THE CRISIS WITH TODAY’S MODERN ARCHITECTURE

Modern architecture has reached a crisis point.  The original intention of early modernists was to seek out an architecture that was non-traditional and free of historical precedent.  The mistake made by architecture schools was to abandon the teaching of classical architecture in favor of only modernism and thus creating the multi-generational gap in the continuous transfer of architectural knowledge and training from one generation to the next.  Just as the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution provides the right to bear arms, it also provides the right to NOT bear arms if one chooses.  Similarly, to truly be free of historical precedent in architecture, one should also be free to engage in historical precedent.  One is not free if they are restricted from pursuing a certain design solution that may seem relevant.  It was very unfortunate that this clear, logical way of thinking was not present when all the architecture history books and plaster casts were purged out of the architecture schools.  This anti-traditional architecture, with its lack of ornamentation and mouldings can only take you so far.

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Modern Architecture has reached that point.  Considering the Form Follows Function philosophy of architecture, there was nothing that could be done that wasn’t done before.   With no where to innovate, the Form Follows Function philosophy was replaced by Form can be Anything philosophy.  Now modern architecture has reached the point where any shape or form can be passed off as a great work of architecture, worthy of publication in any of the architecture trade journals. There are no rules, no guidelines, no principles, therefore anyone can do it. Anyone who has Sketchup on their computer, and is proficient at it can do it. There is no longer anything that separates or distinguishes great modern architecture from mediocre or bad modern architecture. Of course the architect still has to make sure there are proper exits and the building meets the latest building codes, but the last time I checked, architecture was more than passing city and fire marshal reviews.

It seems like the ultimate design freedom, but without rules or design principles there is no way to evaluate one form as being better than another.  There is no where to go; there is no way to improve.  There is nothing to master.  Once you’ve learned the computer skills at generating the weird shapes you can’t get better at it.

Classical architecture is a grammar.  It can easily be taught, it can be learned, and it can be mastered. Unfortunately, there is the misconception that applying classical architectural principles to today’s architectural problems is regressive, or going backwards.  They think it is not progressive.  In fact, it is necessary to move the tradition of classical architecture forward using today’s technology and if necessary adapt it to today’s technology and needs.  This is what was done during all of the revival periods.  Greek Revival architects didn’t design buildings like they were transformed back into the 5 Century BC; they designed mid-nineteenth century buildings using motifs found on Ancient Greek architecture.  They built with wood “balloon” frames, used double hung windows with glass glazing, clad the exteriors with clapboard siding, and used ornamental cast iron railings, all of which are materials and techniques that were unknown to Ancient Greek architects.

Today’s modernist architects do not believe that classical architecture is the way to continue down the road.  They continue to think that it is going backwards, meanwhile they are all off the road, in a pasture doing donuts and getting stuck in the mud.

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6 thoughts on “THE CRISIS WITH TODAY’S MODERN ARCHITECTURE

  1. tbd9 says:

    Discontinuous Architecture.

    No longer ‘modern’, inherently difficult to define
    and now beyond definition but generally the same,
    In terms of sensibility, an-aesthetic.
    Sans beauty, sans grotesque, sans decoration.
    There may be a philosophical quality without a name,
    Whatever it is it just no longer applies.
    There may once have been a timeless way of building
    Qualified by – that produced satisfactory results,
    Very much of the time in which they were built.
    Now we just have a timeless way of building.
    Is a traditional, or a regional, or a vernacular
    architecture now possible? Not really.
    The statistically insignificant bits
    in the traditional manner that are being built
    Now come under the tags reactionary or fantasy.
    Quite a few old style buildings left, they last a while.
    Some of them now ‘scraped’ malignantly by the heritage gentry
    Who seem to have little sensibility with regard
    to the second law of thermodynamics and other things.
    Mindless endless repetition of the little ‘burrow’ rubric.
    Whither architecture, nobody asks. It’s gone already.
    It’s the aesthetic, stupid. Forget ugly.
    Repulsive, unpleasant, unattractive, displeasing,
    Vile, malevolent, wicked, withered.
    Shrug your shoulders philosophically.
    Anodine. What can anyone do?
    Certainly not critique it! Not substantially, practically,
    Applying common sense, or sensibility, or care or wisdom.
    Scads of well educated, technically proficient,
    Fully registered professionals,
    and we can’t build a decent toilet block,
    let alone a temple of the sun.
    Of course the problem is modernism.
    Not, discredited post-modern, post conceptual,
    Post structural failure of intellect academic
    neo post whateveritisism.
    Or fundamental core value, ideological modernism,
    which has not been seen for a while.
    Perhaps sentimental, neo esoteric,
    Let’s not call it modernism, modernism.
    Not much point suggesting that
    if you wanted to go somewhere else,
    you wouldn’t start from here.
    Fantasy, nostalgic, traditional, escapist.
    Now reactionary – the modern pejorative spin.
    For the most part pseudo-reactionary.
    Hope you don’t put the aesthetic anti-modernists
    in the same basket as the terrorist bombing reactionaries.
    Raises the question of religion, not that it will be attempted here.
    But just point out, presumably a good religion is one that says
    love one another rather than blow them up.
    Implications abound, but a digression.
    Whatever the question is, not a good
    and meaningful and substantively applicable answer.
    The supposed crisis of modernism happened forty years ago,
    Same issues – what crisis?
    Some say our architecture should be sustainable,
    A strange construct on a number of levels.
    Presumably it wasn’t before and that wasn’t a problem.
    If it is about energy and demographics,
    not necessarily a determinant for aesthetic character,
    In fact inversely proportional more likely.
    There may well be a new world not far off
    Where energy and demographics are resolved.
    With no constraints, would the architecture be different?
    As a young man the idea of ‘small is beautiful’
    Appealed ideologically,
    (only a shame nothing said on the beautiful bit.)
    For various reasons chose the less travelled road option,
    -remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance –
    And ended up in the wilderness.
    An architect in the wilderness, unheard of.
    Looking for Gondolin.
    Forty years later not standing on the brink of a promised land.
    And at 530 words I will stay there.

  2. Jeremiah Enna says:

    Excellent.

  3. William Jones says:

    We need some architects to be really radical, not in the sense of making distorted glass boxes next to buildings like the Louve (This is conformist today) but to actually be daring enough to design a building applying all the “Classical” rules to a major building and to be able to tell the critics that he doesn’t care what they say about it, because he is starting a revolution in architecture that can’t be stopped.

  4. Kelly L Moran says:

    Hi Michael,

    Stumbled upon your blog talking about the fact that most colleges no longer teach traditional architecture but instead jump into Modern design! Can you suggest where classical architecture is still being taught? I’m interested in getting my Masters of Arch, and have no desire to waste my money on new modernism.

    I worked for DPZ when they developed the Kentlands in Maryland and have a very good understanding of New Urbanism . . . and from my time with DPZ I know that I do not want to be a town planner. I have also been lucky enough to design and build homes, once a civil engineer stamps my drawings, and that’s what I really love. Building homes! One of my homes even has it’s own WIKI site!

    I’m an older student, and married to a European. I’ve travelled frequently to Europe, the UK and Asia and love old traditional design. Is there a college or university out there for me?
    Thanks for your time!! Enjoyed your articles in wordpress!

    Kelly L. Moran
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Cottage

    Kelly L. Moran
    347-557-8987 / 301/518-0988
    KellyLMoran.com

    • mrouchell says:

      Notre Dame School of Architecture is the only school that teaches classical architecture. Catholic University I hear is also starting up an architecture school based on the teachings of classical architecture.

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