Today we move into the July 1963 issue in the Mississippi Architect series, reprinted courtesy of the Mississippi Chapter of the AIA. If you’ve missed the previous entries, just click the MSArcht tab above to see the tables of contents and read each month’s magazine in its original format.
Today, editor Bob Henry encourages the AIA membership to build buildings for the future, architecture that will be valued after the generation that built them is gone.
Now, more than at any time in history, we are challenged to produce better architecture. This is so for several reasons.
We live in the richest country in the world and a measure
of its wealth is enjoyed by most of its people rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few. Most people become owners of architecture at some time during their lives.
We have more people architecturally trained than ever before. The architect is as readily available to the mass of the people today as the doctor, dentist, and lawyer.
We enjoy the advantage of a technology that has advanced further in this century than in the previous twenty. Until a century ago, architecture fully exploited the technological
possibilities of its time. So many concepts, methods, and materials are now available that we hardly scratch the surface of possibilities.
Good architecture should make a visual contribution to our physical environment in addition to serving its useful purpose. Too often we place all of the emphasis on immediate
usefulness and economy without giving enough consideration to the fact that buildings endure long after these considerations have ceased to be important. We cannot afford
The challenge, then, is for owner, architect, and contractor to build well in order that our contribution to the total architecture in which we live and work will serve society well for generations to come.
This article is reprinted from the July 1963 issue of the Mississippi Architect, with permission from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. View the full July 1963 issue of Mississippi Architect in a digitized format, or for other articles in this ongoing series, including the pdf version of each full issue, click on the MSArcht tab at the top of this page.
Categories: Architectural Research
The majority of the architecture from that era did make a visual contribution: as a cancerous tumor on the urban fabric of America. Look at his statement, “Until a century ago, architecture fully exploited the technological possibilities of its time.” That seems to write-off everything built after the Civil War, a very modern, 60s attitude that booked most great examples of Beaux-Arts, High Victorian Gothic, and Queen Anne architecture on a one-way trip to the landfill as demolition debris. I guess Burnham & Root or Louis Sullivan did not use the technological possibilities of their time so their buildings needed to wiped off the face of the earth. Closer to home, I’m sure that since a majority of the structures in Mississippi’s pre-Urban Renewal cities came from that era, it is good that they now only exist in photographs.
Well, I have heard at least one person in a leadership position in Mississippi’s preservation world actually muse that it would be easier to just take pictures of all these old buildings and put them on the internet than to actually fight to preserve them . . . .
And I agree with your observation that he was dismissing everything post-Civil War (and I of course disagree with that dismissal). I do very much disagree with the Modernist viewpoint to the effect that “everyone who came before us was not very smart, but we’ve got it all figured out now.”
But . . . could it also be possible that you are exhibiting the same blinders to the generations immediately preceding yours that Henry is in his editorial by tagging the majority of the architecture of the 1950s-1970s as cancerous tumors that presumably would be better off in a landfill?
You won’t see me advocate not saving Mississippi buildings. A photographic archive is needed because for reasons you know very well, every building in Mississippi is endangered in some way and a photographic archive could be useful in not only remembering lost structures but preserving remaining ones.
As to your last point, I do think that I might be treating Mid-Century Modern harshly. Until, of course, I look at what the resulting product is. I know that much of the world has gone Mad Men crazy about the sleek architecture that was built during the mid-20th Century but give me solid brick and mortar and interior woodwork and transom windows and pediments and ornament and wooden windows that open any day over cinderblock and exposed, gray concrete and flat roofs and steel beams and windows that don’t open and boring common bond brick veneer (when brick is used at all). And then someone tell me why my preferences are wrong. All I know is that from an early age when I began noticing buildings, I noticed buildings in the Shoals such as the Colbert County Courthouse, Mapleton, Wesleyan Hall, Sweetwater Mills, Howell & Graves School, Rogers Department Store, Rogers Hall, the Sheffield Municipal Building, and thought that these are (“were” now for some of them) great buildings that look good. I noticed Southgate Mall, First Southern Bank, the Lauderdale County Courthouse, First Metro Bank in Muscle Shoals, Muscle Shoals Middle (formerly High) School, the Sheffield Public Library, Collier Library, Rice Hall, and thought these buildings are s*** buildings that look like s***. No one told me that these buildings look worse because they are newer, if fact the opposite occured. “Normal” people I encounter still cannot understand why I like many of these old buildings and think the way I do of anything built since about 1950.
Not every building constructed since 1950 should be relegated to the landfill, that would be wasteful and some examples are actually good buildings. Besides, I hate what is being built today even more than MCM buildings unless one is refering to the Lott Center in Hattieburg or the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville (both of which could have been better) or new work found in The Classicist architectural journal or most of the work found in Friends of Kebyar journals. I think (and have probably not written it coherently in this rambling comment) that the preservation movement has been distracted preserving things built by Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn and others who’s work was responsible for bringing about the modern preservation movement through their destruction of the vast majority of America’s architectural heritage and urban landscape. Basically my view is that if the architectural clock was turned back to 1940 and the last 70 years of architecture and Modernism did not happen, it would be wonderful thing and an overall positive for American architecture. What we have gained architecturally during that span is a mere pittance compared to what we have lost. Why preserve something inferior to what it replaced?
“All I know is that from an early age when I began noticing buildings, I noticed buildings in the Shoals such as …”
When I was younger I also took a fancy to those older, more ornamented buildings. I find that as I mature I appreciate Modernism more and more, though that does not mean that I no longer like those older buildings with which I first fell in love. I also often mourn the loss of some lovely older buildings that were razed to make way for new buildings that may or may not lack the architectural significance of the original; I would rather that they could have existed side by side.
Anyway, I think the subtleties of Modernism are, perhaps, overlooked by the youngsters.
That said, I hope this change in taste doesn’t progress to the point that I find myself someday infatuated with some post-modern horror.
I think, Carunzel, that we will always have a difference of opinion. You like modern architecture and I know that modern architecture is worse than the plague. My favorite quote about modern architecture comes from Prince Charles, “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe, when it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.”
Remember, after 50 years a building now becomes historic.
Only 9 more years for the Boston City Hall.
15 more years for the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
18 more years for Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia.
20 more years for Michael Graves’s Portland Building.
Start ticking off the years for all those “great” structures in Mississippi and elsewhere constructed since 1960 until they are 50 years old and eligible to be preserved forever.
Won’t it be a much better world when those buildings are protected.
Why do I feel that the point seems to always be beside itself in these “conversations”?