Closing Remarks, Three Generations of Classical Architects: The Renewal of Modern Architecture, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture (2005)

I am charged with offering concluding remarks and answering the questions of what the future holds and what challenges we face to meet that future. Before I do, I would like to thank our hosts and offer a special thanks to Michael Lykoudis for his vision for this conference. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank those people who have been so critical to the path of my own career – Bill Westfall, Thomas Gordon Smith, Rodney Cook, Richard John and my dear friends at the Institute.

Now, what challenges do we face and how do we meet them? Well, to consider this, I am first going to take my gloves off for a moment and succumb to what I would call realism, or what Michael Lykoudis has called pessimism, and then I will put my gloves back on and, hopefully, conclude on a polite, optimistic note.

Three Generations of Classical Architects conference speakers, panelists, and attendees, University of Notre Dame (2005)

Three Generations of Classical Architects conference speakers, panelists, and attendees, University of Notre Dame (2005)

I believe the definition of the third generation as those who have been able to learn “unencumbered by the struggle for legitimacy” is flawed and do not agree with it as a definition of the most recent generation – be they students or seasoned professionals. I do not mean to be impolite to my hosts; rather I offer this perspective for the future good.

If we view those just coming to this tradition as “unencumbered by struggle,” then we as teachers and practitioners may forget the commitment that has brought us to this place and fail to instill that commitment in this generation.

And we cannot lose our commitment for we may have won a skirmish or two, but if we are actually blind enough to believe we have won even one battle, we may not maintain the fortitude to win the war. And indeed we are in a war. Pacifists among us make no mistake, we are in a war. But a war for what?

It is not a war of classicism versus modernism where winning means the banishment of a style – that would be silly. Rather we are in a war of far greater importance. We are in a war for the good life. We are battling for our cities and towns to be built in a manner that allows us to live a noble life. We are battling for the presence of beauty and the nourishment beauty gives our souls. We are battling for the primacy of the common good over the reign of the individual. We are in a war and this generation is no less encumbered than previous ones by the struggle for legitimacy.

Whether an architect has had the benefit of five years of education in this school or not, each at some point has to confront why they are doing classical work instead of what everyone else is doing. Anyone who is going to engage in classical architecture, which is still a radical position, has to claim it as their own, for to pursue it requires commitment. The first struggle for legitimacy is one that occurs within the individual.

In addition to coming to terms privately with the legitimacy of their work, this generation continues to face the struggle for legitimacy in the profession, in the public’s mind, and for an equal share of the projects built today.

Indeed it is in the real world that the struggle for legitimacy remains greatest. All generations present in this room still struggle mightily against the status quo. There are no fewer struggles than before, although there is more work being done, but the battle, much less the war, is far from over. Again, remember we are not in a battle for commissions, but we are in a battle to build what we believe will create a better world. And while we have no competition in the high end residential world, we do in the housing industry, and commercial and institutional buildings, and the cities and towns they all make. We are in a battle for a better world, and we are no where near having won.

And yet, there has been a tone of self-congratulatory success, complacency almost, in this room that ignores the real situation at our peril. Michael Lykoudis has suggested that the “Evil Empire” is not out there with its Death Star aimed at the earth. While I agree with him entirely that we need to focus on our own excellence and quit talking so much and just get about doing our work, Betty Dowling has also told us that her students who are interested in tradition are abused. We face all around us a vision of the world that is not ours.

Consider, of the hundred or so schools of architecture in this country, only two have programs teaching any common sense in architecture –two percent! – maybe three percent if we add the individuals like Steve Hurt, Betty Dowling, Christopher Miller, Dana Gulling, and others who are doing their best alone in anything from tepid to hostile conditions.

Consider the commissions going out for new buildings. Few, so very few, are for classical or traditional buildings, though we have gained some ground in the last ten years or so. But we are the minority, so much so that few in the rest of the profession are even aware of us. And if they are aware of us, they do not think of what we do as architecture.

And if you still do not feel there is a war to be won beyond these walls:

Look to the vast plains of America beyond the plum commissions for academic buildings or libraries that a few might be lucky to get.

Look beyond the deep pocketed patron and see suburb after suburb of psychological and environmental degradation.

Our task has never been greater.

Overcoming all this requires having our views accepted as legitimate, which they are not, so there is no less of a struggle ahead than there has been behind.

A better way to define the third generation than a generation “unencumbered by the struggle for legitimacy,” if such a definition is even needed, is simply to define it as those recently come to this tradition. The third generation is the farthest ripple from the pebble thrown in the pond, so to say.

Now, having offended our hosts by my telling them that their definition for the third generation is wrong, in my opinion, and having upset everyone who does not want to believe that we are in a war, let me put my gloves back on and tell you that despite this, I am optimistic for our future, because I do see change.

I see it in the faces and work of my students. I see it in the success of Restore Media’s newest publication New Old House. I see it in an increasing portfolio of institutional projects in addition to the houses at which we are now so skilled. I see it in the excellence at this University and the impact of its students.

I am also optimistic because we have good structures in place to ensure that change continues.

So to aim our arrows forward, whether softly as a kiss from Cupid or swiftly shot from Diana’s hunting hand, I believe we need to take aim at several targets:

  • We need to view education of future generations as essential and guard it carefully. Likewise, as several have mentioned, this effort needs to move beyond Notre Dame, Miami, and the few satellites out there to encompass other schools.
  • We need to continue to educate existing professionals through the ICA&CA, its chapters, the Prince’s Foundation, and INTBAU. We also need our institutions to expand the range of who we educate to include manufacturers, builders, and the general public.
  • We need the promulgation of organizations and widespread activity. So we need more teachers in schools, more chapters of the ICA&CA, new programs of architecture, and a stronger INTBAU.
  • We need to involve ourselves in mainstream professional groups like the AIA. It is not acceptable to be uninvolved.
  • We need to actively seek out and educate the public and the decision makers. And as Michael Carey points out the marketing aspect of this is key, we should be able to answer “Why classicism?” in one sentence.
  • We need increased publications. So Michael and Clem, you have a task ahead to publish more of our work – preferably mine and on the cover of your magazine again, please – and then to get your publications out to an ever-widening audience.
  • We should seek to create more award programs and increased promotion of the ones we have to promote excellence in design.
  • And we need to actively connect with each other and what is happening in all other arenas from the urban, to the architectural, to the arts.

Beyond these targets that we should aim our arrows swiftly toward, and as my concluding thoughts, I offer three positions that we should try always to maintain in our own hearts:

First, we should understand that we in this room and our friends unable to be here have a unity of purpose, though not necessarily or even desirably, a unity of solution. We have different ideas of how to achieve our purpose: the restoration of good form and the reconstruction of the good city. But given that we have different ideas about how to reach that, we will necessarily disagree. Disagreement and debate should always be encouraged. Division and disunity should never be tolerated.

Second, we should be humble before the master of history and fiercely proud of our own work. Humility allows us to be open to learning and criticism and taking pride in our work forces us to hold ourselves to a high standard.

Last, we should always passionately seek beauty and wisdom. As we engage our passion to create, we must never forget that the pleasure we derive from doing so is in service to something larger than ourselves: the greater good.

We are in service to the greater good. We are in service to the lives of people, not ourselves. We are in service to our future, not our time. And it will be a future of beauty and goodness if we hold our heads high and move ever, always forward.

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One thought on “Closing Remarks, Three Generations of Classical Architects: The Renewal of Modern Architecture, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture (2005)

  1. inderroy80

    Couldn’t have asked for anything better today!
    Thanks for this amazing article. The insights helped me sort out a lot. Made notes and shall be using the tips right away! 🙂

    Reply

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