kahn by Romaldo Giurgola is to be found in 'On Louis Kahn' (in Zodiac op. cit. p. 119): 'L.K. has used the fragment of the Euclidean geometry, as probably a new geometry will be formulated in order to translate those simple postulates he proposed--postulates which became lost both in the stylistic sterility and in the avant-garde ventures as well. But in those broken crystals are the signs of our reality, of a contradictory world where the contradictions give the time measure of our situation but where a coherent architectural dimension is indeed obtained.' Cf. chapter on Kahn in Manieri-Elia, L'architettura del dopoguerre in USA op. cit.



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