I voiced a somewhat similar concern here at architecthetics right at the end of 1999. From the architecthetics archive, December:
I actually thought of the above post last night (prior to reading Christopher's post) because of what I wrote yesterday about my 'view' of context from Philadelphia, and the notion of hybrid-ism may be one that helps me to continue sharing my (contextually unique?) view. Picking up on Paul's comments on Frank Furness and whether he is contextual, I'd first off say yes Furness is very contextual, but not exactly in the same way contextualism is generally thought of today. Furness architecture is (unfortunately?) one of those architectures that really has to be experienced in person, pictures just don't suffice. Anyway, the buildings are often very clear albeit uncanny responses to the surroundings; the buildings also often indeed make the 'place'; but, more than anything, it is within the compositions of Furness buildings themselves where the contextual dialogue fully occurs--there are virtually always incredible juxtapositions of interior spatial scale, then also tremendous exaggerations of scale among individual elements. None of this is arbitrary because the various scales always reflect various aspects of program and function, and even structure. Aesthetically, the architecture of Furness is all hybrid, or, as Venturi would say, "a difficult whole."
Soon after I graduated from Temple U., I participated in an alumni exhibit hosted by Temple's architecture program, and, among other things, I hung up a sign that said "Order is. . .OK." Most 'Philadelphia's' that saw the sign got what I did immediately; a few appropriately laughed, while most smirked and got stern in the face. Of course, I was commenting on (and hybriding?) Kahn's "Order is." together with Venturi's "Main Street is almost all right." Anyway, Rick makes some interesting comments on Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, e.g., "It was surprising to me to see how thoroughly Contextual (in the philosophical sense of Peirce's Pragmatism) that this work was. Surely, it is the first apology with an Architecturally Contextual base? Not that it was perfectly so, for as I recall, there are a few cases, such as the Jasper Johns Flag on Flag illustration, which a better fit for popular notions of taste, not for thoroughgoing Contextualism." Between 1974 (my senior year in High School) and 1984 I've read Complexity and Contradiction five time, four times reading the chapter in consecutive order, and once reading the chapters in reverse order (and one of the readings was done while on an Italian study tour, which is the best "context" to read that book in). [The only other book I've read multiple times including once in reverse is Revelations, the last book of the New Testament. What I found through that experience is that Revelations actually starts making sense when you read the chapters in reverse "order".] I'll touch upon Rick's insightful focus on Jasper Johns Flag on Flag illustration because it represents Venturi's relationship with POP Art taking precedence over Venturi's relationship with popular culture. The whole aesthetic notion of POP Art flatness (as best described in Tom Wolff's The Painted Word) is an aesthetic that Venturi still to this day strives ardently toward in many aspects of his designs. This 'style' is rarely, if ever, discussed within the plethora of writing on or by Venturi, yet it is definitely a substantial part of Venturi's design psyche. Let me explain further so as not to begin sounding like, as Alex once described, Kenneth (Civilization) Clark when he (Clark) was adamant about what Michelangelo "must have thought." One of my best friends, RE, a former Temple U. classmate, was an associate at Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates for 10 years. Whenever R and I discuss the 'flatness' issue, it gets very intense; R offers lots of actually working examples of the quest for flatness in the design process, and then we inevitably agree that it is somehow amazing that hardly anyone (else) knows about this very integral component of Venturi's style.
Rick, it was very nice of you to also mention some of the design analyses that used to be at Quondam. Alas, Quondam over the past year undid itself, in what I believe to be the virtual's greatest virtue, i.e., building and unbuilding at the stroke of a few keys, yet all the talking about Philadelphia architecture is spurring me on to reinstate the series of (kind of) essays under the title "Learning from Lauf (Vague) S." When I first introduced this title and texts, it was done in all seriousness, yet, like my "Order is. . .OK," I knew that not everyone would get the full extent of my 'playfulness'. There is now lots of new material to add to Learning from Lauf (vague) S., not the least of which is a new essay entitled "Constantine's Mother's House", a lively and in-depth look at the history and architecture of the Palatium Sessoriaum, Helena's residence in Rome, the only remaining part of which is today's Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
Arbor Street House
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