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The architect and the new school

In his 1981 book From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe wrote eloquently about how a group of arrogant, ideologically driven individuals spent much of the post-World War II period filling American cities with spare, lifeless office buildings of glass-and-steel. These self-styled “visionaries” were indifferent (at best) or disdainful (at worst) toward their clients, but they held the upper hand.
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Written by Britton Manasco on

In his 1981 book From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe wrote eloquently about how a group of arrogant, ideologically driven individuals spent much of the post-World War II period filling American cities with spare, lifeless office buildings of glass-and-steel. These self-styled “visionaries” were indifferent (at best) or disdainful (at worst) toward their clients, but they held the upper hand. Clients were too bewildered or intimidated to resist this new wave of architecture so they quietly endured the "concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls and pigmy corridors" that were standard expressions of “the international style.” flw

As Wolfe saw it, our urban landscapes were littered with glass boxes that reflected everything except the needs, interests and preferences of the people working and doing business within them. Ultimately, the clients and even the architects themselves looked up in horror at what they had wrought. To which Wolfe wondered aloud: "Has there ever been a place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested?"

Well, yes. We saw it all again during the recent tech boom as “visionaries” with grand promises and untested theories held everyone under their spell – just as they had during the steam, railway, steel, electricity, oil and automobile booms of the past. The architects of the dotcom era became hopelessly self-absorbed – more concerned about magazine spreads and stock valuations than satisfaction ratings and successful implementations. They sought to "rip and replace" the existing architecture so they could, like Bauhaus school leader Walter Gropius, "start from zero." It couldn’t last though. Eventually, gravity reasserted itself – and everyone fell back down to earth.

So now, we are watching the emergence of a new school of architecture. But will its work endure the fashions of the time? In the world of American building architecture, one enduring individual was Frank Lloyd Wright -- whose birthday happens to be today. Wright understood that the work of the architect must remain in harmony with its surroundings. So, too, with service-oriented architecture. As with buildings, furnishings and their surroundings, the services, processes and applications we develop and draw upon must become part of a "unified, interrelated composition." That's the promise of the new school.

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