SIR: Your remarks about US architecture in AR September were impertinent. You said that Williams & Tsien are 'very strange' because they have gained reputation not from 'the obscurity of their theories and unapproachability of their language, nor from flashy gestures and showbiz antics'. This sort of discussion reduces architectural debate to a shouting shop of generalizations. If American architecture is so bad, why do you publish so much of it?
I don't want to criticize Williams & Tsien, who appear to be good architects, judging from your pages. But your anti-intellectual stance seems ridiculous. Architectural culture would be greatly impoverished without the designs, books and papers of people like Eisenman, Tschumi, and Perez Gomez, or Vidler, Frampton, Alexander and Rowe (all the latter as I recollect emigres to the US because the thin, arid soil of British academic and professional life could not support their talents).
As for 'flashy gestures', can you think of a building which has done more for a city than Gehry's museum in Bilbao? Its impact has put a dying provincial industrial town on the world map: and provided wonderful spaces in which the works of art are at home. Think of how architects like Cesar Pelli and Helmut Jahn (US immigrants both) have revived cities from London's failing Docklands to Kuala Lumpur.
I am not trying to be anti-British. You have some excellent architects. (But does Foster have to be such a hero? He can be pretty dull at times?). What I am trying to get at is your crude anti-Americanism, and anti-intellectualism. We know that architecture has always proceeded by a kind of synthesis of theory and practice. It is wrong of you to condemn American theorists out of hand because they are difficult to understand. Of course architecture is difficult to write about because it is such a complex subject, and its manifestations are dumb in linguistic terms. We should be thankful that some people are at least trying to grapple with its difficulties, and are having an effect on what we see around us. And they are mostly American, or emigres to that country. We should be grateful to the system that produced them.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
DRIVING THE ARGUMENT
SIR: In his urbanistic methodology as applied to Barcelona (AR September p88), Oriol Bohigas omits one point of great importance; and that is of the city traffic.
He considers the Athens Charter and Le Corbusier's ideas among them 7V, as destructive elements of the character and the function of many European cities. But he does not make any suggestion on that point how to deal with it. He advocates justly for the public space in the city with its physical and social identity. This can be achieved, as he writes, among others through architecture; but architecture can be fully appreciated only at the pedestrian level on that desired public space. How to avoid here the enormous conflict between the automobiles invading that space and the citizenship longing for a wishful domain of human encounter.
Thus the greatest challenge to the Spanish cities, big and small, lays in defining human priorities and resolving them over the automotive and speculative, which create unhealthy densities of living and working quarters. This situation of course exists also in other parts of our 'brave', but not very 'new world'.
ADAM MILCZYNSKI KAAS
University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain
SIR: It was curious to look over your October issue dedicated to working places. Large and genial common places are shown with beautiful photographs and almost informative drawings. But there was scarcely a glimpse of the dreaded screen before which we all sit (and on which I write this). If you do such an issue again, you must concentrate on the individual workplace as well as the general.
DEVELOPING THE WORKPLACE
SIR: In AR October, you rightly return to the subject of working places. But your coverage almost adds to despair. It is clear that the good (on the whole) buildings you show have been made by individual clients for their own use. The vast volume of workplaces are built by developers who have no direct interest in the social relationships that take place within them. They could not care less about 'making places for people on the gritty windswept plains' (p31) of the modern open-plan office or factory.
When will you face up to the realities of the contemporary world?
SIR: I would like to add to your appreciation of Hugh Casson (AR October, p37). I met him once when I was a young man and he changed my life. You represent him as a man of charm. The great thing was he combined charm with passion -- a passion for architecture, which he imparted to me, which continues to this day.
Interbuild, the British building exhibition, has been relaunched as an international forum of construction services and products intended to rival Batimat in Paris and Bau in Munich. Interbuild is now run by a joint venture between EMAP Business Communications, the AR's owners, and the Montgomery group, the founders of the century-old show.
To be held in Britain's National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham 21-25 May 2000, Interbuild will for the first time have a major proportion of Continental exhibitors as well as British ones. Over 1000 companies are now committed to exhibiting; news of latest exhibitors are found on www.interbuild.com/
Each month, the AR will publish an Interbuild update.
The left hand picture on November contents page was Bedmar & Shi's housing in Singapore, and not Koning Eizenberg in Santa Monica.
Voitto Niemela took pictures 1, 2, 3 & 4 of the Helsinki housing, AR November, pp42-46.
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|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1999|
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