Traditional Building. Forum: Challenging Architecture’s Caste System

[Clem Labine writes in the February 2013 issue of Traditional Building:]

Elsewhere in this issue, Dean Mark Gelernter of the University of Colorado Denver School of Architecture sets out a point-by-point refutation of the major arguments routinely trotted out to assert the supremacy of Modernist architecture over traditional design. (And by Modernist architecture, I am referring not only to Bauhaus glass boxes, but also to all the other exotic “-isms” that have followed.) The logic in Dean Gelernter’s argument is, if not irrefutable, at least grounds for a substantive debate at the highest levels of the architectural establishment. But it is highly unlikely such a debate will take place.

Unfortunately, it’s not sufficient to explode the myths of Modernist architecture with the power of reason. The unhappy reality is that Modernist theory has assumed the status of religious orthodoxy within the architectural establishment. So many people and institutions have bought into the ideology of Modernism that they cannot afford to let themselves question its underlying assumptions. Should Modernist doctrine prove to be unsound or untrue, it would topple the caste system that has evolved in the architectural profession over the last seven decades.

The caste system, which had its inception in the architecture schools before World War II, is based on the presumed moral and intellectual superiority of Modernist theory. Many of the original social justice and egalitarian tenets of early Modernism have been long forgotten. But what remains as the fundamental article of faith in Modernist theology is the belief that any design with deliberate reference to architecture prior to 1910 is sacrilege.

Brahmins at the top of today’s architectural caste system assert that all architectural tradition is irrelevant. Practitioners of Classical and historically influenced design are deemed inferior and consigned to a lower-status caste – and are considered by many of the elite to be “untouchable.” Need proof? :

How many U.S. schools of architecture consider historically influenced design a valid option?

How long has it been since a traditionalist architect reached high office within the American Institute of Architects?

When has a traditionalist architect won a Pritzker Prize or an AIA Gold Medal?

When was the last time traditionally designed architecture received a sympathetic review in the mainstream architectural press?

How many traditional architects serve on juries that judge proposals for important public commissions or national architecture awards?

Why is GSA’s “Excellence in Design” program interpreted as “Excellence in Modernist Design”?

When was the last time a traditional design was selected for an important public project (e.g., the Eisenhower Memorial)?

via Forum: Challenging Architecture’s Caste System.


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