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From a Cause to a Style

From a Cause to a Style: Modernist Architecture's Encounter with the American City

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    From a Cause to a Style
    Book Description:

    Modernism in architecture and urban design has failed the American city. This is the decisive conclusion that renowned public intellectual Nathan Glazer has drawn from two decades of writing and thinking about what this architectural movement will bequeath to future generations. InFrom a Cause to a Style, he proclaims his disappointment with modernism and its impact on the American city.

    Writing in the tradition of legendary American architectural critics Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs, Glazer contends that modernism, this new urban form that signaled not just a radical revolution in style but a social ambition to enhance the conditions under which ordinary people lived, has fallen short on all counts. The articles and essays collected here--some never published before, all updated--reflect his ideas on subjects ranging from the livable city and public housing to building design, public memorials, and the uses of public space. Glazer, an undisputed giant among public intellectuals, is perhaps best known for his writings on ethnicity and social policy, where the unflinching honesty and independence of thought that he brought to bear on tough social questions has earned him respect from both the Left and the Right. Here, he challenges us to face some difficult truths about the public places that, for better or worse, define who we are as a society.

    From a Cause to a Styleis an exhilarating and thought-provoking book that raises important questions about modernist architecture and the larger social aims it was supposed to have addressed-and those it has abandoned.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2758-9
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the 1980s, the Prince of Wales, who has adopted a number of surprising causes for a prince in the course of his life, became for a time the most influential critic of architecture, urban design, and planning in Great Britain. Both modernist architecture and modernist city planning had been very successful in Britain—as indeed they have been almost everywhere—in shaping new towns and rebuilding the centers of old cities and towns. But ordinary people often looked on the results with dismay. The prince's interventions and criticisms received wide publicity, and were effective in derailing some high-profile projects...

  5. PART ONE The Public Face of Architecture

    • CHAPTER ONE Building for the Public: What Has Gone Wrong?
      (pp. 23-47)

      When we "build for the public"—our government buildings, our courthouses, our schools and colleges and universities, and we can extend the list to other public buildings—we imply that there is some legitimacy in the response of the public: whether it uses the building or not, whether it likes it or not, whether it feels it is an embellishment of the public life, worthy of admiration and pride, or not. There are, of course, practical needs a building must meet, and that play a role in all these judgments the public makes. Yet regardless of our ability or training...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Prince, the People, and the Architects
      (pp. 48-66)

      The Prince of Wales, in his speeches and book,A Vision for Britain, attacking modernist architects for buildings they have constructed in the postwar years in Britain, aroused an uproar among architects. One writer in the leading British architectural journalArchitectural Revieweven found the source of the prince's taste in the architecture of Nazi Germany. He reproduced some pictures of new housing from a German publicity handout of 1940, and sure enough they show single-family, attached, homes with pitched roofs on their own little plots. Because the Nazis preferred single-family houses to apartment blocks, he finds a "precedent for...

    • CHAPTER THREE "Subverting the Context": Olmsted's Parks and Serra's Sculpture
      (pp. 67-92)

      The age when we built great city parks, or parkways, or boulevards, is over, and has been for fifty years or more. If one has been raised in New York City or Boston, one knows how much these cities were embellished by the park and parkway designers and builders, and preeminently by Frederick Law Olmsted. Our efforts are devoted these days to retaining as much as we can of their achievements, rather than adding to them. But occasionally a new opportunity to add to our parks arises. The last major piece of "undeveloped" land on the island of Manhattan, the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Monuments in an Age without Heroes
      (pp. 93-116)

      It was not much noted, or indeed not noted at all, that the Million Man March of Louis Farrakhan on the Mall in Washington some years ago took place in front of what was described in the 1937 WPA guide to Washington as "the largest and most costly piece of statuary in Washington." This is the Grant Memorial, the major monument in Washington to the Civil War. It is 252 feet long. "Bronze groups of Union Cavalry and Artillery in action at either end of the long granite base are set off by couchant bronze lions around the central pedestal....

    • CHAPTER FIVE Modernism and Classicism on the National Mall
      (pp. 117-145)

      The National Mall in Washington, extending from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, is in its design a unique national memorial space. One may find its like in the great royal gardens of France, but not in dense cities. First sketched in L'Enfant's original plan for Washington, it might then have reflected his memory of a still rural Champs-Elysées in Paris. But it was recast, after a century of disordered and conflicting changes and development, in 1902 by Daniel Burnham, Charles McKim, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. They had been selected to form a Senate Park Commission, through the action...

    • CHAPTER SIX Daniel P. Moynihan and Federal Architecture
      (pp. 146-162)

      Daniel P. Moynihan, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 2001, probably had a greater influence on federal architecture than any other major public figure of the second half of the twentieth century. His retirement from the Senate in 2001 occasioned deep regret among architects, urbanists, and federal officials dealing with architecture and urban design in various departments of government. For decades, Moynihan was the one major influential elected official they could speak to and who could be expected to have an understanding and appreciation of what they were trying to tell him. He was unique among the...

  6. PART TWO The New York Case

    • CHAPTER SEVEN What Happened in East Harlem
      (pp. 165-191)

      Unlikely as it appears at first glance, East Harlem in Manhattan is an area that has been in large measure shaped by modernistic theory in urban design and architecture. It reflects what the housing reformers in league with early modernists wanted, and it offers ground for reflection on how well their ideas for rebuilding the city have fared. As in the case of any move from theory to reality, the story is not a simple one and its lessons do not all point in the same direction.

      East Harlem begins where the elegant East Side of Manhattan ends. Its southern...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Amenity in New York City
      (pp. 192-227)

      Among the great cities of the world, New York is perhaps the one that does least in integrating nature into the urban environment. Cities, we know, must be crowded and noisy and dirty to some degree, but connected to our idea of cities is also urbanity, graciously shaped civic spaces, avenues, noble buildings, monuments, and aspects of nature—parks, street trees, ornamental flowers—though necessarily reduced, shaped, and confined in the city. Whatever the man-made environment, nature is a necessary background or accent. Modernist architects and designers shamefacedly agree that most of their buildings will be improved when the planting...

    • CHAPTER NINE Planning for New York City: Is It Possible?
      (pp. 228-252)

      A few years ago a six-hour television series on the origin and possible future (and end) of civilization,Legacy, concluded with two images. One is the unmistakable skyline of Manhattan at night, viewed from Queens, approached by great, illuminated bridges. The other is a crumbling ziggurat in a sea of salt and desolation, the ruins of a city of the very first civilization described in the program, ancient Mesopotamia. New York City, of course, is still alive, but it is placed at the end of this rapid progress through history for two reasons. One is that New York has served...

  7. PART THREE The Professions:: From Social Vision to Postmodernism

    • CHAPTER TEN What Has Happened to the City Planner?
      (pp. 255-270)

      Most observers of the city today would agree that the image of the planner in the public mind is not very defined or compelling, indeed rather dim. City planning, large-scale planning in general, is not in high repute these days, in the wake of the rout of Marxism almost every-where by the principles of the free market. One can plan one's personal life; one can plan for the future of one's company; generals and defense department officials are expected to plan for future wars. But planning as it is generally understood in professional programs of city and regional planning—that...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Social Agenda of Architecture
      (pp. 271-292)

      A few years ago, I was asked to speak to the graduates of the 1950 class of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, at their fiftieth reunion in Cambridge. One sentence in the letter from Robert Geddes, the distinguished architect and former dean of the Princeton School of Architecture, suggested why an urban sociologist, who had only a layman's knowledge of architecture, would be asked to speak at such an event: "Our formative years as professionals were, as you know, during a period of optimism and a modernist faith in a social agenda." And the unstated question was, what happened?...

  8. Index
    (pp. 293-300)