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Architecture andCityscapes: Taking aSecondLook M.Christine Boyer. Dreaming the Rational City: TheMyth of American City Planning. Cambridge,Mass.: The MIT Press, 1983. 331 pp. KlausHerdeg. The Decorated Diagram: Harvard Arclutecture and the Failure of the Bauhaus Legacy. Cambridge,Mass.: The MIT Press, 1983. 125 pp. RichardLongstreth. On the Edge of the World: FowArchitects in San Francisco at the Turn of theCenturv.New York: The Architectural HistoryFo~ndation; and Cambridge, Mass.: TheMIT Press, 1983.455 pp. HerbertMuschamp. Man About Town: Frank Lloyd W,iglztin New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: TheMIT Press, 1983. 214 pp. Kel(y Crossman In1937Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were invited tojoin the faculty of theHarvard Graduate School of Design. Gropius took charge of the program asa whole while Breuer taught the third year and bachelor's studio. What theytaught at Harvard was the gospel of architectural Modernism: functional planning,the machine esthetic, attention to detail and craftsmanship. What theyachieved was the transformation of American architecture. Gropius' program was widely imitated in the United States and his students have dominatedAmerican architecture for a generation. Edward Larrabee Barnes, JohnJohansen, Ulrich Franzen, I.M. Pei, Paul Rudolph and Philip Johnson haveall becoine famous in their own right. To the students of the fifties and sixtiesthey were the "bright young heroes" of the age; now, thirty years later, theyare part of the establishment. One of the characteristics of Gropius' teaching was an emphasis on functional zoning, often to the exclusion of the relationship between space andform. In architecture, however, there must exist not just a rational plan but a "certain spatial logic that conveys to the viewer in narrative and associative terms the purpose and meaning of the building." Architecture mustdemonstrate an "informed and deliberate control of form and space as ananalog to all other aspects of architecture" (Herdeg, p. 3). In their conception of architecture as essentially a functional diagram expanded to threedimensions, many of Gropius' students designed buildings which were Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 16, Number4, Winter 1985,443-449 444 Kelly Crossman functionally incoherent. Spatial sequences were often disjointed, whilethe visual clues which the mind uses to read an architectural order were confused or, worse, meaningless. This, in brief, is the basis of what is on several counts a fascinating book -Klaus Herdeg's The Decorated Diagram. Unlike many critiques of Modernism, it is not a sweeping indictment of what was, despite its failings, an extraordinary movement, but a thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of its formal style. In addition to being a work of criticism it is also the basis of a plea for an architecture that demonstrates an "informed and deliberate control of form and space." To demonstrate what he means by terms such as spatial logic and incoherent form, Herdeg compares two well-known examples of modern architecture: the Errazuris house by Le Corbusier (1930)and a house by Breuer which was constructed in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art (1949). Breuer's designhas sincebecome an architectural cliche. Its shallow v-shaped "butterfly'' roof, and especially its horizontal lines, thin verticals and expansive glazing have been widely imitated. There can scarcely be a city in North America which cannot point to its own version of the "Harvard Box." It is a particularly good example to choose because through it we are made aware that the subject here is modern architecture as it is commonly practiced throughout North America, not just architecture as high art. The Errazuris house, which was designed for a middle-class family in Chile, also boasts a low-slungbutterfly roof, thin verticals and wide expanses of glass. There, however, the parallel ends. In comparison to the elegant harmony of Corbu's design, the Breuer house emerges, for all its beautiful surfaces, as a building poorly designed with an almost incoherent formal structure. Surprising as this may seem, it is difficult to argue with Herdeg's logic. The contrasting use of the butterfly roof by the two architects is a case in point. In the Errazuris house, the v-shape of the roof is exploited for maximum effect and acts on different perceptual levels. In a kind of abstract notation, the angles of the roof give the house a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 443-449
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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