Vincent Scully

The Shingle Style Today or The Historian's Revenge


Vincent Scully, The Shingle Style Today or The Historian's Revenge (New York: George Braziler, Inc., 1974).

One of the architects who heard the talk at Columbia remarked that everybody mentioned favorably in it seemed to be from, or to have at some time been intimately connected with, Yale. This is true. The list (aside from Dean Polshek) would include of the old Shingle Style architects none that I know of, but of the new: Moore, Robertson, Stern, Hagmann, Israel, Pasanella, Prentice, Brooks, Gwathmey (sorry Charlie), Giurgola and Venturi to some extent, and always in a special sense, Kahn.

In any event, the Low House, rediscovered, was like the chthonic apparition of a tremendous and hitherto insuspected local force: a giant out of this earth. It was one enormous gesture, one fundamental act. The continuous diagonal planes of its great gable seemed stronger, clearer and, as I liked to say then, more "archetypal" than any of the more recently modern forms I had seen up to that time. (Though when I first came to write about the Low House in The Shingle Style I seemed compelled to write it down and compare it unfavorable, for example, with the more articulated Cyrus McCormick House. It was my own way of swerving from influence, I suppose.) Still, it can be no accident that such a form appeared just at the moment when American painters were entering their greatest decade, when the space-making gesture of Franz Kline's "Crosstown," of 1955, possible only in America (contrast the finicky inversions of a Soulages), was unconsciously to echo and to outdo the Low House in its crescendo of diagonal lines of force. So when Robert Venturi designed the first major project of the new Shingle Style, his Beach House of 1959, he too focused on the Low House but "swerved" from it to thrust an enormous chimney up through the center, like the piers rising up in "Crosstown," a painting which, as a matter of fact, Venturi did not know. Surely Venturi's instinctive objective was to use the Low House but at the same time to destroy it with an act which would make its form his own.
pp. 4-5.

Still, the most crucial influence on my house of 1950 came from what might be called the Very Late International Style in its own classicizing or academic phase. This was represented for me by Philip Johnson's house in New Canaan, of 1949. Its simple, single space, clearly defined as one flat-roofed volume, no less that its sliding curtains and masonry service core, played a part in producing the central core and the surrounding open pavilion of my own, large-family, poor-man's version. The same parti (and the old Beaux-Arts term seems appropriate) shaped Kahn's Art Gallery at Yale of 1953. Here, too, the strictly volumetric geometry and the box shape were ultimately derived from Mies van der Rohe and also recalled, for example, the H. A. C. Taylor House rather than the Shingle Style.

Kahn was the major American influence upon young architects during the fifties and early sixties, especially upon those students and collaborators of his who were eventually to shape the new Shingle Style. But his own formal predilections, as apparent in his Art Gallery and elaborated in his spectacular production later, were fundamentally counter to those of the Shingle Style, stressing as they did symmetry, cubical containment, and neo-Beaux-Arts structural and spatial discreteness and order. Yet this may be one reason why Venturi, working with Kahn when he opened the new movement in 1959, fixed on the geometrically simple and more or less symmetrical Low House as his model. It was the moment of bring order that he sought out, as I too had done in The Shingle Style a decade before. The Strong, awkward chimney of Venturi's project also recalls Kahn's marvelously ugly and birgeoning forms of the fifties, when he was still reaching powefully and bravely out toward his own new system and shapes. Hence Kahn probably both retarded the coming of the new Shingle Style and, by breaking the grip of the International Style, eventually made it possible. He liberated his students from a worn-out model, and Venturi's project of 1959 is their own proper beginning. Yet that project looks forward so fully to the most recent developments of the movement in the early seventies and indeed already charts the main line of its development from the late fifties up to now, that it seems preferable to leave it and its line until later to work our way into the movement as it can be seen in the development of the design of other architects.
pp. 16-7.

Moreover, the development of his [Charles Moore's] work significantly reflects many subsidiary American and European influences which are related to the larger to the larger contemporary movement toward the new Shingle Style. So Moore's career makes a good introduction to the historical setting and the contemporary problem as a whole. His own house of 1961 is one of the units of Kahn's Bath House at Trenton, of 1955, somewhat reordered inside and with a good barnlike quality in its sliding doors and conspicuously plastic shingled roof.
p. 17.

Yet Moore more actively "deforms" the basic rectangular shape than Price had done. We recall Kahn's discussion of Form and Design, where the first form suggested by the mind for a new project is tested by its deformation according to the empirical demands of the programs particular requirements. If it deorms too far a new form must be chosen. It is the very process of deformation that Moore takes delight in building, and it makes his production physically and intellectually unique in architecture.
p. 19.

Bloom, in his Anxiety of Influence to which I referred earlier, sees a continuous chain of influence in English poetry from Milton on, and he asks if, especially since Romanticism, this has not entailed an impoverishment of the art, because the precursors are so great that the followers much tend to do most of their "swerving" and so on within, or at least always in relation to, the forms of the older masters. Can something like that be the case here--indeed, in the larger sense, from Chambord to the present? The question is in fact not so simple. For example, one obvious fact about many of the new Shingle Style houses is that they have inevitably been influenced by the International Style as well: that itself involved a thin, taut set of forms, though they too might be taken as expressing various kinds of dwindling as well. Whatever the case, many of the new houses must be analyzed as recombinations of the influences their designers have recieved from Europe as well as America. The work of Romaldo Giurgola, born in Italy and now residing in America, offers appropirate examples. On the one hand, his Dayton House of 1970 employs the thin white surfaces, flat roofs, and horizontal window bands of such International Style houses of the 1930s as that designed by Richard Neutra for John Nicholas Brown. On the other hand, if we now wheel up a perspective of "The Craigs," by Bruce Price, of 1879-80, we can see that Giurgola's overall composition of masses is much more like Price's than Neutra's. Exactly the same can be seen in plan: diagonals puch through, rounded bays belly out, sharp voids cut the corners. These combinations carry on to be gently and beautifully resolved by the younger generation of architects, as in the Snell House by Frank Israel, who was one of Giurgola's pupils. And they are profoundly spatial as well. The interior of Giurgola's Dayton House is that of McKim, Mead and White's Goelet House--with its monumental fireplace, its varieties of light, and its high galleries--which has been lightened, tautened, and dramatized by the hall of Le Corbusier's Maison La Roche, of 1923.
pp. 22-3.

The beach houses at Long Beach Island by Murphy-Levy-Wurman, on the other hand, apply shingles to broader, squatter cylinders, reminiscent of Kahn's famous project for parking garages to ring the center of Philadelphia, and of his abstract geometry at Dacca and Ahmedabad. These group as a composition by the sea, disquieting in scale and jack-o-lantern masked.
pp. 24-25.

I once more refer here, of course, to Robert Venturi and his death grapple with McKim, Mead and White. But Venturi was not the first of contemporary architects to fix on the Low House. That honor belongs to George Nelson for his Spaeth House of 1957. The contrast between what Nelson does with the Low House and Venturi's reaction to it two years later is enormously instructive. Where Venturi was to blast a chimney up through the center of the gable--so, as it were, taking it all as far away from McKim, Mead and White as he could: the implacable reaction of the strong poet--Nelson simply lets McKim, Mead and White roll over him. He obviously feels no anxiety or resentment and is not tempted to compete. His house, well but less dramatically sited, is weaker than theirs: thinned at the edges, softened at the gables, happily discovering that shingles can make rounded forms. By contrast, Venturi is ferocious. His project is much smaller--again the dwindled program--and it is hoisted as a thin box on its short piers. But his chimney, the first high chimney other than antiquarian ones in American domestic architecture since Shingle Style days, changes it all and intensifies the symbolism: not only gabled shelter now, but shelter and fire. One recalls Wright's middle-western fireplaces "burning in the heart of the house." This chimney rises higher, as a signpost of Home facing the Atlantic. Again one recalls Kline's enormously American forms. They also show us that Venturi's Beach House belongs to the heroic American Abstract Expressionism of the fifties. At the same time, the intersecting slanted roof planes and the powerfully abstract chimney all suggest an Americanization by Venturi of a direct English source of his own, specifically of Middlefield, in Cambridgeshire, by Sir Edwin Lutyens, of whose work Venturi has always been extremely fond. The Low House is the direct heroic precursor for Venturi, certainly, but the buildings of Lutyens--perhaps especially the smaller houses which had themselves dwindled from the larger Victorian programs but some of whose details, like those of Colonial America before them, remained at the old enormous scale--were full of suggestions too. (Cf. Lawrence Weaver, Houses and Gardens by E. L. Lutyens, London, 1914.) These are curious interrelationships, where Lutyens had most probably never heard of an American house like Stratford--but was dealing with the same problem: the simplification of older and larger forms--while Venturi knew him and it alike and, as an American, understood and needed what Lutyens was doing more than Lutyens's English descendants seem to have done.

But if one were a student of Venturi's--subject to his influence by instinct and conviction but forced like all human beings to make it on one's own--what could one do with that chimney? Richard Weinstein answered that question definitively: he pulled it out by the roots. Moore's Jenkins House project of 1961 had already taken much the same amputatory route, though it had characteristically lopped off half the gable as well. (But it was to appear whole once more, in brick and complete with chimney, as the facade of the little dining hall stuck in behind Kahn's noble library at Exeter, finished in 1973. It thus slyly reassumed the symbol of medieval kitchen which its shape suggests.) Still, the chimney and the gable carried Venturi's project beyond Abstract Expressionism to what might be called the "Signpost Art," the signaling art, of the following decades. They semaphore (hence "semiological") what the house means, here roof and fire and taking possession of a place. They are directly and simply symbolic, though perhaps "significatory" would be a less loaded if also less graceful word. It is in that direction of by no means mysterious symbolic expression, rather than toward a preoccupation with spatial and structural complication, that Venturi's work thereafter generally runs. That interest links him with a number of English critics (as in Charles Jencks and George Baird, eds., Meaning in Architecture, London, 1969) who have otherwise tended to be rather hostile to his and related American work and intentions. At the same time, Venturi's simplification of space represents another realistic appraisal of the impoverishment of the program; fundamentally, there is little money for large or complicated domestic interiors any more, and there will be less in the future. The plan of the Beach House project, for example, shows none of Moore's spatial elaborations and games; it is straightforwardly inflected along taut diagonals by the simple functions it serves, and it relies on the lift of the fireplace mass to give it vertical breadth and emotional meaning. But the experimental lateral deformations of its exterior envelope, as of forces pulling away from the static mass in the center, would seem to have affected Kahn's plan for his Goldenberg project, which was to have considerable effect upon Giurgola, Moore, and others.

This is not to say that Venturi remained indifferent to further spatial experiment and proliferation. He did not, and, though sticking to his symbolic focus, he turned to the Shingle Style for spatial suggestions. His first Frug House is still Low House derived, simplified down to its two major elements of chimney mass and living space to the point where the living room is almost purely a fireplace inglenook (Fig. 93). Then, in the second Frug project, Venturi begins to set up close-packed planes of wall one behind the other, the house layering down into its inglenook-fireplace spatial core. Here one cannot help but recall not only Kahn's "wrapping" of arched "ruins" around buildings, of c. 1960, but also the pervasive inglenook fantasies of the Shingle Style, and specifically such houses near Venturi's home in Chestnut Hill as the Charles A. Potter House by Wilson Eyre, of c. 1885. Its porch seat is recessed under a wide arch; the gables overlap and slide in plane, and the porch cuts under, so that the house reveals itself in spatial layers. This is exactly what Venturi tries to accomplish in the Frug Project, showing his characteristic swerve from the precursor toward the compaction of the whole. Influence's anxiety makes itself felt when Charles Moore is moved to adapt Venturi's project for his Goodman House of 1970, though the stretched pull of his own Faculty Club for Santa Barbara, lighted through arched layers which may derive from Kahn's project for the Mikveh Israel Synagogue, can be felt in it as well. Where Venturi forcefully unifies the whole by means of the single symbolic and spatial gesture, Moore's reaction is to multiply, complicate, and confuse it. His project writhes off the chimney as if trying to make itself five other things. Moore has said that he is unsympathetic to the "symbolic" interpretation of Venturi's work. Clearly, its unconcealed focus, its semiological directness as a billboard, is not consonant with the jester's mask that Moore so likes to don. At the same time, unlike Venturi in design and myself to some extent in writing, Moore has seriously directed his major attention toward the Shingle Style's suggestions for heterogeneous variety rather than for overall order. His approach is thus entirely opposite to that of Venturi's; it shows how several different kinds of method may derive from Shingle Style influence and be supported by it. Still further back and relevant for both architects, as for Wright, are the central chimney masses of old colonial New England houses with their skeleton frames clinging to them and their small hollow volumes of living space warmed and stabilized thereby. (See Melville's story, "I and My Chimney," which I cited in relation to Wright: Frank Lioyd Wright, New York, 1960; it is even more apt for these architects.)

By 1960, one year after taking on McKim, Mead and White, Venturi was apparently ready to have it out with Wright himself, the Champ, as Hemingway would have called him. Another reference to Bloom would not be amiss in this connection. He notes that the "strong poet" seems to go for the youthful rather than the mature work of his chosen p recursor, because there it is still yeasty with the older artist's own gropings for form and is therefore at once more accessible to development and susceptible to swerves. I would add that in the case of an architect like Wright the early work may also be in every sense more fundamental, itself beginning near some true source of all architectural meaning and form. Indeed, Wright's own house, as we have seen, was the culmination of what I called in The Shingle Style the "archetypal" group of gabled buildings of the eighties. Bloom also notes that a successor may so develop out of the early work of the precursor as to make that work look like a less articulate, less considered, perhaps even less successful version of his own. In a way, Wright had already done that to Price. His own house makes the Kent House, for instance, look overassertive, untidy, and somewhat louche. Wright is very proper, neatly composed. Venturi then takes that form, with the drifting Palladian memory which Wright was so soon to jettison, and plays every kind of change upon it. His eloquent project for Millard Meiss, of 1962, generously spreads gable and window and makes Wright look a bit parsimonious and prim. The history of art is strewn with the frustrations of beautiful buildings unbuilt. The Meiss project is surely one of them. It, too, is in two major planes slanting broadly, like the cross-axial mass behind, say, the Kent House's frontal gable. Its treatment of the window may also have been affected by the Roman "ruins wrapped around buildings" of Kahn's project for the American consulate in Luanda, of 1959-62. Or in the D'Agostino project, Venturi will wed the arched window to the stepped Dutch gables of a glorified 1920s garage and make the Wrightian original look careful and a little dowdy. But when Venturi came to his family's house, of 1960-63, there was something deadly serious involved in the relationship. First of all, the "dwindling" is being squarely faced. The new architect is standing up in the poverty of his time to confront the comparatively affluent master, and he is fighting to put that very limitation to use if he can. So he dumps the building on the ground: no expensive terrace. No shingles, either: too expensive too, as we noted before. If so, then let the house be made, or appear to be made, of cardboard, like the rickety cardboard models beloved by Kahn. Indeed, let the house look like a model, the dream of a house, the absurdity of Le Corbusier's "rève a deux millions," ironically acknowledged. Can't afford to change plane for the gable either; then let that overhang dwindle to a horizontal molding, and let the windows hang off it, stand on it, or. run along it with the varying specific gravities their functions provide. Most of all, let there be the Palladian arch, but tack it on as if it were a two-by-two afterthought, wholly vestigial now. And break the gable, open it vertically with phantom stairs just visible at a plane behind it, leading the eye upward-whence? Above the void, a chimney block seems to rise. Here we should see Stratford again in this subtle compaction and metamorphosis of wings, chunky chimneys, stringcourse, central void, and stair. Ultimately, it is lordly Blenheim, with its grouped chimneys and split pediment, that stands at the beginning of this precursorial line. The dwindling is almost total. But Venturi needs only his lifting gable plane that makes his little house big-much bigger at the end of its axial driveway than (and one hates to say it) the tight little chalice of Kahn's Esherick House just up the road.

The plan of Venturi's house is also important and new in its time: not a geometric explosion, like Wright's, or a geometric reimposition of containment, like Kahn's at that period, but a Shingle Style plan out of one of Wilson Eyre's houses nearby. It, too, is "inflected" and flexibly "accommodating," but Venturi's is smaller, less expansive, apparently impoverished, confined in the cardboard box of modern reality. Once again, the main space at first seems to be largely a throwaway, except for the monumental Shingle Style stairs, wide below, smaller above. But these are appropriately sanctioned by the deeply curved rise of the living room's ceiling, through which the Palladian motif, apparently wholly dwindled to mere line in the facade, is now shown to be working spatially after all, opening volumetrically up through the house. This is the great swerve from Wright, putting memory to fresh uses along new paths Wright had not trod. Wright had chosen to spread out on the horizontal and so discarded the gable, but Venturi now exploits its vertical dimension. Now the Palladian window indeed rises up through it to an integral upper space with an arched window which, unlike Price's or Wright's, is truly functioning in a spatial climax but which reveals itself only at the back of the house on the second floor.

Almost immediately, Venturi's most devoted follower and first serious, sympathetic critic, Robert Stern, tried to begin his own design, in his Wiseman House, with that facade and its arched window, and he attempted to do to it what Venturi had done to the Low House: to explode it. He tried to pull it upward in space and to stretch it out as an archway greeting the motorist to Montauk as he approached up grade from the west. The notch in Venturi's facade below the window, as well as the recessed plane behind the split gable on the entrance side, then suggested to Stern the deep trough cut back into the facade of his Wiseman house, and Venturi in turn has said that this suggestion supplemented those of the Shingle Style in the overlappings of his Frug House project. Yet if Stern swerves from Venturi he also, in this first attempt, clearly buckled a little too, and the "inflections" of Venturi ran riot in his plan. Again, a central problem of identity under influence is apparent. That problem is certainly aggravated for Stern by the fact that he is a critic and historian of modern architecture as well as an architect. Like all such marked men, Stern often cannot help appearing rather heavy-handed in artistic execution, since he is openly responding to influences of which he has to be all too consciously aware. He cannot make believe they are not there, as many less burdened artists are perfectly able to do. Venturi himself, for example, is characteristically grudging in terms of acknowledging precise influence, despite the generalized Pop-Art, Art-Historical, and Team-Design show he puts on. Wright and Gropius, unlike as they were, resembled one another in this. They never really acknowledged anything, ever, except some exotic bit, as we noted before. ("Son," Wright once said to me in response to a perhaps rather naive question of mine about Bruce Price, "architecture began when I began building those houses out there on the Prairie." Authentic old American tall talk and corn. How we miss it.)

Stern's special problem remained: how to escape from the precursor? For him that answer lay in digging back into the Shingle Style for himself. His Long Island House of 1972 is adapted from McKim, Mead and White's Morgan House at Newport of 1888-91. Stern again sets the two wings side by side and then pulls space in an eccentric diagonal asymmetrically through the mass which, like McKim, Mead and White's, is then distorted by it into a projecting bay on the sea side. Inside, too, the spatial volume reflects that diagonal in elevation as well as in plan, while Venturi's enclosing layers of space in the Frug project become ventilating air shafts which set up an integral flow of cooling air through the house.

Finally, in his Saft House of 1973, Stern is ready to take on Arthur Little's "Shingleside" itself, as the Europeans may well have done before him: not only with two-storied volumes of interior space but also with the layered exterior and the curving glass bay, outside which the columns are now made to appear as if they were hanging vestigially from above like purely spatial rather than structural elements. The struggle is obvious, and of considerable interest, if unresolved; and a positive reference to Moore's work rather than Venturi's may be felt in this instinct toward the Shingle Style's diversity rather than its unity. Still, Stern's gentlest and most generous design is the expansive dining porch he added to a Shingle Style house he purchased at East Hampton. It replaced a rather unsympathetic addition which had been attached to the house earlier by an International Style architect out of that iconoclastic era which ignored the Shingle Style. That little addition had cataclysmically blasted the old house, much as the large, International Style planning concepts were bombing out old towns under redevelopment in the 1960s. Yet Stern's design, too, represents a thinning out in detail from that of the old Shingle Style, richly plastic and modulated in plane and material as its elements had been.

So the larger impoverishment, however costly the project, is a real one today. It is built into modern life. How to put it to positive use? Here once again we must turn to the work of Venturi, especially to his Trubek and Wislocki Houses, on Nantucket, of 1971-72. On that incomparable island, where so much of the Shingle Style had originally been inspired, and where its essential colonial symbolic images may still be seen, we can most readily apprehend the meaning of the whole double development, that of the eighties and that of today. The two new houses stand side by side on a bluff above the bay at Pocomo, with every variety of old and new shingled house, from 1973 to 1686, to be found not far away. But these two stand very much alone, and their tall vertical stance gives each of them a special quality as a person; we can empathize with them as the embodiment of sentient beings like ourselves. Indeed, Venturi has acknowledged the influence of the Greek temples at Selinus in their placement (see my The Earth, the Temple and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture, New Haven, 1962), since they turn like two bodies slightly toward each other as if in conversation. Here semiology approaches its essential, which is the action of people talking to each other: not now gods, like the being embodied, for example, in the high, taut Temple of Athena at Paestum, but common creatures dwindled to modest human scale. "Learning from Fort Dix," the owner remarks of the landward facade of the smaller house (referring to Robert Venturi, Denise Scott-Brown, and Steven lzenour, Learning from Las Vegas, Cambridge, Mass., 1972, a gaudy but enormously intelligent companion to Venturi's sober Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, New York, 1966). The larger house completes that spatial movement upward through the Palladian gable which Venturi had initiated in 1960. It is a house proud of its ancestry. It has reconquered Tradition, but its monumental chamfered side, housing the mounting stairs, is also a natural target for approach and parking. The windows of each house are in tension with those of the other, a family in response and withdrawal. The conversation is difficult; the gables are lance points in an electric sky; the smaller more slender house withdraws from the other broader one. How lonely each seems, as Americans have somehow always felt themselves to be. How stiff their backs. Up through the smaller house the stair gives out to the front bedroom, whose grand, vernacular, double-hung window opens only on the blazing blue of sky and sea: a Hopper, the Atlantic light burning. Now Wright's old house in Oak Park really does look like what it was: unquestioningly suburban, well-protected on a leafy inland street in a peaceful nineteenth-century suburban town. For these new houses on archaic Nantucket there is no planting, and the height of the block foundation is as it has to be, unadorned. How hard is our American present, it seems to say; how threatened, beneath the superficial affluence, with instant poverty on a national scale. How threadbare plain the "real," the beloved, America has always been in fact, but how, like these houses stretching upward, it yearns. Now the poem by Wallace Stevens which I quoted at the beginning of my book on Wright, of 1960, should be transferred to these houses, It is even more appropriate with them, where its Emersonian image is stripped and clearer:

How does one stand
To behold the sublime
To confront the mockers
The mickey mockers
And plated pairs?

When General Jackson
Posed for his statue
He knew how one feels.
Shall a man go barefoot
Blinking and blank?

But how does one feel?
One grows used to the weather,
The landscape and that,
And the sublime comes down
To the spirit itself,

The spirit and space, The empty spirit
In vacant space.
What wine does one drink?
What bread does one eat?

With the Trubek and Wislocki Houses we are in the presence of what modern architects have always said they most wanted: a true vernacular architecture--common, buildable, traditional in the deepest sense, and of piercing symbolic power. It is the bread and the wine united to the sublime as sustenance no less than symbol. But architects have mostly not really wanted a vernacular at all, lest it cut them out. They are, like all modern artists, necessarily restless men. The architects of the new Shingle Style are not less so, despite their disenchantment with "progress" and their sympathy for the vernacular forms. Therefore--if I may be allowed a minor prophecy of very short range--many of them seem to be moving (though perhaps not their younger students, such as Brooks and others) much as the architects of the first Shingle Style moved: toward a somewhat more cubical, perhaps a more classicizing" kind of design. Not, it must be said, toward either McKim, Mead and White's literal classicism of precedent, or Wright's strict order of integrated type and progressive development, but toward something much more like the work of Lutyens, which eventually tended toward a kind of classicism too, but which remained varied and eclectic, and in a sense refused to "progress" or to tighten up into a closed system. Here, it is the Lutyens of houses like Heathcote who comes to mind: more symmetrical, heavier in detail, but still explosive in scale and full of every kind of spatial wonder within. Venturi and Stern are especially drawn by Lutyens. Moore, apparently, is less led toward contained forms, except in housing, but he too seems to be trying for bigger scale-towards which younger architects such as Brooks seem to be naturally heading as they encourage and learn from the work of rural carpenters. Yet the modern work still lacks the old classical vocabulary of detail for expressive changes of scale for bigness in the little, which Lutyens and, for example, Jefferson at Monticello, could both achieve. Leaving aside Venturi's (and Stratford's) chimneys, such expansion of scale must now usually be attempted as in the Wike House, largely by variation in window sizes. Where such expansion is less developed, as in the Brant House, it is difficult for the contemporary work to stand up to Lutyens in semiological focus or plastic power, though its superior tension expands it in its own peculiarly modern, taut, and anxious way. Yet one of the least "anxious" of the New Shingle Style architects, Jaquelin Robertson of Virginia, has already begun to revive the great classical details themselves in his high-podiumed, steepstepped Madden Project of 1965, over-scaling his simplified portico like Jefferson at Farmington, while his giant curved window at the rear prefigures Venturi's in the Wike House.
pp. 26-38.

Of course, no man can avoid his culture; even the instinct to do so is a cultural fact, while Eisenman's method, based on Chomsky's linguistic analysis, is clearly enough culture-derived. But Eisenman uses that device as his way of swerving--to Mars if necessary--and of clearing out a space for his own design. As Venturi sometimes does, he likes to make his buildings resemble models.
p. 39.

On the other hand, perhaps some of the other Five Architects, obsessed with Le Corbusier, are not going after their precursor young enough. In that they might have done well to mark the research of their own historian, Colin Rowe, who wrote an article in 1950 about Le Corbusier's very early work in his Swiss home town of La Chaux-de-Fonds (Colin Rowe, "Mannerism and Modern Architecture," Architectural Review, May 1950). Rowe showed how the broad, central, blank surface with flanking windows of the facade of Le Corbusier's Schwob Villa, of 1916, might be regarded as deriving from designs by Palladio. Not published by Rowe, but presented for the first time by Warren Cox in Perspecta, the Yale Architectural Journal, 6, 1960, was Le Corbusier's Scala movie theatre in La Chaux-de-Fonds, which was much the same, though with a thin, arched frontispiece and square windows below it. The Five Architects did not turn toward these designs: precisely, one presumes, because they were not examples of Le Corbusier's mature "white" architecture of the twenties, the center of historical attention since that time and the model of reality for subsequent generations. But Venturi, more capable than they of freeing himself from preconceptions, and perhaps with a keener instinct for the precursor's jugular, did do so. His Guild House of 1960-63, so venomously despised by part of the profession (about as viciously as Le Corbusier's own work once was), is clearly a recombination of those two of Le Corbusier's early designs, from the central void to the thin-arched frontispiece, the square windows, and the large-scaled round pier below. Even the supergraphics. How upsetting for Le Corbusier's self-appointed heirs to discover that the hoodlum from Philadelphia had met their daddy at the crossroads long before, and might even--an old American fantasy--turn out to be the Dauphin after all.

It is surely one of the historian's dirtiest, least demanding, and most satisfying of revenges to be able to point connections like this out--to say nothing, one might add, of the common relation of the Guild House and the Schwob Villa to Lutyens: published in 1914 and probably a more direct influence on Le Corbusier in this instance than Palladio was. Still, with calm, and if everyone will henceforward keep a civil tongue in his head, a dialogue fruitful for the doubtful future may yet be possible between the competing schools.
pp. 39-40.




Quondam © 2013.02.08