ARCCA Archives, Specialist|

arcCA 01.1, “Awarding Honor.”] Author Camille Kirk is the principal of Context Research & Mapping, a consulting firm that provides research, analysis, and strategic planning to clients working with the built environment. Ms. Kirk would like to thank Elizabeth A. T. Smith for the generous amount of time she devoted to a telephone interview, as well as for the very pleasurable nature of that conversation. Additionally, she owes Isabelle Duvivier, Anne Zimmerman, and Tim Culvahouse a debt of gratitude for their thoughtful discussions with the author throughout the writing of this article. __________ Musing On “At the End of the Century: One Hundred Years of Architecture” The Museum of Contemporary Art, Geffen Contemporary April 16 through September 24, 2000 “One Hundred Years of Architecture” was a colossal show, as ambitious, provocative and fragmented as the century it explored. A wealth of detailed material documenting our built and unbuilt 20th century, with comparatively little context provided, the exhibit was as much about our end-of-century state of mind as about a century of built environment. Design awards, like other exercises in popular artistic judgment such as the Oscars, have become a staple of our culture. These awards necessarily reflect the judgments of a particular moment in time, and, accordingly, shifts in cultural taste, academic theory, and political importance affect award decisions. Our awareness of such influences should not render awards suspect or meaningless; rather, the awards offer us a device by which we can better understand ourselves and our times. Perhaps this observation sheds light on “At the End of the Century: One Hundred Years of Architecture.” The title of the show suggests that it was not intended to be an objective survey of the century, but rather an end-of-century reflection. In some sense, the show was the ultimate design award for the architect practicing in the 20th century; some “made the cut” and some were marginalized. How and why were the choices of inclusion and exclusion made? What do these choices tell us about our end-of-century viewpoint? Structuring An Exhibition  A tour de force of interpretive assemblage by its co-curators, Richard Koshalek and Elizabeth A. T. Smith, the show was five years in the making and traveled for two years. The way in which the show was conceived, curated, and exhibited outlines con- temporary scholarly understanding of the last 100 years. Organized around thematic groupings, the show started by presenting the grand city planning visions that characterize the dawning of the 20th century, then proceeded to lead the viewer through a chronology of the century. In an interview, Smith described the creative process behind Koshalek’s idea to do a survey of 20th century architecture. In order to make sense of the vast array of possibilities, Koshalek and Smith first shaped a conceptual framework with some basic themes and identified various projects to represent those concepts. They then sought an advisory team of scholars to assist them in refining the themes and identifying appropriate examples of work to represent the thematic elements of the show. The team’s debate and conflict shaped both the curatorial process and the resulting show. For instance, there was intense argument over whether the show should look at the built environment as a whole, or specific buildings as moments of High Architecture. Ultimately, the show does both, highlighting an important tension of the 20th century. The show was exhibited in Tokyo, Mexico City, Cologne, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Each mounting differed to some degree from the others in material presented, although the basic themes of the show more or less adhered throughout. There was also a different spatial layout at each of the venues. The curating team built on each show, learning lessons from the previous one, trying new things and creating regionally appropriate layouts. For instance, the Chicago show culminated with the skyscraper, whereas the Los Angeles show used the skyscraper as a pivot. As can happen in traveling exhibits, not all of the lending institutions would allow their materials to travel for the full two years. Thus, part of the staging involved complex determinations of what materials would be exhibited at which of the five venues. To compensate for this constraint, the curators employed a strategy of bringing in regional architects and architecture specific to each venue. The curatorial team used the artifact substitutions as opportunities to showcase regional emphases, to lend a sense of interpretive comprehension for the layperson, and to give greater exposure to lesser- known architects and projects, such as with Latin American architecture in Mexico City. At the Geffen, Los Angeles architects were heavily represented in the end of the century sections of the show, again in keeping with curatorial strategy to exhibit regional architects, as well as to showcase developments in architecture undertaken during the groundbreaking post World War II period in Los Angeles. But what about the architects who were missing or were not strongly represented in the show? As one person put it: “Were the Postmodernists just too passé?” And, it is precisely these sorts of questions about “missing” buildings and architects that reveal to us what we currently consider lasting achievements versus what we feel may prove ephemeral. Interpretations of the 20th Century Tectonic Impulse Although, as Smith acknowledges, depth is lost in this sort of survey show, breadth is gained. The show never actually expresses any sort of metanarrative about the 20th century built environment. (It is left to the viewer to construct such a tale.) Smith and Koshalek did not want to tell just one story of the century. For one thing, such an effort would have defied a core lesson of the late 20th century, when crafting grandiose explanative narratives came to be seen in the same light as building grandiose projects —as examples of tectonic hubris. Nevertheless, the show seems to have captured an underlying end-of-century nostalgia for earlier Big Architecture, surefooted proposals, and a public faith in the importance of architecture. The immense power of architecture to shape people’s daily lives and experience of their world was felt in such sections as mass-produced housing, transportation, city planning, and the rational kitchen. Reflexively, political, economic, and social power has made architecture in its image: the sections on monumentality, new capital city building, skyscrapers, and entertainment complexes demonstrated how architecture serves power. From an end-of-century perspective, the megalomaniac side of architecture is never far submerged, and it broke loose many times throughout the 20th century. The show also highlighted enduring tensions of the 20th century through juxtaposition of thematic sections. Two stand out. The first is one of the 20th century’s defining contradictions: the increasingly developed sense of the self coupled with the submersion of the individual in mass-produced solutions. This contradiction is reified in residential architecture. Mass housing seems on the face of things to deny individuality, yet the houses of Levittown or Carquinez Heights, placed on small plots of land and then customized over the years by their owners, also seem to offer certain inventive possibilities for the individual. In contrast, some highly experimental single-family houses seem to allow no room for their occupants’ modifying expressions of individuality. The juxtaposition of mass housing solutions and highly refined residential experiments in the exhibit serves to highlight this complex tension that continues to fascinate us. A second abiding tension is that between concepts of “space” and “place.” The show underscored the dialectic in the 20th century between space-based design solutions and place-based design solutions. Ranging from the predominantly space-based ordering schemes of transportation and urban planning systems that dominated much of 20th century architecture, to primarily place-based solutions found in some of the residential and ecologically site-sensitive architecture, the show demonstrates that the dialectic between the solutions is constant. As we enter the new millennium, we still struggle to find synthesis between these two solutions, and the exhibit reflected that enduring interest. __________]]>

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