The problem with the conventional narrative of modernism in architecture is its insistence on rupture and discontinuity, its reductive formalism and its inability to engage with the concrete realities of modernization. The other arts quickly recovered from their revolutionary fever. In fact, few painters departed entirely from figuration and other means of connecting to the history of art. The image of architecture, however, at the beginning of the 21st century is still informed to a surprising degree by the avant-garde formalisms of the early 20th century.

The post-modern turn of the 70’s and 80’s ignited an interest in the history of architecture and in the continuity of the city. It also began to erode the myth of the monolithic modernism of the international style, with the rediscovery of figures like Loos and Plečnik, whose work cannot be understood within the narrow precepts of accepted modernism. This turn proved to be short-lived, and within a decade neo-modernism became the hegemonic manner of a new and unprecedented global architecture. It was as if the abstraction and consequent lack of engagement of this architecture was the perfect expression of globalization. What has been most damaging for the culture of architecture, is this convention narrative of modernism’s ability to emasculate much richer and more engaged forms of modern architecture. It has the miraculous ability to sell and to resell the same forms as being dynamic, year after year, in situations that are anything but radical. Like the free market, this narrative has lead to an architecture without quality, that can be built without consequence.

Sullivan, Wagner, Loos, Plečnik, Perret are not proto-modernists who are only interesting because of what comes after them. They are significant for the modern architecture that they made. Louis Sullivan’s work did not anticipate an austere architecture shorn of ornament. His great achievement was to transform technical facts and an impoverished commercial program into a magnificent American architecture, one that was imbued with the spirit of a wild new continent, at the same time as lending a civilizing, urban quality to the world’s fastest growing city. Adolf Loos was not significant because the back of his Villa Steiner anticipates the striped sterometric volumes of the international style a decade later. His houses and his apartments fit the lives and ambitions of his clients perfectly. They did not require specially made slippers to negotiate steep ramps. They did not have to adopt rigorous training regimes to meet the strenuous demands of their architect and his buildings. Auguste Perret was a great constructor and an accomplished urbanist, whose achievement across the whole of the architectural discipline makes the efforts of the modernists look like the uncertain first steps of toddlers. He was a great modern architect, who could handle technology incidentally, and not just the guy who Le Corbusier chose as his master.

I’m interested in reclaiming the English Arts and Crafts, the Chicago School, the Wagner-Schule, the Paris of Perret and Pouillon, the Milan School, and other so-called peripheral figures for a modernism of realism, a modernism of continuity, and a modernism that has the capacity to be socially and physically engaged.

― Conclusion of Adam Caruso’s introductory lecture at the ETH, entitled What is modern? given on March 29, 2012.
3:15 am  •  18 May 2013  •  8 notes
One could say that the story of twentieth century architecture has been the conflict between the tangible effects of modernization and the discourse of modernity, which all too often is intent on ignoring an infinitely rich concrete reality in preference for narrow utopian visions. This utopia, any utopia, is simply not interested in or able to engage with the granular detail of reality. Despite modernism’s self-evident interest in the quotidian, with its emphasis on housing, hygiene and the design of kitchens, these all too often lead to simplification rather than the complexity that one would expect from an interest in the everyday. With its overarching emphasis on a formal radicalism, modernism is unable to use either experience or existing situations as a basis for a new architecture.
― The Alchemy of the Everyday by Adam Caruso; an essay in Miroslav Sik: And Now the Ensemble! by Adam Caruso
10:04 pm  •  7 May 2013  •  1 note
A building commission rarely gives the architect the chance to revise the context of the site. The proximal and more remote surroundings are a “fait accompli” to which the design can merely respond. The first step in mastering the new task must therefore always be taken by the architect. He or she must pay due respect to the built environment, reining in architectural visions and toning down the building program until the new empathizes with the old. A major problem faced in everyday architectural practice is the ordinary, unexciting context to be dealt with in a building job. We seldom encounter a setting with a capital S, the kind we all dream of. In many treatises on the architectural setting, we have been promised a genius loci, a miracle of identity that is to be designed as a miracle of architecture. Only very sporadically can the high architecture of architects be displayed. It comes as no surprise, then, that architects often strike up the whole orchestra. By contrast the more pedestrian building tasks require a certain sensitivity to the small details of building culture, the humble elements that lend identity – in short, a sense of what is unique. No setting exists more than once.
― Designing an Ensemble by Miroslav Sik; an essay in Miroslav Sik: And Now the Ensemble! by Adam Caruso
9:56 pm  •  7 May 2013  •  3 notes
With food it’s the same as architecture. If our traditional taste for a fruit is forgotten in favor of the more resistant and prolific mass product, our diet also drifts toward the anchorless mainstream of consumer goods, with taste enhancers mixed in like ingredients, along with gases designed to breathe some life into the industrial-produced bricks. In the end, all that counts is the price, and our sensual delight and appreciation for what we eat get lost along the way, together with our confidence in our won civilization and culture.

Prerequisites: A Legend by Hans Kollhoff; an essay in Miroslav Sik: And Now the Ensemble! 

2:02 am  •  6 May 2013

The fact is that architecture will end up being more reserved the more disparate the individual identities that it is to represent. With increasing social divisions, potential conventions begin to lose their sharp profiles. The urban architecture of the pluralistic society is not that of formal diversity, but rather of formal reduction.

In order that this reduction does not devolve into impoverishment – into the boredom that Schinkel found it so urgent to avoid – urban architecture needs only look back on its own tradition. The antique city – that of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, that of the Baroque and Neoclassical periods, and also that of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – followed a formal convention that was perceived not as a burden but quite the opposite: as a canon of beauty and privilege. Residing behind the regular façades of Milet, Siena, Florence, London, or Paris were not oppressed persons or conformists, but rather a motley assortment of citizens of differing provenance and personality. The canon to which they voluntarily submitted when building (which was zealously guarded by their communities) did not attest to a lack of character; it was a sign of shared responsibility and community pride.

The Individual, Society, and the Architecture of the City by Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani; an essay in Miroslav Sik: And Now the Ensemble! 

1:56 am  •  6 May 2013
The city is an expression of a collective structure based on cooperation within the community and, as such, has a life-enhancing effect on society.
― City Thinking and Collective Memory by Quintus Miller; an essay in Miroslav Sik: And Now the Ensemble! 
1:46 am  •  6 May 2013