Books Yet To Be Written?

September 19, 2017

On September 23, 2017 I will be in Chicago for one of the most important conferences on architecture in a long time. The Driehaus Foundation presents “Architecture as Experience: Human Perception of the Built Environment.” A competing symposium that Saturday at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York is entitled “Architecture Books/Yet To Be Written/1982-2017-2052.” Except for the weird punctuation, what distinguishes the New York conference from the Chicago one?

The lecturers in Chicago are interested in neuroscience and its contribution to our understanding of how humans react to the built environment. The “seminal” thinkers in New York are interested in rehashing old Post-Structuralist ideas about “the text” and how meaning in architecture is slippery and co-opted by power elites. So, our New York hipsters are discussing how to write more “texts” about architecture without designing any buildings that people might enjoy or use. Yes, the book killed the building a long time ago in New York. But you can bet that none of the people at the Storefront for Art and Architecture will write anything significant about architecture before 2052. They are the real power elites and a counter-revolution is brewing.

On the other hand, the people in Chicago will be talking about really interesting and significant ideas in science and the humanities that could change everything we do as architects long before 2052. So much has been learned about the brain during the past 25 years that people in the design professions can use that we are being overwhelmed with information. We need to listen to the neuroscientists and counterculture folks (yes, in California, Arizona, Oregon) who are in touch with this stuff. Apparently New Yorkers are too focused on their navels to notice.

Look for my upcoming editorial in The Architect’s Newspaper on this topic. Don’t bother with the New York hipsters.

 

A Virgin Chartres?

September 3, 2017

From Wikipedia Commons

In yesterday’s New York Times: critics of the restoration of Chartres Cathedral wanted the “Black Virgin” de-restored. The original title of the sculpture was “the White Virgin.” It was painted black during the nineteenth century.

Memories are fickle. Once a couple of generations remove us from the origins of a building or place, we create traditions based upon new versions. The reverence for a blackened medieval icon like Chartres, or some of London’s City Churches, stems from their grimy condition following centuries of smoke-filled environments. Cleaning a building is usually good, as acids and other agents of deterioration take their toll by eroding limestone. When cleaned, the stone looks “new” but it remains in its original molded form.

Though John Ruskin would prefer to see buildings revert to nature as ruins, tourists and art history buffs want to visit the world’s cultural treasures and see them in a unified state of conservation. Today the Sistine Chapel is as popular as ever, despite protests by purists who wanted more “sfumato” in the paint. Chartes Cathedral was carved in beautiful, light colored French limestone, and we can now see what its first visitors saw.