Total Pageviews

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Wright’s Guggenheim Museum

By Thomas Shess, Editor, I managed the editorial department for Ed and Gloria Self’s San Diego Magazine (founded in 1948) it was a point of pride that so often we would have architectural students sitting in our conference room/library pouring over back issues.  Amused too because what was the magazine staff still regarded current events was now history to others. 

Nonetheless, it pleased us that enlightened professors would usher students in to see and read about the work of important local architects/critics. Mainly, they were there to study the published mid-century architecture that the late Editor in Chief Ed Self championed over the years, especially those penned by James Britton. 

Likewise, New Yorker magazine (founded in 1925) possesses archives rich with the history of architecture.  Just as important to the New Yorker coverage of significant world architecture is simply whom the editors chose to write those marvelous essays.

Over the summer, the New Yorker ran a retrospective of architecture articles from its archives.  Below is a link to one of those gems:

December 5, 1959 “What Wright Hath Wrought” by Lewis Mumford.  Click here for entire article.

Memorable (Mumford excerpt:)
“...It is not unusual for an architect to be a man of talent in the kindred arts of painting and sculpture; that, indeed, was almost the classic preparation for an architect in the early Renaissance, and architects like Le Corbusier have probably spent as much of their time at the easel as at the drawing board. What is unusual about Wright is that the sketches and the finished presentation drawings of his buildings are works of art in their own right, carrying his unmistakable signature. 

Lewis Mumford
Both his crayon sketches and his plans express in the most sensitive way the exhilarating and positively liberating effect of his genius. The drawings show—sometimes more clearly even than the actual buildings—the combination of formal discipline and effulgent feeling, the union of the mechanical and the romantic, the union of the audacious engineer, enthralled by the possibilities of technology, and the highly individualized artist, that were the man himself. The color reproductions are particularly good. Wright used one of the most difficult of media, the colored crayon, as well as watercolor, in renderings whose handling of landscape and foliage sometimes reminds one of Dürer’s sketches, yet the drawings have a kind of architectural firmness because of the use of fine straight lines, seemingly ruled, to convey an underlying sense of geometric structure, in sky or background as well as in building. But the color, even when used to embellish the plans, remains delicately lyrical, with an early-morning freshness...”

San Diego Magazine, whose 70 years of continuous publication is unaware of the treasure trove located in its bound volumes, especially in the area of architecture/design in the mid-century years.  One of the leading lights writing for San Diego Magazine was James Britton, a noted architecture and urban planning writer/critic, who also contributed many articles to the AIA Journal, which he edited.  Mr. Britton, who died in 1983, also appreciated Lewis Mumford and Frank Lloyd Wright.   

James Britton
In an AIA Journal, August 1977 article he wrote a criticism of the University of San Diego’s then-new central library.  The article’s headline was not pithy (a trait Britton seldom embraced): “Lantern-like Library Held Aloft on Concrete Fingers The sculptural, somewhat isolated would-be centerpiece of the University of California at San Diego.” 

Appearing in San Diego Magazine the same article was given a more manageable headline: “The Stone Flower.”  The value of the San Diego Magazine archives regarding mid-century architecture is the fact it is written as it happened.  It was news of the day.  This vast storehouse of essays gives us a wonderful alternative to historical opinions decades later.

Here is a brief excerpt from Mr. Britton’s “The Stone Flower:”
“...The [William] Pereira-designed UCSD library may even stand the test of Lewis Mumford's observation in Technics and Civilization that "in the light of new technology one might
reverse Emerson's dictum and say the necessary can never divorce itself from the superstructure of the beautiful."

Britton added: (As Mumford developed it, this idea may apply equally to such diverse projects as the UCSD central library and the Centre Pompidou.)

Pereira’s Central Library, UCSD campus, San Diego.

No comments:

Post a Comment