Monday, 23 April 2012

Plastic Flowers Are Almost All Right (A. L. Huxtable) I
"I don't know if critics are allowed to be ambivalent. We're supposed to have the answers. I am about to express some personal feelings and guarded opinions about the work and theory of Venturi and Rauch that are in large part favourable, due to my conditioning as an architectural historian.

First, I really can't see the uproar the Venturis are creating. The fuss that greeted Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (Museum of Modern Art and Graham Foundation, 1966), the article "Learning from las Vegas" with Denise Scott Brown, now his wife (Architectural Forum, March 1968), and is currently being repeated for the Venturi and Rauch exhibition in the Whitney Museum (through October 31) is probably due to three things.

Almost everything that the Venturis have to say is heresy, if you have been brought up as a true believer in modern architectural doctrine as formulated in the early part of this century. Everything Venturi and Rauch designs is a slap in the face of the true believers. And to use irony or wit in the pursuit of either theory or design - as a tool to shock awareness or as a comment on the cultural condition - is the unforgivable sin.

Architects will tell you this is not so - that they are just appalled by the Venturi brand of design. But then why go into such rage? There is a lot of work around that people don't like. The answer is that architects do not build the way accountants add up figures; through education and inclination they design from a set of strong philosophical and aesthetic convictions, a polemical position, that has the highest place in their scheme of essential beliefs. Attack that, and you've got a religious war.

As a historian, I don't believe in religious wars. What is despised today was enshrined yesterday or will be tomorrow. I believe not only in complexity and contradiction but also in continuity and change. I do not share a good part of the modernist dogma of the modern architects whose work I admire most, at the same time that I recognise and respect its place in the development of modern architectural history. An I think the dogma of the recent past, in the light of the problems of the present, is doing the others in.

The modern architect is a hero figure who sets his buildings in shining isolation. He sees his job as showing a benighted populace, by terribly limited example, how "rational" and "tasteful" things should be. In this antienvironmental, antihistorical stance taught by the modern movement, the architect has become the man clients often cannot get a direct answer from because he is too busy being heroic and original, or the mand contractors double their estimates for to take care of the problems of unconventional construction to serve those heroic and original designs."

Huxtable, Ada Louise (1971) "Plastic Flowers Are Almost All Right". En: Huxtable, Ada Louise (2008) On Architecture. Collected Reflections on a Century of Change. New York: Walker & Company.

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