Brian Smith

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What I'm still trying to figur out here is why originality is a virtue, automatically; this isn't stated anywhere, but it seems to be implied.... I just don't see why something original for originality's sake is necessarily good.

Clearly there is no good in originality for originality's sake, but the value of true originality in art lies in showing us the world and its values in a new way. It's the difference between reading a book and getting the feeling "I've read this before," or reading Atlas Shrugged. The plot and characterization in Atlas is truly original, a fresh and unique perspective on life that could only have come from Ayn Rand. Miss Rand's particular sense of life was uniquely her own, and she made original plot structures and characters out of elements of literature that had existed before.

Likewise, originality in architecture consists of showing us a new perspective on life, of creating an original environment in which man can live. The aesthetic elements of architecture also contain science insofar as using new materials and developing new structural methods for building. The ability to cast concrete into dynamically shaped curvilinear forms defines an approach towards building not possible to classical styles. New materials and techniques in the hand of an original master builder shows us how man can and should live. It is fine to appreciate the architecture of centuries gone by, but a real artist in architecture makes use of the contemporary materials and techniques available to or innovated by him. This is the world in which the architect lives, and starting with how the world is, he shows us how man can and should live.

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That is because "style" didn't matter.  The purpose of Roark's architecture, unlike that of other architects, was not to conform to or express a "style" but to create a functional, beautiful building to meet the needs of his client. 

I think that while Roark's theory is valid there are ways to hold it too strictly. Ayn Rand (writing through the character of Roark) seemed to assume that by following the philosophical guildlines you will end up with a building which is the objectively "best" building for that site and client.

I think realistically this is too simplistic when taken in its strongest sense. While the principle is a good one I believe there might be numerous design outcomes of equal value. When you add the wishes of the client into the mix, this makes it even more complex. Roark didn't design for the client for the most part, he found clients who desired his designs. But most architects don't have this luxury and I am not sure most clients want to give them that luxury.

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Ayn Rand (writing through the character of Roark) seemed to assume that by following the philosophical guildlines you will end up with a building which is the objectively "best" building for that site and client.
It would be "best" in comparison to the buildings one would end up with following "philosophic guidelines" not in accord with Miss Rand's "guidelines".

What "philosophic guidelines" which diverge from Miss Rand's do you think produce architecture of "equal value" to those produced in accord with her "guidelines"?

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That is because "style" didn't matter.  The purpose of Roark's architecture, unlike that of other architects, was not to conform to or express a "style" but to create a functional, beautiful building to meet the needs of his client. 

But wouldn't you say that, in doing so - i.e. by creating a functional beautiful building - he would have expressed a "style" of his own origination? I can't recall exactly where in The Fountainhead it was said or what character said it, but I remember that one of Roark's prospective clients said he wanted his building to have "the Howard Roark look" (quoting here only from memory). Wouldn't that certain "look" which was common and unique to his buildings have constituted a style?

In the end, what made me receptive to Howard Roark's position was I finally realized that there need not be a beauty/function dichotomy. As a kid, I was quite disgusted at most modern buildings I saw and considered the older ones to far superior aesthetically. I asked about and debated the issue with grown-ups and all that they could say to defend the new buildings was "they are functional" and "cheaper to operate." On that premise, windowless box made out of concrete pre-fab panels with an asphalt lot instead of landscaping would be the architectural ideal. So when I first read The Fountainhead that was the premise I thought Roark was coming from. And for the first few chapters, I actually kind of disliked Roark - the description of him in the opening scenes struck me that he was kind of a 1920s version of a hippie. Peter Keating, however, struck me as a nice enough fellow. That, of course, didn't last very long. As the novel progressed, Roark became increasingly sympathetic in my view because I admired his struggle and independence - though I was still suspicious of his buildings thinking that he was wanting to inject 1960s culture into the 1920s. What helped me realize that I was wrong about what Roark stood for was the character of Gus Webb who did stand for the kind of architectural ugliness that would become increasingly common after World War II. Plus there was the fact that Roark used a representational sculpture in one of this buildings. One rarely sees sculpture in post World War II buildings - unless it is the so-called "sculptures" which consist of chunks of rusting metal or a bunch of brightly colored geometric objects senselessly fused together.

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Roark didn't design for the client for the most part, he found clients who desired his designs.  But most architects don't have this luxury and I am not sure most clients want to give them that luxury.
Are you suggesting that Roark's theory - his principles - were good, but that most architects cannot practice them? That they have to practice something else besides his theory? If so, what theory - what principles - do they have to practice instead? And why - ie what prevents them from practicing Roark's?

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There's no automatically bad style of architecture; that would be intrincisism. There are only people who misuse a style for bad ends.
Would you say that of writing? What about a writer who couldn't communicate clearly, who made up words or threw together strings of words randomly?

If there are objective standards, then, yes, there are objectively bad styles. The critical issue is determining what those standards are within a given field, artistic or otherwise.

Ed, I agree that there can be bad styles, contextually. There are no bad styles, intrinsically, however, i.e. bad at all times, in all places, made by any sort of person, for any sort of reason, by any sort of motivation. To say there are such bad styles, either in architecture, in writing, or in anything else, would be intrincisism, would it not? The word "bad" (just like "good") can only mean something contextually. So if there are no styles that are intrinsically bad, then what does make them bad in certain contexts? People. It is people who use wrong styles, for wrong reasons, in wrong situations, and thus make the resulting product bad in that context. And that's exactly what I said, that there are no bad styles but only bad people who misuse them.

Now, you might say what about post-modern art, and its style. Surely that is a style, right? I would say: no! Post-modern architecture, for example, is not a certain style, but a rejection of style as such. A style in architecture can be defined as a collection of certain rules and conventions. This means, therefore, that there may be many good, but different, styles of objective architecture, not just one; many styles can follow the Roark's principle of integrity, and produce different results from him. So the problem with something like post-modern art is not that it is some bad style, but that it is a rejection of style, is defined by a negative, and is thus by definition nihilistic. Same thing with respective styles of writing, and any other types of similar aesthetic expression. They simply fall outside of the discussion, by definition.

Brian,

being original doesnt necessarily mean it is a good work of art. And I don't believe anyone here has suggested otherwise.
That's good to hear, then. You would agree, then, that an absence of 100% originality is not inherently a vice or second-handerism, right? I mean, even in the most original an innovative buildings people still use rectangular windows, by convention. That wouldn't be an example of a second-hander, even if all these architects were after the original guy who made the very first building with rectangular windows.

Stephen,

Clearly there is no good in originality for originality's sake, but the value of true originality in art lies in showing us the world and its values in a new way. It's the difference between reading a book and getting the feeling "I've read this before," or reading Atlas Shrugged. The plot and characterization in Atlas is truly original, a fresh and unique perspective on life that could only have come from Ayn Rand. Miss Rand's particular sense of life was uniquely her own, and she made original plot structures and characters out of elements of literature that had existed before.
Right, I agree with you of course. However, would you say that every new writer has to invent original plot structures and characters, or otherwise risk being a second-hander? I would say that the answer is no, and that what AR did with her work was not simply the bare minimum required of an honest writer, but that she went 'above and beyond the call of duty', and that other writers need not reinvent everything as she did in order to still produce good writing. Would you agree?
Likewise, originality in architecture consists of showing us a new perspective on life [...]. The aesthetic elements of architecture also contain science insofar as using new materials and developing new structural methods for building [...]
Right, so your requirements are that an architect shows a new perspective on life, and uses new structural elements for building. What if the architect doesn't aim to "show us a new perspective on life", but instead aims to reconnect the new with the old perspective on life, wants to underscore not the future, but the past? While I am certainly not arguing for all buildings being of this nature, I do allow for at least some to exist under such a principle. If you grant it, then, then the choice of material will follow suit. An architect of a library which has many classical texts may rightly choose to build it in some grand Classical style such as what Dismuke described, in order to remind the visitor, by his choice of theme of the building, the meaning of the building. Then he may build it with newer techniques, or with the older ones (this to undescore his theme even more), though he will probably choose the newer ones because they are safer and more enduring (again, undescoring his theme even more, but in a different and more subtle way).

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I think that while Roark's theory is valid there are ways to hold it too strictly.  Ayn Rand (writing through the character of Roark) seemed to assume that by following the philosophical guildlines you will end up with a building which is the objectively "best" building for that site and client. 

I am not aware of Ayn Rand saying anything to suggest that she had such an assumption. I don't think Ayn Rand would have had a problem with saying that two talented architects could independently design a building for a particular site and come up with very different buildings both of which she might have liked. I suspect you are making the error of equating "objective" with "intrinsic". There is no intrinsically "best" building for a particular site or client - such a notion is contrary to everything Ayn Rand stood for philosophically.

I think realistically this is too simplistic when taken in its strongest sense.  While the principle is a good one I believe there might be numerous design outcomes of equal value. 

I don't think Ayn Rand would have disagreed with the fact that there might be numerous design outcomes that are all worthy of merit.

When you add the wishes of the client into the mix, this makes it even more complex.  Roark didn't design for the client for the most part, he found clients who desired his designs.  But most architects don't have this luxury and I am not sure most clients want to give them that luxury.

But working with a client does not necessarily compromise one's artistic integrity.

Ayn Rand worked with her client, Warner Brothers, when it came to the writing of a screenplay for The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand did not have a problem per se with making changes to suite the legitimate needs of her client - i.e. that which was necessary to make a commercially profitable movie. But she did insist SHE be the one to make any changes to her script and she held her ground on suggested changes that she thought undermined her work.

If you are some newbie architect just out of architecture school - no, your boss and your boss's clients are not going to give you free reign to design buildings anyway that you want and insist that they be built without change. That is something that has to be earned on the free market. But that doesn't mean that a newbie architect whose designs are revised by the head of the architectural firm has necessarily compromised his artistic integrity and the fact it is necessary for him to work for others in such a manner does not invalidate Ayn Rand's wider points about integrity in general.

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I think realistically this is too simplistic when taken in its strongest sense.  While the principle is a good one I believe there might be numerous design outcomes of equal value.

This is along the lines of something I said in my previous posting - but I am going to word it here differently.

I suspect you might have fallen into the fallacy of equating "adherence to principle" with adherence to dogma. It is an understandable error to make because, in today's culture and in the history of philosophy, most people who uphold principles DO regard them to some degree or another as dogma. But that is NOT the approach that Ayn Rand took - and understanding what her approach is crucial to understanding her philosophy. I can't cover the issue in one posting. The best thing I can suggest is to read what Dr. Peikoff wrote about the intrinsic verses the subjective verses the objective.

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That's good to hear, then. You would agree, then, that an absence of 100% originality is not inherently a vice or second-handerism, right? I mean, even in the most original an innovative buildings people still use rectangular windows, by convention. That wouldn't be an example of a second-hander, even if all these architects were after the original guy who made the very first building with rectangular windows.

To use your example, if someone is using rectangular windows simply because it is a convention - ie because everyone else does it - I would suggest that makes his action, by definition, second-hand. If, on the other hand, he uses a rectangular shaped window because he has independently considered the issue, weighed the options, and determined on his own that, compared to other possible window shapes, a rectangular shaped window best serves the form of the structure he is designing, due to its setting and the design concept, etc, etc., then one could not claim his use of a rectangular window was a vice or second-handedness. The fact that others have used the same geometric shape before him does not change this fact.

In other words, an architect does not have to go out and become a materials engineer and design a brand new material from which to build his house, in order for the house to be considered original - or for him not be be considered a second-hander. Or, for instance, a writer does not have to make up a new language or a new standard for structuring sentences, iin order for his novel to be considered original - or for him not to be considered a second-hander. And this principle extends to philosophy itself. The fact that we Objectivists did not create the philosophy we accept does not mean we are somehow second-handers or somehow engaging in vice because we did not create a completely different philosophy of our own.

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However, would you say that every new writer has to invent original plot structures and characters, or otherwise risk being a second-hander?

If not a second-hander, then at least boring. There is no greater curse to a reader than reading one writer's copy of another's work. A fiction writer need not invent a new language, nor need he establish a new literary genre, but if he has anything worthwhile to personally express then his job as a writer is to discover the best means by which that can be done.

So, yes, his plot structure and characterizations, to the degree that they are original and uniquely express the theme of the work, to that degree they represent good literature. Art is a re-creation of reality, not a journalistic telling of events. If a writer clearly understands just what it is that he wants to express, then he needs to express it in his own unique manner and not mimic what someone else has done. And one mark of a great writer is the degree he accomplishes this on even the smallest detail.

Here is an interesting quote for Ayn Rand taken from The Art of Fiction, p. 173.

"Using the sunrise, or any form of light, as a symbol of the good or the revelation is a bromide, but it is a bromide of the kind

that love is: it is so wide and fundamental that you cannot avoid it. What will make your use of it a bromide or not is whether or not you bring any originality to the subject."

Right, so your requirements are that an architect shows a new perspective on life, and uses new structural elements for building.

Please do not put words into my mouth. I did not make it a "requirement" that an architect "uses new structural elements for building." A truly creative artist can be original using simple timber frame construction.

What if the architect doesn't aim to "show us a new perspective on life", but instead aims to reconnect the new with the old perspective on life, wants to underscore not the future, but the past?

There are people who prefer the horse and buggy, but I'll stick with my Corvette. Some also prefer the abacus to a TI calculator. And while some people prefer a quill, I'd rather use my word processor. People are free to do what they want, but I'd rather live in the present with an eye to the future than trying to live in the past. If an architect wants to build a Doric palace using modern materials for someone who wants to live in it, they are free to do so. I am also free not to look.

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But wouldn't you say that, in doing so - i.e. by creating a functional beautiful building - he would have expressed a "style" of his own origination?  I can't recall exactly where in The Fountainhead it was said or what character said it, but I remember that one of Roark's prospective clients said he wanted his building to have "the Howard Roark look" (quoting here only from memory).  Wouldn't that certain "look" which was common and unique to his buildings have constituted a style?

Only in the very broadest sense. As I wrote of John Lautner's buildings:

I can always recognize a building by John Lautner, Architect, not because it looks like any other Lautner building, but because it looks like nothing that has ever stood before on the face of the Earth.

Lautner buildings are original. ...

Lautner buildings are dramatic ...

Lautner buildings are logical. ...

Lautner buildings are functional. ...

Lautner buildings are wonders of engineering. ...

Lautner buildings have integrity. ...

http://speicher.com/lautnerb.htm

I guess you could call that a "style" -- but why?

Now if people only copied the features of Lautner's buildings, as they once did by shamelessly ripping off ideas for "Googie style" coffee shops from his original design for Googie's in Hollywood, that would be a "style."

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Only in the very broadest sense.  As I wrote of John Lautner's buildings:

I guess you could call that a "style" -- but why?

Now if people only copied the features of Lautner's buildings, as they once did by shamelessly ripping off ideas for "Googie style" coffee shops from his original design for Googie's in Hollywood, that would be a "style."

Perhaps we are referring to different usages of the word "style." Sometimes people use the term to mean "faddish" or "popular" - and that is not the sense that I am using it in.

When I made my point regarding style, I was thinking of the usage that Ayn Rand mentioned in "Art and Sense of Life" in which she said: "'Style' is a particular, distinctive or characteristic mode of execution." Of it, she said: "Style conveys what may be called a 'psycho-epistemological sense of life,' i.e. an expression of that level of mental functioning on which the artist feels most at home. This is the reason why style is crucially important in art - both to the artist and to the reader or viewer - and why its importance is experienced as a profoundly personal matter." (emphasis Ayn Rand's)

In the above mentioned article, Ayn Rand was primarily talking about painting and fiction. However, she also said with regard to the performing arts: "The basic principles which apply to all of the other arts apply to the performing artist as well, particularly stylization, i.e. selectivity: the choice and emphasis of essentials, the structuring of the progressive steps of a performance which lead to an ultimately meaningful sum."

In that sense of the term, do you think that it is valid to refer to a truly great architect as having a certain "style" - i.e. a mode of execution that is unique and distinctive to his works?

One of my reasons for being interested in the term is because when I was recently skimming through James Valliant's The Passion Of Ayn Rand's Critics I saw several references to the term "stylized universe." Apparently, Branden coined the term - but on page 226 of the book is a passage from Ayn Rand's notes providing a definition:

"In regard to a 'stylized" universe.' A stylized person...is a person who lives in reality according to his highest values, who takes nothing less, accepts no substitutes, and struggles to translate his values into reality, no matter what the difficulties." (All emphasis Ayn Rand's)

Typically, when I say that something has "lots of style" I mean that it does a very good job at expressing, translating and concretizing certain values into reality - and, if those values reflect mine, then it is a style that I like. I usually don't mean it in the sense of fads or popularity as, for example, when people say that a certain item of clothing is "in style" this year.

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There are people who prefer the horse and buggy, but I'll stick with my Corvette. Some also prefer the abacus to a TI calculator. And while some people prefer a quill, I'd rather use my word processor. People are free to do what they want, but I'd rather live in the present with an eye to the future than trying to live in the past.
Stephen, I don't want to sound as if I'm an advocate of archaism here, or that I believe that the past is always better than the future. I'm not a closet horse and buggy admirer, for example, and I'll stick with my Corvette just as much as you do (... when I my own, that is :lol:).

My point was two-fold here:

1) that having older architectural elements in a building is not always automatically a case of second-handedness. Just as everyone has said here, what a building looks like should be a function of its subject and theme, not related to what others nearby may be doing with their buildings.

And,

2) that, while I don't believe that the past is always better than the future, I do believe the past is sometimes good, that some aspects of it shouldn't be permanently relegated to the dustbin, and moreover that it's good to have a firm connection with that past when and where appropriate. For a library, a building that ideally contains the wisdom of a civilization throughout its history, to include the historical elements in its design in a non-second handed way, to evoke a sense of grandeur and reconnect the eager reader with his past, seems entirely appropriate, just like a beautiful shiny skyscraper made out of glass and concrete, smoothly solid and without a hint of "a Doric column" anywhere, also seems entirely appropriate. But to have a library filled with ancient books, but being entirely super-modern, and constructed out of nothing but shiny and sleek "skyscraper stuff", without a hint that there's history enshrined here or that any of it is important, does not seem appropriate, which is why I'm defending what might seem to be an unusual subject to defend.

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1) that having older architectural elements in a building is not always automatically a case of second-handedness.
How exactly are you defining "older architectural element"? Is a column (be it thick or thin, tall or short, curved or straight) considered an "older architectural element"? If so, that argument has been dealt with already. Just like sentences, which will have certain structures and use certain words, all of which are 'older language elements', construction will have certain structures and certain shapes. And they will have been used historically because of the nature of building.

However, if you are referencing copying old columns for the sake of copying old columns as opposed to for the sake of supporting a structure, then that is an example of second-handedness. And examples like this were used throughout the Fountainhead.

2) that, while I don't believe that the past is always better than the future, I do believe the past is sometimes good.
Why was it good in the past? How does that make it good in the present? For instance, why were the greek columns good in the past? What makes them good in the present?
But to have a library filled with ancient books, but being entirely super-modern, and constructed out of nothing but shiny and sleek "skyscraper stuff", without a hint that there's history enshrined here or that any of it is important, does not seem appropriate
On what basis do you claim it is not "appropriate." On what basis do you suggest the "shiny" and the "sleek" somehow indicate that which is contained inside it is not "important".

You seem to be identifying age with importance. You seem to be suggesting that modern materials and modern style are something other than "important" and that old materials and old styles somehow are "important".

I have to disagree with that premise very strenuously. The age of a thing is not what provides its value.

So - besides the fact that someone else used to construct buildings using greek columns, what for instance makes greek columns "important"?

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For a library, a building that ideally contains the wisdom of a civilization throughout its history, to include the historical elements in its design in a non-second handed way, to evoke a sense of grandeur and reconnect the eager reader with his past, seems entirely appropriate, just like a beautiful shiny skyscraper made out of glass and concrete, smoothly solid and without a hint of "a Doric column" anywhere, also seems entirely appropriate. But to have a library filled with ancient books, but being entirely super-modern, and constructed out of nothing but shiny and sleek "skyscraper stuff", without a hint that there's history enshrined here or that any of it is important, does not seem appropriate, which is why I'm defending what might seem to be an unusual subject to defend.

I think you are missing the point, and creating false alternatives. For this library containing ancient wisdom, a good architect can communicate your sense of grandeur and connection to the past without creating it out of "skyscraper stuff," if that is the goal. There is a tremendous richness of material available that can be used to express a variety of values in a virtually infinite number of forms. The point here is that in the 21st century you don't build something that looks like the Library of Alexandria.

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Brian,

How exactly are you defining "older architectural element"? Is a column (be it thick or thin, tall or short, curved or straight) considered an "older architectural element"?

I define an older architectural element not only in terms if use, but also in terms of appearence, and furthermore in terms of the impact it has on the observer. A column, in principle, may be almost as old as man himself, yet I wouldn't consider a modernistic-looking column to be an "older architectural element".

However, if you are referencing copying old columns for the sake of copying old columns as opposed to for the sake of supporting a structure, then that is an example of second-handedness.

Since there's no intrincisism, I don't think stating that "copying old columns for the sake of copying old columns" in itself provides enough information for evaluation. Why were the old columns copied? Therein lies the object of evaluation, second-handed or not so. If a person does the copying for the sake of impressing other people, and himself has no understanding of the object, or if it looks preposterously out of place either in the immediate environment or in the theme of the building as such, then yes that's entirely second-handed. But all motivations need not be so.

Why was it good in the past? How does that make it good in the present? For instance, why were the greek columns good in the past? What makes them good in the present?

I was speaking about the past in general here, not about columns in particular.

On what basis do you suggest the "shiny" and the "sleek" somehow indicate that which is contained inside it is not "important".

You've misunderstood me there, and I never stated anything of the kind. "Important", as a value-judgment, only makes sense contextually, and in reference to a values hierarchy. So for a skyscraper, "shiny" and "sleek" are "important". For a library, something graver and more inviting to learn and ponder is "important". There's no a-contextual "important", as you know.

You seem to be suggesting that modern materials and modern style are something other than "important" and that old materials and old styles somehow are "important".
Again, that is also a misunderstanding, as I've not stated or implied anything even remotely resembling this suggestion, so I'm not sure where you've derived it from. Modern style can be important, and can be good, just as everything else: in context.

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Also, as a further response to Brian,

I'd like to dispel the misunderstanding by clarifying my use of the word "important" in what I wrote here:

But to have a library filled with ancient books, but being entirely super-modern, and constructed out of nothing but shiny and sleek "skyscraper stuff", without a hint that there's history enshrined here or that any of it is important

I am focusing here not on the concrete architectural elements only, but looking at a bigger picture. Why was the library constructed, and what purpose will it serve? Looking only at the composition and integration of a building, alone, is not enough, as purpose is also a key component. So, for a library, a proper purpose can be manyfold:

- to underline the intellectual achievements of the books contained therein

- to celebrate a civilization and the history of its wisdom

- to impress a sense of gravity that reading, and learning, is important

- even something as simple as to invite the visitor to sit down, read, and absorb what others before him have said

All of these, among others, implicitly indicate that history is important, that what others in the past have said should be of value to the reader, and that he should spend at least some time understanding and appreciating it. Instead, when a library is designed to be ultra-modern, without even a trace of anything that doesn't spell "as modern as possible", it implicitly indicates to the visitor that what was done before is not important, and that the only thing that does matter is the latest thing. So simply through the choice of what goes into the structure of the library, the architect indicates a lot more. All of this is the only sense in which I meant the word "important".

Suppose our ultra-modern library has even short poignant sayings on the wall, witty and important sayings by men throughout history. That would already would be better than nothing. I view the shape of those walls, and indeed of the entire building, as just another version of those sayings on the wall -- all working together to impress a certain sense and set of values on the visitor. Architecture is not just engineering, as you know. It's also part art.

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Stephen,

The point here is that in the 21st century you don't build something that looks like the Library of Alexandria.
Oh, I agree entirely! I never advocated something like a "Doric palace", as you said earlier. But something like the New York Public Library, or even better, the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, are good examples of how to contain a sense of history in a modern building.

All of what I said here is simply a reaction to a sense, real or inferred, that if there are some old-looking columns in a modern building, that they are an automatic example of second-handedness. They may be, or they may not. That's all I was saying.

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So, for a library, a proper purpose can be manyfold:

- to underline the intellectual achievements of the books contained therein

- to celebrate a civilization and the history of its wisdom

- to impress a sense of gravity that reading, and learning, is important

- even something as simple as to invite the visitor to sit down, read, and absorb what others before him have said

All of these, among others, implicitly indicate that history is important, that what others in the past have said should be of value to the reader, and that he should spend at least some time understanding and appreciating it. Instead, when a library is designed to be ultra-modern ...

You continue to miss the point. An architect can achieve all the values and purposes that you list, without creating a work that looks like ancient Greece.

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The point here is that in the 21st century you don't build something that looks like the Library of Alexandria.

Oh, I agree entirely! I never advocated something like a "Doric palace", as you said earlier. But something like the New York Public Library, or even better, the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, are good examples of how to contain a sense of history in a modern building.

If you think the New York Public Library is a good example of architecture, even when it was built, it is no wonder we seem unable to communicate to each other. Of that age you admire Thomas Hastings, and I admire Louis Sullivan. Night and day. Our views and standards on art are just too different.

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Free Capitalist,

I'm a bit lost on a few issues.

If I am correct in my understanding that you believe a building should aesthetically resemble it's purpose, are you then implying that the purpose of a library (or knowledge or education) is to be ancient?

You say:

...a building that ideally contains the wisdom of a civilization throughout its history, to include the historical elements in its design in a non-second handed way, to evoke a sense of grandeur and reconnect the eager reader with his past, seems entirely appropriate...

Following your logic, I would actually envision a library part Greco-Roman, with some Arabic decorations, a nice Renaissance roof, King Louis wallpaper, a smokestack, and a modern American school.

To me, the purpose of a library is indeed the wisdom of civilization. Thus I think the purpose of the library to be one that celebrated that wisdom, and invited the onlooker to partake in it. How does an ancient-looking building say "Come and be wise!" in a way that a modern building could not...unless you are advocating that wisdom is a non-modern or anti-modern concept?

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I don't think stating that "copying old columns for the sake of copying old columns" in itself provides enough information for evaluation.
If you do not consider an architect making a copy of another architect's work and style to be second-hand, I would be very interested to hear your definition of 'second-hand'.
Why was it good in the past? How does that make it good in the present? For instance, why were the greek columns good in the past? What makes them good in the present?

I was speaking about the past in general here, not about columns in particular.

And yet the particular architecture you point to as an example of the historic good of which you speak is loaded with such columns (among a lot of other architectural bromides). As such, the question is quite on point and deserves an answer.
So for a skyscraper, "shiny" and "sleek" are "important". For a library, something graver and more inviting to learn and ponder is "important"
This was my point. What is your basis for either of these assertions? Why are "sleek" and "shiny" supposedly less "inviting to learn and ponder" than something "graver" (more serious?) like ancient columns and the like? Besides one being new and the other being old (ie one is original and one is completely derivative), what is the difference?
- to underline the intellectual achievements of the books contained therein

- to celebrate a civilization and the history of its wisdom

- to impress a sense of gravity that reading, and learning, is important

- even something as simple as to invite the visitor to sit down, read, and absorb what others before him have said

An architect needs to make a copy of a copy which is a copy of copies of buildings like the greeks made more than 2000 yrs ago in order to achieve these things? I think you are making many unwarranted assumptions here.
Instead, when a library is designed to be ultra-modern, without even a trace of anything that doesn't spell "as modern as possible", it implicitly indicates to the visitor that what was done before is not important, and that the only thing that does matter is the latest thing.
Refusing to copy someone else's work or style is telling others the past doesn't matter? I really suggest you check your premises.

Check the premise that one underlines the intellectual achievements of others by creating an intellectual bromide, rather than one's own intellectual achievement.

Check the premise that one celebrates the wisdom of a civilization by regurgitating what others have done, instead of celebrating what that wisdom has brought us to and allowed us to achieve.

Check the premise that one impresses a sense of gravity that learning is important simply by parroting the works and words of others.

Check the premise that visitors are somehow discouraged from sitting down, reading, and absorbing the works of others because this work (the building) is new and original to them.

Oh, I agree entirely! I never advocated something like a "Doric palace", as you said earlier. But something like the New York Public Library, or even better, the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, are good examples of how to contain a sense of history in a modern building.
These are copies of copies of copies grafted onto frameworks that are copies. The real question is what isn't second-hand about them?
Architecture is not just engineering, as you know. It's also part art.
Yes. And "art" does not consist of copying someone else's art work.

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But to have a library filled with ancient books, but being entirely super-modern, and constructed out of nothing but shiny and sleek "skyscraper stuff", without a hint that there's history enshrined here or that any of it is important, does not seem appropriate, which is why I'm defending what might seem to be an unusual subject to defend.

Personally, I find the modern "skyscraper stuff" like retangular glass boxes for office buildings incredibly boring. I will gladly take the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building or Wright's S. C. Johnson Building over the Seagram's Building or the Lever House any time. Ornament, drama, and complexity are wonderful in a super-modern skyscraper.

So too for a library. An architect doesn't have to -- and shouldn't -- copy historical forms OR modern minimalism in order

- to underline the intellectual achievements of the books contained therein

- to celebrate a civilization and the history of its wisdom

- to impress a sense of gravity that reading, and learning, is important

- even something as simple as to invite the visitor to sit down, read, and absorb what others before him have said

These are valid functions of a library. In addition, a library must make information available and readily accessible and protect rare and fragile volumes. A modern library also needs internet access, electronic and digital media, desks or carrels for patrons to work at or store work in process, etc.

A good architect will make these functions an integral part of the design and not just build another glass and steel box. A great architect will do all of that in an exciting, creative, and ingenious way.

He might celebrate Western Civilization with ever-changing images of great art works of the centuries on digital displays on the walls. He might convey a sense of gravity by using heavy, solid building materials like granite or marble in bright, open, comfortable rooms with soaring ceilings to give a sense of lightness and enlightenment anchored in the bedrock of the string, timeless, and enduring.

That is what Louis Sullivan meant by "Form Follows Function," Wright by "Organic," and Lautner called "Real Architecture." Compared to "Real Architecture," using historical styles is second-handed and second-rate.

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Stephen,

Oh, I agree entirely! I never advocated something like a "Doric palace", as you said earlier. But something like the New York Public Library, or even better, the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, are good examples of how to contain a sense of history in a modern building.

If you think the New York Public Library is a good example of architecture, even when it was built, it is no wonder we seem unable to communicate to each other. Of that age you admire Thomas Hastings, and I admire Louis Sullivan. Night and day. Our views and standards on art are just too different.

Let me just say right away that both of these names are unfamiliar to me, and that I am just a beginner in knowing names of styles and architects. So far, my understanding of the subject only extends to simply looking at a piece of architecture and trying to evaluate it based just on what I see, without any background knowledge. I'll tell you one thing I do know: Much of the Victorian architecture is really bad, and I think that it is some of the most second-handed building and design ever produced. Their evil genius has taken the Classical elements I've talked about, and reused and recycled them in such a way, and so many times, and in so many inappropriate designs, that they've become utterly unbearable. Incidentally, the Victorians had done this sort of thing to everything else related to Classical culture, and it is they who are the ones chiefly to blame for the disappearence of Classical learning in the general culture. But that's another story.

So, in order to be capable to respond to your post in at least some capacity, I've spent some time online reading the short biographies of both Sullivan and Hastings that I could find. I can totally see the similarities between Cameron from The Fountainhead and Louis Sullivan, especially the latter's wonderful motto of "form follows function". The details of his relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright also are especially striking, in reflection with the story of The Fountainhead. So, based on this short bit of knowledge I've acquired about the man, and seeing some buildings he designed in contrast with some of the 'standard' others, I can tell you that I admire him too: for his motto, yes, but especially for his maverick fight against the stifling pseudo-Classical Victorian conventions of his time. The latter were horrible, and I really admire the courage it must have taken for him to break through them.

Next I read about Thomas Hastings, whose skill turns out to have been more in social connections than in actual architecture design. How can I admire such a man? I have taken a look at some of the buildings he had designed as well (besides the NYPL), and I tell you that some of them are quite downright appalling. He designed some of the buildings in the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, such as for example this building, the purpose of which for the World's Fair was that of a "Field Museum of Natural History", and which is still being used now as Chicago's "Museum of Science and Industry":

museumofscienceandindustrychic.th.jpg

Now, let me reiterate that this building is supposed to be a museum devoted to science, and is supposed to underline the modernity and the modern scientific achievement, but instead looks like the Pantheon. The building is ridiculous. Also, the Caryatids adopted from the Greek Erechteion on the Acropolis,

msi22jz.gif

are even more ridiculous here, and only add insult to injury.

There are other of his buildings that I've taken a look at, such as the Lightner Museum, the Ponce de Leon Hotel, which confirm this evaluation.

Now take the New York Public Library example, however, which Hastings' firm also designed:

newyorkpubliclibrarylion22dd.th.jpg

That, to me, is impressive, because it fits for a library. I'm firmly convinced, though, that any success Hastings achieved in this building was more or less by accident, plunking various elements probably in his usual second-handed way, but accidentally arranging them in such a way as to produce a resulting impression such as what an august library might properly have. When originally mentioning the NYPL, I wanted to add a reservation that I thought it could be better, but that what was already there was pretty good already. I still stand by that, in that I don't think the NYPL is a perfect example of how an "august library" might look like, but it does evoke at least some of that impression, and it doesn't have all of its pieces senselessly jumbled together.

So my whole point here is that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with Classical elements in a modern building. The problem is that the Victorians have so completely messed up there, that we immediately associate "Classical elements in a modern building" with a Victorian building or style. If you could see that I reject the entire effete trend of Victorian architecture (and culture), then it will be easier to see what I really am or am not advocating. No one will come down on Michelangelo's David, even though it's a Classical statue through and through, because it was done well, in a manner and sense that suited it, during a time when Classical culture was not yet made second-handed. So too, is possible with architecture, if we look beyond the bane that was Victorian architecture. Some buildings can look good with "older historical elements", if done in the right way, and with the right (non second-handed) motivation. Incidentally, from the list of buildings that Louis Sullivan made, which I've found online, it looks as if he only designed financial, business, or residential buildings and houses, so I don't necessarily see a contradiction between myself and him. He too was undoubtedly reacting against the noxious Victorian "respect" for Classical architectural elements, and I think it's fully possible that he'd design something like the NYPL, if not for the prevalent trends of his time, which would make him building such a thing into a "concession".

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...I'll tell you one thing I do know: Much of the Victorian architecture is really bad, and I think that it is some of the most second-handed building and design ever produced. Their evil genius has taken the Classical elements I've talked about, and reused and recycled them in such a way, and so many times, and in so many inappropriate designs, that they've become utterly unbearable. Incidentally, the Victorians had done this sort of thing to everything else related to Classical culture, and it is they who are the ones chiefly to blame  for the disappearence of Classical learning in the general culture. But that's another story.

Some day, I'd like to hear more about this: maybe some examples of how the Victorians took classical elements and used them inappropriately, and how they, as you say, are responsible for the disappearance of Classical learning. Especially I'd like to find out: what philosophical ideas were influential in their actions? (I don't know very much about the subject at all.)

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