Doing Their Own Thing

U.S. architects: goodbye to glass boxes and all that

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"We admit symbolism in architecture. As form, the strip is ugly and amorphous. As symbols, it works." In this way, Venturi gave architectural thinking the most angular shove it had received in half a century: away from beautiful, unitary, abstract form, toward linguistic variety and an ironic, mildly dandified awareness of history and how to quote it. The strip was the tool that opened a most curious can of worms.

Venturi's own buildings, designed in partnership with his wife Denise Scott Brown, John Rauch and Stephen Izenour, are more restrained in their use of Pop motifs than his polemics. As California's Charles Moore remarks, "Venturi has celebrated McDonald's Golden Arches, but I'd take bets he's never eaten a Big Mac." He has built no big commissions, so his intentions read best in his houses, most recently in a ski lodge at Aspen, Colo. It is a stew of historical references: "An Art Nouveau grandfather clock with arts-and-crafts overtones," says Venturi, and overlaid with suggestions of tree house, pagoda and the intimate precision of the Finnish master Alvar Aalto. Outside, it is an aggressive little building, with its oversize dormer windows, tight walls and thick compressive hat of a roof. Inside, the Mission style takes over, providing an enveloping timber womb in the form of a vaulted sitting room on the top floor—one of the most romantic and picturesque spaces, like an old Polish synagogue, that recent architecture has to offer. Nothing in this building could be called revivalist;, everything is quotation and proposition, exaggerated detail held in parentheses. Venturi seems to be expressing the same sort of relationship to the past that theorizing mannerist architects like Vasari, in the 16th century, had with Michelangelo's more heroic prototypes.

It is the sensibility of the architecture school, a trait also found in Robert Stern's work. Stern's remarkable house in Armonk, N.Y., is like an assembly of delicately related fragments. One seems to be looking at a stage set that represents a villa. Instead of coalescing in the strong cubical masses of Italian country architecture, the walls are like screens, separated, undulating, shearing away from one another; the effect resembles painting as much as it does building, in its dematerialization and purity of effect—down to the smallest detail of a skylight.

Charles Moore's work is more exuberant and whimsical than this. Academically, Moore is one of the most influential architects in America. He now teaches at U.C.L.A.'s school of architecture, and he ran Yale's from 1965 to 1975, giving the students a lively and eclectic program that was oriented more toward the Beaux-Arts inventiveness of the late Louis Kahn than toward the International Style. In his book Body, Memory and Architecture (1977), Moore also set forth his ambition for a more humanistic mode of building, the "dwelling" or "nest" as opposed to Corbusier's "machine."

Moore wants buildings to "freshen one's perception of the familiar," rather than turn Pop into a sequence of quotations à la Venturi. He uses space with originality. It is not the "universal" grid-space, the abstract Raum-with-a-view of Bauhaus thought, but a choppily processional medium, full of ambiguities and kinks, stagy, and

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