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From Bauhaus to Our House [Format Kindle]

Tom Wolfe

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Descriptions du produit

Extrait

The Silver Prince

Our story begins in germany just after the first World War. Young American architects, along with artists, writers, and odd-lot intellectuals, are roaming through Europe. This great boho adventure is called "the Lost Generation." Meaning what? In The Liberation of American Literature, V. F. Calverton wrote that American artists and writers had suffered from a "colonial complex" throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and had timidly imitated European models--but that after World War I they had finally found the self-confidence and sense of identity to break free of the authority of Europe in the arts. In fact, he couldn't have gotten it more hopelessly turned around.

The motto of the Lost Generation was, in Malcolm Cowley's words, "They do things better in Europe." What was in progress was a postwar discount tour in which practically any American--not just, as in the old days, a Henry James, a John Singer Sargent, or a Richard Morris Hunt--could go abroad and learn how to be a European artist. "The colonial complex" now took hold like a full nelson.

The European artist! What a dazzling figure! Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Tristan Tzara, Picasso, Matisse, Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Valery--such creatures stood out like Gustave Miklos figurines of bronze and gold against the smoking rubble of Europe after the Great War. The rubble, the ruins of European civilization, was an essential part of the picture. The charred bone heap in the background was precisely what made an avant-gardist such as Breton or Picasso stand out so brilliantly.

To the young American architects who made the pilgrimage, the most dazzling figure of all was Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. Gropius opened the Bauhaus in Weimar, the German capital, in 1919. It was more than a school; it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus. Gropius, the Epicurus of the piece, was thirty-six years old, slender, simply but meticulously groomed, with his thick black hair combed straight back, irresistibly handsome to women, correct and urbane in a classic German manner, a lieutenant of cavalry during the war, decorated for valor, a figure of calm, certitude, and conviction at the center of the maelstrom.

Strictly speaking, he was not an aristocrat, since his father, while well-to-do, was not of the nobility, but people couldn't help thinking of him as one. The painter Paul Klee, who taught at the Bauhaus, called Gropius "the Silver Prince." Silver was perfect. Gold was too gaudy for so fine and precise a man. Gropius seemed to be an aristocrat who through a miracle of sensitivity had retained every virtue of the breed and cast off all the snobberies and dead weight of the past.

The young architects and artists who came to the Bauhaus to live and study and learn from the Silver Prince talked about "starting from zero." One heard the phrase all the time: "starting from zero." Gropius gave his backing to any experiment they cared to make, so long as it was in the name of a clean and pure future. Even new religions such as Mazdaznan. Even health-food regimens. During one stretch at Weimar the Bauhaus diet consisted entirely of a mush of fresh vegetables. It was so bland and fibrous they had to keep adding garlic in order to create any taste at all. Gropius' wife at the time was Alma Mahler, formerly Mrs. Gustav Mahler, the first and foremost of that marvelous twentieth-century species, the Art Widow. The historians tell us, she remarked years later, that the hallmarks of the Bauhaus style were glass corners, flat roofs, honest materials, and expressed structure. But she, Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel--she had since added the poet Franz Werfel to the skein--could assure you that the most unforgettable characteristic of the Bauhaus style was "garlic on the breath." Nevertheless!--how pure, how clean, how glorious it was to be . . . starting from zero!

Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Henry van de Velde--all were teachers at the Bauhaus at one time or another, along with painters like Klee and Josef Albers. Albers taught the famous Bauhaus Vorkurs, or introductory course. Albers would walk into the room and deposit a pile of newspapers on the table and tell the students he would return in one hour. They were to turn the pieces of newspaper into works of art in the interim. When he returned, he would find Gothic castles made of newspaper, yachts made of newspaper, airplanes, busts, birds, train terminals, amazing things. But there would always be some student, a photographer or a glassblower, who would simply have taken a piece of newspaper and folded it once and propped it up like a tent and let it go at that. Albers would pick up the cathedral and the airplane and say: "These were meant to be made of stone or metal--not newspaper." Then he would pick up the photographer's absentminded tent and say: "But this!--this makes use of the soul of paper. Paper can fold without breaking. Paper has tensile strength, and a vast area can be supported by these two fine edges. This!--is a work of art in paper." And every cortex in the room would spin out. So simple! So beautiful . . . It was as if light had been let into one's dim brain for the first time. My God!--starting from zero!

And why not . . . The country of the young Bauhausler, Germany, had been crushed in the war and humiliated at Versailles; the economy had collapsed in a delirium of inflation; the Kaiser had departed; the Social Democrats had taken power in the name of socialism; mobs of young men ricocheted through the cities drinking beer and awaiting a Soviet-style revolution from the east, or some terrific brawls at the very least. Rubble, smoking ruins--starting from zero! If you were young, it was wonderful stuff. Starting from zero referred to nothing less than re-creating the world.

It is instructive--in view of the astonishing effect it was to have on life in the United States--to recall some of the exhortations of that curious moment in Middle Europe sixty years ago:

"Painters, Architects, Sculptors, you whom the bourgeoisie pays with high rewards for your work--out of vanity, snobbery, and boredom--Hear! To this money there clings the sweat and blood and nervous energy of thousands of poor hounded human beings--Hear! It is an unclean profit. . . . we must be true socialists--we must kindle the highest socialist virtue: the brotherhood of man."

So ran a manifesto of the Novembergruppe, which included Moholy-Nagy and other designers, who would later join Gropius at the Bauhaus. Gropius was chairman of the Novembergruppe's Arbeitsrat fur Kunst (Working Council for Art), which sought to bring all the arts together "under the wing of a great architecture," which would be "the business of the entire people." As everyone understood in 1919, the entire people was synonymous with the workers. "The intellectual bourgeois . . . has proved himself unfit to be the bearer of a German culture," said Gropius. "New, intellectually undeveloped levels of our people are rising from the depths. They are our chief hope."

Gropius' interest in "the proletariat" or "socialism" turned out to be no more than aesthetic and fashionable, somewhat like the interest of President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic or Chairman Mao of the People's Republic of China in republicanism. Nevertheless, as Dostoevsky said, ideas have consequences; the Bauhaus style proceeded from certain firm assumptions. First, the new architecture was being created for the workers. The holiest of all goals: perfect worker housing. Second, the new architecture was to reject all things bourgeois. Since just about everyone involved, the architects as well as the Social Democratic bureaucrats, was himself bourgeois in the literal, social sense of the word, "bourgeois" became an epithet that meant whatever you wanted it to mean. It referred to whatever you didn't like in the lives of people above the level of hod carrier. The main thing was not to be caught designing something someone could point to and say of, with a devastating sneer: "How very bourgeois."

Présentation de l'éditeur

Tom Wolfe, "America's most skillful satirist" (The Atlantic Monthly), examines the strange saga of American architecture in this sequel to The Painted Word.


Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1164 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 128 pages
  • Editeur : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Édition : Reprint (24 novembre 2009)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B004ZM08CE
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Amazon.com: 4.0 étoiles sur 5  73 commentaires
44 internautes sur 45 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 thin but insightful 30 août 2004
Par J. R. Muller - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Tom Wolfe is without a doubt the most honest and humorously penetrating social critic since Mark Twain. He writes what we would love to say and in a manner any of us would give our pinkies to employ. This book, though not as good as others, goes right to the heart of the problems with modern architecture that have plagued our cities and our aesthetic sense. Lest some of you think I'm a cultural philistine, I am myself an architecture student, and I can say that Wolfe's skewerings of the modern profession are so accurate as to be almost omniscient. He rightfully lampoons the excessive intellectualization, the hackneyed leftism, and reverse snobbery of architectects since the 20's while showing the lamentable effects of these traits. His analysis, though shallow, is regretably dead accurate for he understands the social and intellectual impulses (and justifications) that have driven the profession since the Bauhaus. Tom Wolfe constantly plays the role of the young boy in "The Emperor's New Clothes" and, once again he is pointing out the laughably naked elite which are producing architecture these days. I do not agree with all of his analysis of certain buildings, but his social critique from the archictural theorists to the clients to the "working class" are all as humorous, sad and accurate as you expect from Wolfe.
34 internautes sur 36 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting even for those with no architectural background. 26 septembre 2006
Par M. Strong - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
From Bauhaus to Our House is inescapably a book about architecture, but it's about more than that, too. Wolfe uses architecture as a lens to magnify a problem you see again and again in human society and human history - group think and mindless following.

I have no architectural background, and found Wolfe's (very) brief history of 20th century Western architecture to be very interesting. I've always wondered how we ended up with so many monotonous and kinda fugly buildings in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. In Bauhaus, Wolfe offers up his explanation in a fun, readable manner.

Beyond that, however, Wolfe also gives you a look at one instance of a rather homogeneous group of people - in this case academic architects - come up with an idea that takes on a life of its own and becomes too powerful for anyone to challenge. Call it group think, peer pressure, mindless following, popular culture or the will of the majority, it's a somewhat frightening process and here Wolfe shows it to us in a case where - thankfully - all we got from it was a lot of ugly buildings.

Recommended.
14 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Don't bother if you LIKE modern architecture 2 avril 2004
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
For the rest of us who find cold, modern architecture to be...well...cold and modern, this book will briefly explain why you feel that way...and why some people seem to like it so much. It is a book that is clearly only skimming the surface (look at it sideways, how could it purport to be otherwise) but it's a fun surface to skim. I also wouldn't read this if you're a devout post-modernist. You'll find uncomfortable parallels between Wolfe's jabs at architecture and jabs others make a po-mos. A fun read that will enlighten someone who never hopes to be an "expert" on architecture, but would like to know why some God-awful, very expensive buildings ever got built.
15 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Not the Wright Stuff 20 juillet 2007
Par M. L. Asselin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Tom Wolfe's FROM BAUHAUS TO OUR HOUSE skewers the Bauhaus School and Modernism in general (characterized by the International Style of architecture), as well as Post-Modernism (essentially, another version of Modernism). It's an intelligent, satirical look at an early 20th century European architectural ideology that rose up to reject the bourgeois and design for the working class--which the International Style architects may have regarded as too benighted to know what it really wanted. Apparently, according to these architects, what the worker would want, if s/he knew better, was to live in unadorned, black-and-white, steel and concrete boxes constructed with mass produced materials. Architecture schools and art institutes in the U.S. not only enthusiastically embraced the ideology ("They do things better in Europe," said Malcolm Cowley), but also its principle European champions, giving places of honor to the likes of Walter Gropius (Harvard), Mies van der Rohe (Armour Institute), and Josef Albers (Yale). Much of this movement was constructed around drawings and theory vice actually building buildings. In this way, architecture suffered from some of the same scholastic claptrap as the other arts, indeed of academe itself. When Wolfe drolly comments, "For the ambitious architect, having a theory became as vital and natural as having a telephone" (p. 121), he could have been speaking in general of contemporary academics--which many of these architects, ensconced in their university "compounds," were.

Wolfe's targets easily lend themselves to such a treatment. The Modern architects' disdain for the opinions of both client and occupant are obnoxious. One wonders why the client (but not so much the occupant) kept, as Wolfe puts it, taking it like a man. However that may be, Wolfe's style gets a bit old after a while. You just want him to chill for a bit. People weren't all necessarily duped by Modernism. The clean lines and simplicity of forms of work by Le Corbusier constitute a refreshing break from the past, and has certain aesthetic appeal. The offense of the style is not just that it is impractical; it's that it becomes so damn derivative and so dogmatic from that point on. (Frank Lloyd Wright, who was not a member of the International Style clerisy, but was "an American original," and so fairs pretty well in Wolfe's treatment, was not necessarily very practical himself. If you're a parent, tour "Falling Water" and you'll see what I mean.)

Wolfe's venom, to be sure, is aimed at the arrogance, pretentiousness, and hypocrisy of many of the leading architects comprising the Modernist and Post-Modernist movements. In that regard, Wolfe is very much on target in his criticism, even if he does go a bit overboard. Understanding that this is a screed, and not an objective critique, the reader will be pleased to find in this little book a readable, trenchant, witty, funny, and erudite treatment of these leading trends of 20th century architecture.
15 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Wolfe the essayist is even better than Wolfe the novelist 23 mars 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
One doesn't normally think of a book on architecture as being funny, but Wolfe's hilarious evisceration of modern architecture's sacred cows is truly a scream. Wolfe skewers the pretensions and downright foolishness of some of the most famous names in 20th Century architecture, and does so in a manner that is always engaging and fun to read. You may not agree with everything he says, but you certainly won't be bored by his witty and provocative observations. As good as Wolfe the novelist is, Wolfe the essayist is even better.
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