Wednesday, 12 March 2014

On Critics

I will have to explain to my students next week that I am prejudiced against Frank Lloyd Wright. I'm not proud of it, I just am. It can't be just for his behaviour, although his was more outlandish and self obsessed than most, because I tend to enjoy the outlandish behaviour and self obsession of his contemporaries, indeed most modern architects, who I have come to the conclusion were largely a bunch of sex obsessed alcoholics (if they were any good). I can empathize with these people, I have a voyeuristic temperament, so why not FLW?
Well the buildings are horrible I suppose. My experience of both the Guggenheim New York and Barnsdall House in LA was nothing to write home about. I have to remember, with effort, just how awful the Guggenheim is, and enjoy the fact it's the only art gallery I know of that artists actually got together and complained against. The Barnsdall House was, well, dingy, and the only memorable thing was that the great master insisted his multimillionaire client sleep on a futon. Meanwhile the fact that you can hardly function in the USA as an architect without worshipping FLW puts me off, and of course I exhibit my more classical inclinations when I say he has been responsible for an awful lot of crap.
However this is not the point, because old fashioned prejudice may be OK.
An old colleague of ours, the much esteemed Peter Blundell Jones, was caricatured as thinking right angles were fascist. Whilst clearly not true, the opinion allowed him to function and write the finest of books on the organic strain while hating Mies van de Rohe. Colin Rowe was clearly incorrect throughout most of his essay on La Tourette because he was temporarily indisposed, concentrating on literal and phenomenal transparency, and subsequently unwittingly spawned much inclement architectural misery as a consequence for twenty years. Reyner Banham was once thought hip, now thought not. Even Vincent Scully thought Michael Graves Portland Building might be really good. Even the masters make mistakes (see next months AR).
Hence students who are over reverent of anything anybody has published on a particular topic come over as those who are not quite getting it, who are missing that essential element of empathy with the work in question, or for that matter empathy with the critic in question. Rowe once turned up to a lecture 'looking like an unmade bed', a finer description I cannot imagine, and so I think a few large ones are essential to empathise with him, at least. I once fell out of a taxi before I'd even started a lecture at University of Westminster. I'm not proud of that either, although the students at the time seemed mesmerised when I proceeded to play Motley Crue's 'Girls Girls Girls' about eighteen times.
PS I love this portrait of Colin Rowe (above).

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