Saturday, September 25, 2004
The Thrilla at Manila
The Coup At Viseu (vee-ZAY-oo)
One of the Two Blowhards has been too busy to blog, so Michael Blowhard has been inviting others to join him. Nikos Salingaros has just written about the architecture school in Viseu, Portugal, where a group of Modernists connived behind the scenes to replace the program with a new one just before the school year started. Click here for Salingaros's post, here for a website about the coup, and here for a website on the school itself.
There are over 125 accredited architecture schools in North America, and only two of them do not teach Modernist architecture as the core of the curriculum: the University of Miami and the University of Notre Dame. There used to be a third — the Oregon School of Design — but Modernist architects forcefully took control and ran it into the ground.
I don't know how many schools of architecture there are in Europe, but I do know that there have only been two that based their curricula on the principles of Traditional architecture and urbanism: the Prince's Foundation for Architecture & the Building Arts, and the New School of Viseu. Both suffered the same fate as Oregon.
There are fewer than 30 schools of architecture in Great Britain, but having one teach Traditional design was too much for the British architectural establishment, which mercilessly mounted personal attacks on Prince Charles until "the Palace" told him that if ever he wanted to be King he had to stop all the bad publicity. That despite the fact that his views on architecture on urbanism were far more popular with the British public than he was personally (more on this below, in a piece originally written for the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town.") Prince Charles gave control of the school to a Modernist Dean who killed the school in less than a year.
The Prince's Institute was closed by the time José Cornelio da Silva started a school at the Catholic University of Portugal with the help of the University of Notre Dame. It lasted for two years, and thrived. That's undoubtedly why Portugese Modernists mounted a coup.
The strange thing about all this is that the Modernists will tell you they are doing this in the name of diversity — despite the fact that they control architecture and architectural education, they still somehow see themselves as underdogs. They're the 99.9% minority fighting the big, bad Traditional establishment. Except there is no Traditional establishment. When it comes to architecture, the Modernists run everything.
I originally wrote the following for the New Yorker as a "Talk of the Town" piece. They were interested in running it, but wanted less architecture and more news about the royals, which is not my interest. Paul Goldberger later wrote a very different article.
The news from London this month is that the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture is dead. Long live the Prince of Wales's School of Architecture! Unfortunately, the latter is a grossly inferior institution, whose creation says much about the current state of the architectural profession.
The roots of the Institute go back to 1984, when the Royal Institute of British Architects invited the Prince of Wales, one of their royal patrons, to give the keynote address at their annual awards dinner. Expecting him to fulfill the royal's usual modern role of blandly endorsing whatever they are commenting on, the officials of the R.I.B.A. were greatly surprised when the Prince attacked their highest award winner, likening it to "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of an old friend." Such a public outcry in favor of the Prince's opinions followed in the wake of his talk that the project, an addition to London's National Gallery, was stopped, and another architect found to design an addition that met with the Prince's approval.
That success prompted Prince Charles to speak out on two subjects which, it turned out, were near and dear to his heart: architecture and the design of cities. More than 90% of the British public supported Prince Charles devastating critique of Modernist architecture and planning -- We've done more damage to London since World War II than the Luftwaffe managed to do during the war, he said [exact quote in Vision For Britain] -- but 64% of the architects opposed his views. The President of the R.I.B.A. wrote a book attacking a book and television show that the Prince wrote, called A Vision For Britain.
In 1988, he put his money where his mouth was by using royal holdings in the Duchy of Cornwall to start a new town that expanded the city of Dorchester on the basis of the principles he supported, and in 1992 he founded the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture. In his inaugural speech, the eponymous patron expressed his "heartfelt hope that the students will be able to learn specific things -- largely forgotten today -- which will set the architecture of the future on a more realistic basis, less controlled by
images and fantasy as unfortunately the architecture of the last 50 years has often been. Instead I hope it can based on real principles and on factual knowledge about the nature of space, which unites objective
knowledge with profound human feeling."
He also wished that the students would "appreciate that there are certain timeless values which we can learn from the past, and apply to the future. I would like the students to learn that in order to be able to design with sensitivity and an appropriate sense of reverence for the natural surroundings, they first need to submerge the inevitable egocentric tendencies that we all experience."
The noble sentiments did not go over well with all the architects who had been trained to be junior Howard Roarks (the egocentric architect in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead). The intensity of the passion with which the architectural establishment fought the Prince of Wales's common-sense criticism is difficult to convey to anyone who hasn't suffered through the indoctrination process of a modern architecture school, but their effectiveness can be seen in the fact that they have killed the school the Prince wanted.
People who work with Prince Charles quickly learn about a group known as The Palace. That is the name for his staff, whose job it is to ensure that he becomes king. Part of that job is to steer him away from controversy, and despite the public's continuing overwhelming support for the ideas presented by the Prince of Wales's Institute, the architectural establishment managed to make it seem that those ideas were controversial. Over the Prince's wishes, apparently, there was therefore a company decision to give the architects what they wanted. The Institute has been renamed The Prince of Wales's School of Architecture, symbolic of much greater changes.
All but one of the former staff have resigned or been "made redundant," as the British say, and a former head of another British architecture school has been brought in to create the new school. Named Adrian Gale, he once worked for the great Modernist architect, Mies van der Rohe, who was born 112 years ago but who is somehow still considered revolutionary in the architectural world. He was also a terribly destructive urban designer, who wanted to replace the traditional urban fabric of humanly scaled blocks and streets with glass towers sitting on large windswept plazas controlled by multi-national corporations -- ironically, one of Prince Charles's greatest successes was stopping a large development designed by Mies for central London. Gale even worked on that aborted project.
Another irony is that one of the architectural establishment's most effective arguments was to pretend that they were on the side of social welfare and the common good, opposing the elitist Prince, while every poll showed that the public was behind Prince Charles, even though his standing in almost every other area is very low. It is further ironic that while they presented their own architecture as more innovative and individual, they killed the only one of the thirty-seven architecture schools in the country with a unique and individual character. From now on, anyone who wants to study architecture in Britain must bow to the ridiculous premise that Modernism is the only acceptable expression of our culture in 1998.
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