STYLE CONT’D.

U.S. Army Supply Base, Brooklyn (Cass Gilbert, 1918-19)

U.S. Army Supply Base, Brooklyn (Cass Gilbert, 1918-19)

In his snarky review of How Architecture Works in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Rykwert (who was a colleague of mine at Penn, something the review doesn’t reveal) quotes the Count de Buffon, Le style c’est l’homme mȇme, to support his view that the choice of a style is a “warrant of personal integrity.” I’m not sure that’s true in personal affairs, after all we dress differently for a morning jog than for the office, but it’s definitely not true in building design. Rykwert admires Mies for building the Farnsworth House in the same steel-and-glass style as his office buildings, but at IIT Mies adopted the same style for the chapel and the boiler house, which  is less admirable, in my estimation. When Christopher Wren, in most things a confirmed classicist, was commissioned to build Tom Tower at Christ Church in Oxford, he said it “ought to be Gothick to agree with the Founders worke,” and designed a wonderfully original interpretation of that medieval style. That same year he also designed a Gothic church. The idea that a style should have universal application was a strongly held belief of International Style architects, and is one of the failings of modernism. This was not a mistake made by their more traditional contemporaries. When Cass Gilbert was commissioned to build the U.S. Army Supply Base in Brooklyn in 1918, he designed a severe (exposed concrete) structure devoid of his usual Beaux-Arts ornament, relying instead on simplicity and good proportions. But, as the U.S. Supreme Court shows, what was right for a warehouse was not necessarily right for a courthouse.

2 Responses to STYLE CONT’D.

  • Eric Fazzini says:

    SOM did a modern naval gunnery building in North Chicago, IL, but it has been demolished. There are two retailers, an Urban Outfitters and Verizon store, share a former gothic church space here in Cincinnati. I’m not sure how this whole debate resolves since there are always exceptions.

  • Witold says:

    Cram would say that a shop in a church is a sacrilege. I once saw a church in Montreal converted into condos–it didn’t feel right.

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