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Walter Groppius, Granddaddy Of Steel And Glass, Conceived His Architectural Vision In The Rubble Of WW I And The Decadence Of Weimar In The Decade AfterHis Doctrine Found Fertile Soil In America, Where It Was Time To Adopt A Clearly Defined And Suitable Representative ArchitectureTom Wolfe, Author Of THE PAINTED WORD And THE RIGHT STUFF, Treats Us To A Chronicle Of The Trends That Ultimately Brought Us The Ubiquitous And Baffling Glass Box Of Modern Commerce Delightfully Witty, Biting History Of Modern Architecturescintillating High Comedy Of Big Money, Manners And Massive Manipulation Of Public Taste Publishers Weekly


10 thoughts on “From Bauhaus to Our House

  1. says:

    Wolfe writes an interesting, hilarious, and opinionated account of how we ended up with all Those Buildings, i.e those concrete boxes that look like factories that everyone understands are art but secretly thinks are really ugly My architecture knowledge is pretty much limited to recognizing that architects design bafflingly expensive, utilitarian chairs how bourgeois of me and that Eero and Saarinen are frequent answers to New York Times crossword puzzle clues As a lay person, I enjoyed learning about the philosophical European architecture compounds with idealistic manifestos, their goal of designing for the proletariat and eliminating anything that reeked of wealth, and the havoc these white tower institutions wreaked across Europe and the U.S for instance, insisting that roofs must be flat in the middle of snow country I also really liked that Wolfe doesn t pull any of his punches He pretty much masters the art of rolling his eyes on paper by using italics, exclamation points, and quotation marks A color Well, I mean, my God how very bourgeois only imagine this line with italics, which Goodreads does not allow Some of Wolfe s best snark is also found in his photo captions Under a photo of a typical steel barred concrete structure, The Dutch really knew how to bourgeois proof a building Under a photo of an austere retirement home with a single embellishment on top a sculpture of a giant tv antenna as a symbol for the elderly It took us thirty seven years to get this far Amidst the snark are some good, thoughtful points, but I have to admit that my favorite things are how Wolfe keeps shouting, How bourgeois every other paragraph, and also his photo on the back cover, in which he is wearing an all white suit and white shoes.My 52nd and last book of the year


  2. says:

    Long time since I read it I recall a classic page, where the stonecutters and terra cotta craftsmen rage, rage against the coming of Modernism, the Streamline look, and the end of their jobs For a real review, go straight to Sarah s, And here s the current article that prompted this mini review, with lots of pictures Very good article rant Hat tip to Nancy Lebovitz for the link.Good book Maybe I should reread it.


  3. says:

    This is the first Tom Wolfe book I ve read, and it s an absolute hoot Wolfe is opinionated, caustic, funny, and completely irreverent the perfect person to write a short and never dull book on that unclad emperor, modern architecture This book is for everyone who s ever wondered why, even though everyone hates modern architecture, we re all continuously forced first to pay for it and then to look at at it.


  4. says:

    The next time someone tells me modern architecture is perfectly sane, perfectly A OK, I m going to laugh and slap them with this book Very bourgeois of me, I know.


  5. says:

    The funny thing about Tom Wolfe is that for all of the hip edginess of his writing style, he s actually a square His writings were revolutionary, as he was one of the founders of New Journalism, but his own personal outlook is quite conservative Wolfe may have gone along on a bus trip with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, but he wasn t joining them for their LSD trips Wolfe was always something of an outsider, and this made him one of the great chroniclers of the 1960 s and 1970 s, able to capture the spirit of the times without letting that spirit consume him.In his 1981 book From Bauhaus to Our House, Wolfe offer his critique of the modernist architecture made famous by Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and others From Bauhaus to Our House examines how modernism rose from the fringes of Europe to become the dominant style of American architecture during the mid 20th century Wolfe makes it clear from page one that he doesn t care for modernist architecture, both the style and the intellectual philosophies behind it Wolfe s own tastes tend towards the older, ornamental styles of architecture that modernism pushed aside In 2006, in an interview with the National Endowment for the Humanities, Wolfe said of his books about art and architecture, The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House, I intended those books as permission slips for everybody to like what they want But that s just not true He spends all 128 pages of From Bauhaus to Our House knocking modernism and doesn t have a single good thing to say about it Wolfe never admits that there might be some reason people liked modernism, he doesn t give anyone permission to like it And that s the problem with the book it s all black and white This, ironically enough, makes it fit in perfectly with the ideal modernist color scheme Wolfe s way of thinking doesn t allow for any shades of gray, or any nuances That style of writing a critique annoys me It s too easy to just say something is all good or all bad it takes skill to admit that it s complicated than that Rather than just criticize From Bauhaus to Our House, I will admit that Wolfe s writing style makes it entertaining to read He s a funny writer, and he crafts many witty put downs Consider this example In short, this has been America s period of full blooded, go to hell, belly rubbing wahoo yahoo youthful rampage and what architecture has she to show for it An architecture whose tenets prohibit every manifestation of exuberance, power, empire, grandeur, or even high spirits and playfulness, as the height of bad taste p.61 That s excellent writing, and the point Wolfe makes is a very good one Modernism was a very serious architectural movement, with little room for whimsy From Bauhaus to Our House commits the cardinal sin of being a nonfiction book that doesn t have any footnotes or cite any sources That always annoys me, as I want to know where the author is getting their ideas and quotes from What books about architecture and the Bauhaus movement did Tom Wolfe read He doesn t tell us There s also a glaring error in the book, at least from an art history perspective, as Wolfe writes on page 44 of artists from Europe coming to America in the late 1930 s and early 1940 s, and one of the artists he mentions is Modigliani There s just one problem with that Modigliani died in 1920 Personally, I m much open in my architectural tastes than Tom Wolfe is I enjoy a lot of different styles of architecture I like modernist buildings I also like Second Empire buildings, Richardsonian Romanesque buildings, Prairie style buildings I admire just about anything, as long as it s a successful design I know that whatever I deem to be a successful design is very subjective I love the history behind architecture, and how it shows the changing tastes of its time Buildings reflect the time in which they were built, and it would simply be very boring if every building was built in the same style Since I ve lived in the Twin Cities for nearly my entire life, I ll use an example from downtown Minneapolis I love both the modernist IDS Center, built in 1972, and the art deco Foshay Tower, built in 1929 I couldn t choose between them, and I wouldn t want to They are both classic designs of their time, and they re both beautiful buildings I m intrigued by the Utopian spirit of a lot of modernist architecture A lot of those buildings had social planning goals, and I think the modernist architects really thought that their steel and glass high rises would be the ideal place for people to live I think most modernist architects working in 1950 would have predicted that everyone in major urban areas would live in giant skyscrapers by the year 2015 Of course, that hasn t come to pass The broad trend over the last 30 years is for new housing in the suburbs to be in the boring McMansion style, while people who are staying in the middle of metro areas have generally been quite happy to rehab old houses or repurpose old industrial buildings for lofts I know I just made a sweeping generalization, and I know the above statement might not hold true for other urban areas around the United States, but that seems to be the general trend here in the Twin Cities Wolfe criticizes some of the large scale modernist urban planning buildings, like Minoru Yamasaki s ill fated Pruitt Igoe apartment complex in St Louis The Wikipedia article about the Pruitt Igoe development is a fascinating read Completed in 1954, the complex quickly became a haven for crime, and in 1972 the city began demolishing it What Wolfe doesn t mention in his writing about Pruitt Igoe is that it was a failure of urban planning than just a failure of architecture Pruitt Igoe didn t fail because Yamasaki s architecture was fatally flawed it failed for a million other reasons It s not the architect s fault if it never worked out the way it was supposed to I also feel compelled to defend Minoru Yamasaki because he designed one of my favorite buildings in downtown Minneapolis, the beautiful NWNL building from 1965 Originally built for the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company, it s now called Voya Financial 20 Washington I m a little biased since my mother worked in this building for many years, and I have many happy memories of visiting her at work in this gorgeous setting One of my favorite touches is the reflecting pool that runs along the entire south side of the building It s a beautiful example of modernist architecture at its best From Bauhaus to Our House is a quick read that is really a footnote to Tom Wolfe s major works, but the paperback edition has one of the coolest covers ever, as it shows a caricature figure of Tom Wolfe, dressed in his trademark white suit, standing in between a Victorian Queen Anne style house and a modernist steel and glass office tower I don t know what the figure of Wolfe is made out of, maybe paper mache It s a crazy and funny book cover.


  6. says:

    The Bauhaus school stripped away all tradition in the name Socialism, creating the Modernist schools and mass housing for the prols Many of our council public housing horrors can laid at Bauhaus s door howling and moaning The blocks of glass and steel, the grey and white furnishings and interiors that we inhabit as workplaces, we can thank them for these as well This is Tom Wolfe, biting, sarcastic and cutting through to the core.


  7. says:

    I m very interested in the question of why the richest and most powerful civilization in human history has decided to create the ugliest and most hateful architectural landscape imaginable, despite having the power to easily make what people enjoy and find pleasing Tom Wolfe sees the same problem and identifies its roots in the emergence of a number of anti bourgeois schools of architectural thought that emerged in Europe in the aftermath of WWI Premiere among them was the Bauhaus School, which obliterated ornamentation and anything else that human beings like in buildings in the name of expunging bourgeois influence and returning civilization back to some imaginary point zero This type of thinking also disseminated into art, music and other endeavors where bourgeois influence was perceived and deemed in need of obliteration.This is of an intellectual history than a book about architecture Its a strange, short book that requires you to be much knowledgable about these schools, trends and individual architects than I am As such I didn t really get what I was looking for out of it A really good book for the layperson who cares about this issue is The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton This one can be safely missed by most, save for people working in the field.


  8. says:

    If journalism were always this engaging, I d be much well informed Stuff objective narrative Give me a point of view to interact with, support your claims with data, and then let me read the opposing POV Especially when we write of events happening during our lifetimes.


  9. says:

    Wolfe likes exuberance He doesn t like restraint and purity So he criticizes early and mid century modern architecture and applauds those who resisted the glass box in favor of expressive and exuberant designs like Eero Saarinen Wolfe s most interesting claim is that the motivation for architectural modernism was despair after the first world war and the desire to create a new society from scratch, since the old one had been destroyed But that rationale made no sense in America, which was unscathed, and didn t need to be rebuilt from scratch There is no attempt here to give a philosophical account of modern architecture treating it as becoming self conscious or being concerned with the conditions of its own possibility or anything like that That means there is no attempt to understand modernism from the inside, which might come across as sheer obnoxiousness But it will come across that way only if you re so in love with modernism that you can t stand to see it criticized.


  10. says:

    Tom Wolfe s short work, From Bauhaus to Our House, is little than a screed against the excesses of modern architecture While agreeing with many of his conclusions, I found the style and tone of the book to be inappropriate for the purpose of serious art architecture criticism Written in 1981, it seems dated with a quarter century of architectural progress having occurred since it was published There are references to other art forms, music in particular, that demonstrate an unfamiliarity with the material The result of these references led me to question Wolfe s knowledge of architecture While Wolfe has been one of my favorite authors with works like The Right Stuff and A Man in Full, this book will not be placed together with those favorites An alternative for those who are interested in the spirit of twentieth century architecture may be found in the work of Louis Kahn.