Cranston Jones talks about his book, "Architecture Today and Tomorrow" ; part 2
BROADCAST: 1961 | DURATION: 00:28:35
Cranston Jones discusses the idea of architecture as art, historic architecture ideals, and the future of architecture.
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Studs Terkel About a mile from where we're sitting now in the studios, WFMT, just about one mile from here, some 70 years ago, 1890, a very dramatic moment in the history of architecture when Louis Sullivan walked into the office of his chief draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright and tossed his [manila stretch?] upon the table of a project he had in mind. Look at it. It's tall and I suppose he was referring to the whole concept of the skv- skyscraper. So associated with America, with Chicago, and it's meaning and our guest this morning,for the second time around, Cranston Jones, who has won numerous awards for his articles on architecture, now has written a remarkable book. Remarkable in its lucidity as well as pictorially. "Architecture Today and Tomorrow," and Mr. Jones is the architect editor- senior editor of TIME magazine. Right, Cranston?
Studs Terkel And you were here before as is as the man who thought of the, in fact promoted, but more than that, didn't you think of the whole idea of "Form Givers" of the 20th century that, that was [unintelligible]
Cranston Jones Yes, that was the earlier project and I suppose "Architecture Today and Tomorrow," the book, flows out of it. Certainly, flows out of the experience of putting together the show and talking with the architects at the time.
Studs Terkel You say the book flows out of it, and the word had the word fluidity appears there often. It's it's a Frank Lloyd Wright word. It it flows out of it and it does indeed in the reading. It immediately opens with a story of Louis Sullivan- you divide the book into three parts, the Form Givers, Modern and Transition, and part three, Structures in Space. Would you mind, sort of, giving us the idea of the book itself, how you came to write it, the technique that you use- you used the word dialogues before we went on the air and describing it.
Cranston Jones Well, it seems to me that if we begin with the thought of of start at home, and in terms of home, Chicago is pretty much it. What form do we think of first in terms of our, of our own century? What's unique to us? Surely, it's the one of the forms is the skyscraper. Mid-century, I suppose, is the jet airport, or the atomic reactor. And my idea was that we were we- that, well actually, one makes discoveries on any voyage. I would say that I started simply with the idea that if we're going to talk about any form, we must begin with the form that we most immediately identify with ourselves. We know the best, the skyscraper. And in the- and in that form, then Louis Sullivan, from Boston, my hometown, but in Chicago, your hometown, gave this thing it's it's logical- and I think much more important, it's poetic form and it fascinates me. For instance, that the very latest skyscraper that I know of on Earth, which will not be built for three more years, or will be finished for three more years, the very- the last work of the architect, Eero Saarinen, who died at the age of 51 last Labor Day, that when he was casting about for an idea for a skyscraper in Manhattan- this has to be the CBS skyscraper that he too came back to Louis Sullivan. And I think he came back to him not to learn how to build a skyscraper, I mean our technologists know how to do this, our engineers, but to an idea that Sullivan had that what is the the triumphant ideal? What is the- what is the skyscraper? What is its quality? And its quality is that it's a tall and a soaring building, its tall. Which is exactly the sentence that you read at the beginning of the program and his building, which we will see in three years or four years from now, is an attempt to go back to Sullivan so that almost the latest building I can mention and the very first book that I mention in the book to an extraordinary degree are are on the same theme.
Cranston Jones It is. It's the it's the it's the one art, I think, that's why it makes it so tough to even make it an art, and why it is so absolutely magnificent when it does come off because the architect must convince the client, he must convince the workman, it has to be used, I'm not talking about architecture now as an obelisk or an object, but a useful building, it must fulfill its functions, at the same time, it must be treated, in my opinion, as a kind of art. If you can- so the architect really has to carry out all of his activities, except the perhaps germinal creative ones, in public. This is an extraordinarily difficult feat to do. It is not like the painter who can paint in private and be unknown for generations. An architect either must build it and it must be seen and judged. But, of course, that's what makes it our art.
Cranston Jones Yes.
Cranston Jones Yes.
Cranston Jones Well, he meant, as he says himself, and he, he used that phrase the first time with reference to a skyscraper. Actually, I think, it was the Wainwright Building that he was describing, but he had just built another one in Buffalo. And he was [match striking] saying that this is an idea that architecture should be organic, and this word organic is the great Chicago word. It's what supposedly describes the Chicago school. And I think we all know that by form following function, a clipper ships form comes from its function- a hoe, a plow. Anything that is very simple and much used and has had the benefit of generations and generations of modifications- it's form becomes very simple and it does just the job it's meant to do and we recognize it. I believe a clipper ship; we would all recognize as a thing
Studs Terkel I deliberately raised that question because I was looking at a picture of the Chicago auditorium and I was thinking how well this phrase applies. The auditorium building that is still considered acoustically one of the finest in the world [understand?], here it was, built to hear music, built built for people to listen to [lighter strike] in every way and to see things beautifully and here it is unused in Chicago at the moment. What an example it was of Sullivan's work.
Cranston Jones I think maybe because this form follows function gets terribly distorted as time goes on and it becomes something very dry and barren called functionalism and I suppose if there's a word that everyone dislikes these days, it's well- it's a cold functional building that looks like a factory. That is not what Sullivan meant. Sullivan is a 19th century man and he's talking with such people as Darwin, "The Origin of Species," in mind. He is talking about a philosophy which involved out of 19th century scientific thinking that of a of of function as as an expression as the cathedral was an expression of. In other words when Sullivan uses the word function, he means it to be expressive, it's to express something it is not to be a factory-
Cranston Jones The idea changed as the decades went by and it's to the much earlier sense of function, I think, as something expressive and potentially poetic that were more or more interested in today. And what fascinates me is that, the same idea that that perhaps the way to do a great opera house, is to take space. Space squared or or created in some way, and hang within it the elements that you need. Happens to be exactly the idea of a man like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, whom I would say unquestionably is the greatest Chicago architect today. That inherent, in one man's philosophy, is a solution which will be expressed differently and through a different route, and as Mies van der Rohe has said a good solution never grows old. I think it's quite fascinating to have this and it's in this sense that there's a dialogue. A dialogue of solutions, of problems studied, of here is the answer- they will look quite different. But, actually, in the sense that one sculptor knows- has the measure of another sculpture of another age. He knows how that man felt working with his piece of stone. So, architects today unquestionably look at the building and understand what the other man was doing. It's the dialogue in which there need be no words spoken. And this sense of dialogue when we use, when you use dialogue, it was the one that fascinated me in the book. It was not the chit chat of everyday living but this this marvelous antiphonal back and forth between great forms across centuries, across time, which is gets to be it gets to be extraordinarily thrilling.
Studs Terkel You mentioned and the the book seems to just be imbued with with the thrill itself of these voices. Not literally talking to each other about the understanding is there. You mentioned Mies van der Rohe in contrast to a self- wholly different approach and yet both are poets, both seeking to to follow his public art in his way.
Cranston Jones We have a building in Manhattan, it's the Seagram Building, which, in a way, unless Saarinen's CBS Building takes the [unintelligible] away from him, is considered as of 1961, '62- the the perfect final ultimate expression in terms of purity of the skyscraper. What fascinates me is, that if you were able to place that skyscraper side by side with the Guaranty Building in Buffalo by Louis Sullivan, here we have the first pure skyscraper of Sullivan, the latest pure skyscraper of Mies, remarkably in harmony- remarkably inharmony. And I think this this this is the dialogue and this is I think endlessly fascinating.
Cranston Jones Oh, he would have no use for it. He was- he always assured me that the joints were rusting and that it would all fall down very soon and that the fountains in front of it were- I said why, Cranston? That's the only time I ever saw water misused. No good advertisement for a whiskey company and so forth. He didn't like the building. He didn't like it because, and this is interesting, again, that his concept of the proper way to to to support a building was not in terms of a great cage, and there is some point to this in that the wind load against a hur- you know a hurricanes sweeping through New York? The wind load on those tremen- they're like sails. Those tremendous flat surfaces is simply immense. And he wanted something which was more- I used to be a fencer once upon a time and there's a weapon called a a epee. It's the same as a rapier. It's a three three-sided thing that a triangle is stronger than a square, has more bend to it, more give, more rigidity. He would build the building with a central core which was of this triangular nature, which would bend like a rapier and could bend with the load. And then he would cantilever s- stick out from, cantilever out from the central spine- the various floors. Well, within 15 minutes I have passed a building here in Chicago in which I can see the core going up, and cantilevering out from the core. These ramp like floors- the building you know it's here very near the Tribune Tower.
Cranston Jones Yeah-
Cranston Jones Yeah, which is again a concept of building from the core and cantilevering out. So, again, if I've made Sullivan become Mies van der Rohe in the sense that the forms speak in harmony. I think that Wright's concept of a central core from which things are cantilevered can be found again in Marina City here. You're right. There is indeed- the dialogue does not necessarily mean agreement. I'm talking about some are in harmony and some are against-
Studs Terkel If we may come to Wright then, the Chapter two, naturally from Sullivan to Wright- this most colorful figures and you pretty much rec- you recognize Wright as the, perhaps the architect of our time?
Cranston Jones Well, this is very hard because- and I thought about this a long time not and I came to this conclusion. That if you are going to take an individual, the greatest single man in architecture was without any question Frank Lloyd Wright. He lived longer, he built more, he was more prolific of ideas. But I also had to face this fact, that as- on the evidence at hand, he is not the man who created the architecture of the mid-20th century. Now this is- I would give you a good example there was an Italian Palladio who did the various villas outside of Florence and revived the whole classic facade. Palladio, we have it here in terms of what we call Greek Revival, Mt. Vernon is an exam- you know. Or the [banks?]. There are thousands of these state capitols with domes and Corinthian Columns. This whole classical thing, which came to a sort of apogee here in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair, but it's represented in every state house practically that we have- Washington is a great city of this sort. Now, Palladio is a man who by reviving classic forms gave a a system of ornament and organization of a building and you can build a classic bakery, a classic bank, a classic palace, a a classic anything that you please. In other words, this is a system that can be applied to many, many problems and will make everything look reasonably dignified, reasonably orderly. There are rules and you can keep to the rules, and you can't go too far wrong. All of them- I'm from New England- all our New England churches are built by most, many of them, by carpenters who was simply copying out of copy books. In other words, this is a system which you can use and apply and you won't be too far wrong. You cannot apply- you cannot apply in this way, Frank Lloyd Wright building- every- many buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright followers look as if they were copies or fakes or they're not quite there. The the master's touch is somehow missing. Now, in that sense, Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture is individualist and he always thought he was. It's of the order of Emerson, of the order of Walt Whitman, of the order of Louis Sullivan. So, who then-
Cranston Jones It is the romantic. Exactly. Now, who then is our classicist? And I have decided, here it seemed to me, that this would make Ludwig Mies van der Rohe probably our great classicist. You can do a Mies type building for almost every problem except the the, I'm not sure- he has not been given a job to do a state capitol. I once asked, you know- if I told you the story of asking Frank Lloyd Wright what he would do if Washington D.C. were obliterated by, let's hope a beneficent atomic bomb or something, it was just the site was clear he could begin anew. And I asked the same question to Mies van der Rohe and there- the contrast in their answers was extraordinary. Wright said, well the same problem had come up- and falling into anecdote-
Cranston Jones He brought it up with Harry Truman once and Harry Truman said well what would you do? And Wright said well we might move west, Mr. President. And Harry Truman said well like where? And Wright with his eyes twinkling said ooh someplace west of the Mississippi, like Missouri- anyway. When I asked Mies van der Rohe, what he would do, and I said you know the site plan being the same. He said I would simply build a building that would be useful, but with dignity. And if it were useful, it would express us and our time. It was simply useful but with dignity. Frank Lloyd Wright would go off like a Mormon leader and take you into the deserts and create some fabulous thing such as he proposed to you know, for the state capitol at the state university looking like a Thunderbird in Phoenix, Arizona-
Studs Terkel I was meaning to ask you this later- it had to happen now, but it had to happen. The issue was joined. The issue had to be joined. The romantic and the classicist- Wright and Mies van der Rohe. There was there was an incident when- was there not? When when tribute was paid to Mies van der Rohe here, back when Mies van der Rohe was inducted as head of the Architect Department of IIT, and Wright was at the introduction- then he had to leave. He left and was something of a shock, but it wasn't, I'm certain, this was not a personal affront, rather it was the fact that there was a very definite-
Cranston Jones Yes-
Cranston Jones Well, let us say that Wright felt there was and the story took place here in Chicago. There was the- this was the induction of Mies van der Rohe who had been brought over from Germany into I think what's called the Armour Institute at the time-
Studs Terkel Armour,
Cranston Jones And later became Illinois Institute of Technology. This is a story incidentally which which is based on a report by a reporter there at the time. It's not, however, Wright does tell the story himself. He changed it, I noticed, considerably from what the reporter took down. But in introducing Mies van der Rohe to this audience he said- he said I give you Mies van der Rohe, God knows you have need of him, you see. And then to everyone's surprise he stalked out of the hall and left, rather than waiting for Meis to make his reply, which he'd worked out and had been living at Taliesin with Wright and written it so- and it was indeed a historic break between two two philosophies and two men. However, well and behind that, let's look at it from Wright's point of view. What Wright felt was that he, up until the period of perhaps 1910, well that would be arguable up until 1910, but had articulated the great principles which were not recognized. This is an open space, flow space of a concept of what architecture can be once its sheds all of the trappings of the Gothic and of the classic and comes forth to declare itself as what it is. That this message had fallen on deaf ears here in Chicago and hence in the world. I'm not being sarcastic- this is where it would have happened if it had happened and that only in Europe was this message heard and understood and indeed in Europe Frank Lloyd Wright is a figure of absolutely major proportions. Whereas at home he was not, no a prophet has no honor. And then he felt that, well of course this is the way it must be, the Americans cannot hear the American voice it has to go to Europe and then come back from Europe as the Europeans. This is- and to a degree there's a good deal of truth in this. To a degree of course there is not, that the Europeans are operating out of their own technology, out of their own history, out of their own revolutions. Also the European view is surely different than ours. Wright is expansive, he lives in the Chicago suburbs- this is a different world, quite different than than Munich or Vienna or Berlin or Paris. So, to this, too the sense that what came back to us certainly was sired in part by Wright but it was not simply Frank Lloyd Wright students returning these were men who had incorporated the the ideas and the concepts of Wright into their whole revolution and were coming here. And he felt that this was the thing he could not bear, that he could not be heard with his own voice only if it came in the voice of another man with honors from abroad. This was what it was the
Studs Terkel I hadn't raised that point. This is very revealing, this- what you're saying and the undercurrent is is present throughout. The undercurrent of tension- differences. But, the reason I raise this- isn't this, didn't this have to be- this doesn't happen every art, and in the most public as architect it would happen most dramatically. The romantic versus the classicist, or the man who, with the tremendous rhetoric, as you describe it. Wright, as against the man who is spare, each- who is economical as- I think in literature, Thomas Wolfe say, as Frank Lloyd Wright, as you can say John Cheever and Mies van der Rohe, you know what I'm referring to? Traditional jazz with certain grace notes as against cool jazz. I don't know the parallel applies yet in my mind It seems
Cranston Jones I'll point something out, Wright would have thought he was Beethoven and all the rest of these were fiddlers. But, yes there is a coolness. There is a classic quality about Mies van der Rohe. There is high posey, there is romance, there is come along with me, and you know, down the open road. The absolute claim is that may- that Wright made for his own architecture would would cure you of everything, you know, and some say they did. If if people have lived in Wright houses and even when they came, became in slum areas of course they've been abused as well. Wright had poetry, yes. [Pause in recording]. Of course if it didn't work, down came the arch and there went the master builder but he was enough of- he was enough of a of a of a mason, enough of a stonecutter he he could- and today I've seen Marcel Breuer. It's very hard to find good masons these days for stone masonry- big, big stones. I've seen him- the rule is the stone can be no bigger than two men can lift and then he shows them how to lay it. He gets there and chips and gets all dirty. I mean this but, this is a bit romantic. The problem is still with us. I think the problem that Gropius was talking about was the division almost the spiritual division of man. As you mentioned that that we rely on technicians on sound technicians on light technicians-
Studs Terkel Yes,
Cranston Jones We are not all of a piece we are bits of it. And that what he gave us was really an ideal of working together- a kind of selfless one and I can assure you there are offices in which there are 1000 draftsmen and yet each draftsmen shares in the contribution to the design although there is always the man. There is a great requirement for selflessness in government, in architecture, in art, and that by infusing every stage of this with the sense of craftsmanship and of art and of a calling and of of the importance of it and of the dignity of it, and of i-he was trying to kind of heal man in a sense. These are statements made after World War One, you know. When men felt frightfully fragmented. I think he he tried. I think he gave a spirit and a tone to architecture that is still here today. He is- the younger architects debate with him, you know. They are of the opinion that a smaller practice where they can handle each element of it is the better way to do it. Gropius is great contribution now was to make available on one pallet everything that we have: the modern dance, the modern painting, modern sculpture, the craftsman, the carpenter,the and all can become involved in a creative endeavor. And all in the same language- this is his great contribution.
Studs Terkel We've merely- we can't discuss that. Modern in transmission- this is the new generation of architects who are picking up where the seven, the seven titans whom you've whom you've profiled so beautifully have given them. But, what would you say perhaps, in a phrase they- the the key today is the problem, today as in architecture and the trend in a general way perhaps.
Cranston Jones I would think that the most important thing today [lighter strike] is the realization that you can- that the difference between the best architect and the worst architect, or the most mediocre architect, is not as vast as you might think. And today, in other words, we can get good buildings from from from all the architects- or pretty good buildings from all the architects. And that today the relationship of one building to the next building that the spaces between buildings are becoming more important. There was a time when you went to a town and you got in a taxi and you went to see the one building- that's their one beautiful modern building. Today, the whole city is becoming good or mediocre or not so mediocre. Now, what is important is the larger unities of the town. I don't want to call this town planning, but I mean, it's that what the spaces between buildings are as important as buildings, the places where you place buildings. That, in other words, it is no longer one soldier, but we're now beginning to work in companies and soon we'll have to work in regiments, or whole armies. And we are beyond how to equip one soldier, this we know. He may be good or better, but he's a he's a soldier. Now we have to know how to maneuver, how to use battalions of soldiers and this is another art and this is when we are just beginning to learn. So, I would say that it is-
Cranston Jones This is- this is the problem that confronts every age that's going to be a very great age in architecture and ours is going to be a very great age. This is the problem. How do we use the the skills that we have, the individual buildings that we have, how do we use them to make the even greater unities which are the cities and as the cities approach it, they're going to become the great metropolis' and they are eventually going to become the whole landscape of the country, I think. Eventually we we must learn about roads more, how to shape mountains if we need to, the whole environment of man now, is the job. So that the individual who walks with some pride in it- some pleasure.
Studs Terkel And the book itself, "Architecture Today and Tomorrow" by Cranston Jones is loaded with photographs, 50 of them in color and there are hundreds, black and white. McGraw-Hill, the publishing house, and it's a remarkable book and I, a layman, am getting a pretty good idea and it's an exciting experience. You say dialogues, yet not literal but dialogues that continue the exchange of ideas highly exciting, provocative and perceptive. Cranston Jones thank you very much.