Sigfried Giedion’s 1963 introduction to Space, Time, and Architecture

Confusion and Boredom

In the sixties a certain confusion exists in contemporary architecture, as in painting; a kind of pause, even a kind of exhaustion.  Everyone is aware of it.  Fatigue is normally accompanied by uncertainty, what to do and where to go.  Fatigue is the mother of indecision, opening the door to escapism, to superficialities of all kinds.

A symposium at the Metropolitan Museum of New York in the spring of 1961 discussed the question, “Modern Architecture, Death or Metamorphosis?”  As this topic indicates, contemporary architecture is regarded by some as a fashion and — as an American architect expressed it — many designers who had adopted the fashionable aspects of the “International Style,” now found the fashion had worn thin and were engaged in a romantic orgy.  This fashion, with its historical fragments picked at random, unfortunately infected many gifted architects. By the sixties its results could be seen everywhere: in small-breasted, gothic-styled colleges, in a lacework of glittering details inside and outside, in the toothpick stilts and assembly of isolated buildings of the largest cultural center.

A kind of playboy-architecture became en vogue: an architecture treated as playboys treat life, jumping from one sensation to another and quickly bored with everything. I have no doubt that this fashion born out of an inner uncertainty will soon be obsolete; but its effects can be rather dangerous, because of the worldwide influence of the United States.

Красная Москва (1990)

Красная Москва (1990)

We are still in the formation period of a new tradition, still at its beginning. In Architecture, You and Me I pointed out the difference between the nineteenth- and twentieth-century approach to architecture. There is a word we should refrain from using to describe contemporary architecture — “style.”  The moment we fence architecture within a notion of “style,” we open the door to a formalistic approach.  The contemporary movement is not a “style” in the nineteenth-century meaning of form characterization.  It is an approach to the life that slumbers unconsciously within all of us.

In architecture the word “style” has often been combined with the epithet “international,” though this epithet has never been accepted in Europe.  The term “international style” quickly became harmful, implying something hovering in mid-air, with no roots anywhere: cardboard architecture.  Contemporary architecture worthy of the name sees its main task as the interpretation of a way of life valid for our period.  There can be no question of “Death or Metamorphosis,” there can only be the question of evolving a new tradition, and many signs show that this is in the doing.

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