Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lewis Mumford on Architecture: Scalding and Irreverent

In 1941 writer Lewis Mumford--known as "the last of the great humanists"--published a book The South in Architecture, a plea for architects of today to create buildings that respond to their time.  I've selected one incisive quote that seem particularly relevant today:

"Let us be clear about this, the forms that people used in other civilizations or in other periods of our own country's history were intimately part of the whole structure of their life.  There is no method of mechanically reproducing these forms or bringing them back to life; it is a piece of rank materialism to attempt to duplicate some earlier form, because of its delight for the eye, without realizing how empty a form is without the life that once supported it.  There is no such thing as a modern colonial house any more than there is such a thing as a modern Tudor house.

"If one seeks to reproduce such a building in our own day, every mark on it will betray the fact that it is a fake, and the harder the architect works to conceal that fact, the more patent the fact will be . . . The great lesson of history--and this applies to all the arts--is that the past cannot be recaptured except in spirit.  We cannot live another person's life; we cannot, except in the spirit of a costume ball . . . Our task is not to imitate the past, but to understand it, so that we may face the opportunity of our own day and deal with them in an equally creative spirit."

1 comment:

  1. This applies very much to gardens, too. Witness people's obsession with making their garden look like it's in Edwardian England, complete with precious accents like cloches, trugs, and statuary.


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