Theory and Design in the First Machine Age

By Reyner Banham | Go to book overview
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1: The academic tradition and the concept of elementary composition

WHILE A SERIES OF revolutionary gestures around 1910, largely connected with the Cubist and Futurist movements, were the main point of departure for the development of Modern architecture, there were also a number of particular predisposing causes that helped to guide the mainstream of development into the channels through which it flowed in the Twenties. These predisposing causes were all of nineteenth-century origin, and may be loosely grouped under three heads: firstly, the sense of an architect's responsibility to the society in which he finds himself, an idea of largely English extraction, from Pugin, Ruskin, and Morris, which was summed up in an organisation founded in 1907, the Deutscher Werkbund: secondly, the Rationalist, or structural approach to architecture, again of English extraction, from Willis, but elaborated in France by Viollet-le-Duc, and codified in Auguste Choisy's magisterial Histoire at the very end of the century, though the parallel tradition in Germany has no major exponent after Gottfried Semper; and, thirdly, the tradition of academic instruction, world wide in distribution, but owing most of its energy and authority to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, from which there emerged, just after the turn of the century, Julien Guadet's compendious summary of his course of professorial lectures--though again no equivalent work appeared in Germany at that time.

The attitude of those who were to become the masters of Modern architecture to these traditions from the past was apt to be equivocal. The Werkbund and its members were the object of suspicion in some quarters, though most of the younger architects accepted the moral imperatives bound up in it. The Rationalist attitude was held in high regard, yet effectively repudiated by most of them, and the academic tradition was generally vilified, yet many of the ideas it embodied were taken over by them.

The last circumstance makes the evaluation of Guadet's contribution to modern theory difficult to assess. Those who rejected the academic discipline did so because they felt it to be hostile to their conception of architecture, which they held to be functional, scientific and divorced from


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