In 1966 the Museum of Modern Art made the reckless decision to sponsor the publication of what an aspiring young architect named Robert Venturi described as “a gentle manifesto.” It was anything but gentle:
“I am for messy vitality over obvious unity,” he declared, and went on to celebrate an architecture of ambiguity, complexity, and contradiction. This was heresy.
Since its founding, modernism had stood for clarity of meaning; Venturi demanded richness of meaning; where modernism in- sisted upon an exclusive program of “either- or,” Venturi boldly called for an inclusive approach that was “both-and”; modernists saw the world as black or white; Venturi coyly straddled the fence: “I prefer black and white,” he countered, “and sometimes gray.”
Abruptly, the spell was broken. It was not so much that modernism was finished—although plenty of obituaries have been written—but that it had lost its monopoly. Color made its first, tentative appearance in architecture after 40 years of white plaster and black steel; undulating surfaces, historical references, and seemingly contradictory but deliberate juxtapositions became the visual emblems of what first became known as the post-modern, and then the postmodern. “Pastiche” suddenly ceased to be an insult and became a badge of honor to be worn proudly by a newly emboldened generation.
Barry Katz–Dwell's beloved Father Time figure, who price-checked modernist icons in our March 2007 issue–returns with a century long laundry list of sustainability flashpoints. He makes every hour count as a consulting professor at Stanford University, a fellow at Ideo, and a prolific writer and author, most recently of The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion from Princeton Architectural Press.
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