Hot Potato: Food for Thought
The Built Environment
Achitecture Is Not Art
1997 October 10

The large majority of contemporary architects seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that architecture is an art form. This error leads them into the same trap as modern art, where originality and deep concept are everything. Beauty doesn't count.

Art can be anything the artist wants, no matter how dreadful, and it doesn't affect most of us very much. However, when architects build important buildings based on the misguided notion that they are making art, the resulting buildings are a hazard in every sense. People have to live and work in them. If a building is ugly and dehumanizing, society is poorer for it. Never mind the breathtaking originality.

Tom Wolfe's From Bahaus to Our House is a ringing indictment of modern architecture. It is required reading for anyone interested in civic life. The most telling example cited is the Yale University Art Gallery. The original 1928 building by Egerton Swartwout is rich with gothic detail but disparaged as "derivative" by modernists. Louis Kahn's 1953 addition is a blind brick wall. Dark courses of masonry articulate the floors. It may be art, but it's not architecture.

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