McGill University School of Architecture Speech to McGill University School of Architecture, October 21, 2000 My mentor, Frank Lloyd stimulated, through exhibitions of his early work in Europe, the nascent germination of modernism. At the same time, through the confluence of the new space/time theories of Einstein and the discovery of African primitive art, the Cubist movement was inspired to deconstruct their subjects. In the analytical and disective approach of science, they interpreted space and form as the simultaneity of the space/time continuum. The expression of space/time into its four dimensions became the aesthetic thrust of modernism, the most profound revolution in the observation of objects since the Renaissance and the discovery of perspective. The simultaneity of perception was depicted by cubists in the multifaceted portrayal of an object's significant aspects, both inside and out. All critical information was compacted to a flat plane in two- dimensions as in primitive art. The x-ray vision of art had a similar consequence in architecture. Wright, then Mies and Le Corbusier led the campaign to burst apart traditional orthogonal volumes reassembling them with all planes detached and exposed to allow the free flow of space unimpeded from inside to outside. Forthright practicality, with a minimum of parts was a characteristic sought mimicking the honest aesthetic of the machine. The house became a "machine to live in." Truth to materials, to form, to space, to technics, to purpose were the qualities that were the rallying cry of modernism. Style was eschewed as Victorian eclecticism. In the ridding of all superfluous embellishments, honesty was the goal. But, the public's objection to the meagerness of the "functional aesthetic" eventually became modernism undoing. Over time architects and builders misinterpreted simplicity as plainness, lack of detail for crudity, modesty for cheapness, structural veracity as a boring "grid". Builders eventually took advantage of the look of modernism to build cheaply and carelessly, exhibiting their cynical view of a passing fashion. So it was no surprise that the reaction to the bareness of ill conceived modernist buildings was to revert in the 80's to a revival of historicism in the guise of "post-modernism". That sad caper influenced nearly everyone in the building trade because it appealed to the public taste for antique references. That Dark Age is thankfully over but cultural insecurity is always there, hidden in the basement of our psyches - ready to spring out whenever brave confidence falters. It lingers in the gated communities where make- believe has become an adult panacea. It lingers with the developers who promote kitsch because it sells. It lingers with the newly rich and the establishment who need to consolidate social standing with class accepted standards. It lingers in every shopping centre, multiplex, restaurant, Vegas casino where illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within. The tragedy is that these forays into wonderland are transgressions of history, couched in the past, in denial of the present. They are false, delusionary and worse, not imaginative at all. Make-believe is taking over the built environment as the influence of Disnification spreads to our urban cores. Even worse, design is seen as entertainment and "entertainment" is becoming the goal of too much of our design, our museums and shopping centres. The problem is that the delusion of entertainment lacks a purpose other then to enchant and is devoid of meaning. It may amuse us for a bit, but after the initial hit we are left with the dark feeling of desolation. The Achilles Heel of the Americas was the lack of cultural confidence typical of new settlers everywhere. Although the innovative spirit was America's strongest attribute, transforming everything into a brave new world, there lingered an insecurity about the arts. Therefore, it was easier to revert to old-world visions and the presumed suitability of historic styles from the beginning. This fostered the make-believe world - architecture as fancy dress which lived alongside that fresh innovative innocence. No wonder the film industry started in the desert in California where, like all desert dwellers, they dream their buildings, rather than design them. The great dream merchant Disney was a success because make-believe was what everyone seemed to need in a spiritually empty land. From the time of the Industrial Barons, historicism was an American phenomena - a fantasy later adopted by the aspiring middle class and eventually exported to the emerging third world to the new culturally unsure like China, abandoning their values to seek those of the commercially triumphant America. We settled this continent without art. So it was easy for us to give it up, or to treat it as an imported luxury, not a necessity. Our culture, our civilization is the outcome of practicality, which meant to the settler, working hard to overcome the temptations of pleasure - good Quaker values. The rational mercantile approach, dealing with shortcuts to materialistic gain supported the inventive spirit but avoided the creative one which could divert the simple goal of gain. That suspicion of the arts is so entrenched that there is great difficulty in gaining acceptance of the cost of the irrational, intuitive world of the arts. Rationalism is the enemy of art though necessary as a basis for architecture. But the heart, not the head, must be the guide. The obsession with performance left no room for the development of the intuitive or spiritual impact of space and form other than the aesthetic of the machine itself. North American Puritanism, characteristic of New England settler values, could be blamed for this minimalizing for utilitarian purposes alone. Practicality, the elimination of the "non essentials" began the long descent of art and architecture into bottom line management. Materialism has never been so ominous as now in North America as management and not the artist takes over. There is no end to mechanization's ability to completely substitute the unreal for the real - "virtual" reality for reality - the robot pet for the live one. There is no limit to the prediction of Hollywood productions which ominously presage a future that is a manifestation of what subconsciously we desire. Does an architecture to assuage the spirit have a place in all this? Unfortunately we are no longer the interpreters of our culture's myths but the followers of that dubious client, the developer, who has little patience with the art of architecture, the fine detail and obscure promise, which can upset his financial activity. Are we not the whores of big business, selling our product for their commercial lust? Today's developer is a poor substitute for the committed entrepreneur of the last century for whom the work of architecture represented a chance to celebrate the worth of his enterprise. Profit and bottom line, the contemporary mantra of business, eliminates the critical detail, the very source of architectural expression. Having been exposed to the post-modernist disdain for authentic techniques, the developer/builder is accustomed to stage set methods. Dryvit can simulate anything. In the Po Mo period, a change that signaled the questionable new direction to architecture was the shift from the modernist concern with space to the preoccupation with surface. Space is and has always been the spiritual dimension of architecture. It is not the physical statement of the structure so much as what it contains that moves us. Modernism released us from the constraints of everything that had gone before with a euphoric sense of freedom. Post- Modernism reverted to surface, the face of the container, the palette for the decorator. After 1980, you never heard reference to space again. Surface, the most convincing evidence of the descent into materialism became the focus of design, space the essence of architectural expression at its highest level, disappeared. With production alone as the goal, industry in North America was dominated by the assembly line, standardization for mass consumption. Industry rejects isolated and unique demands for their product. Thus, compared to industry in Europe or Japan, where industry was based on a craft tradition, we are sadly behind. There, industry is organized to relate intimately to professional demand. Vignoly told me that after his Tokyo Forum experience, he was spoilt for building in the Western Hemisphere. Specialization was another consequence of our misplaced rational approach. Nowhere has specialization penetrated so deeply into the building professions as North America. Fostered by our unfortunate university systems, our engineering studies for structural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, lighting and acoustics foster independent specialists, each in a world of his own. In those countries with centuries of a craft tradition behind their building methods the relationships behind all skills is paramount. Building is seen as a craft, and techniques tightly coordinated under the direction of the architect. Nearly all of the advances in structural and aesthetic innovation is coming from abroad. The new architecture of transparency and lightness comes from Japan and Europe. Industry and building codes - curtail that same approach here. Besides the inflexibility of industry, we are stymied by regulations, limited choice and the threat of litigation. Neither professional consultants nor industry itself provide the research which encourage those innovative techniques which takes architecture forward in Europe and Japan. There is no greater pleasure than working with a firm like Arup or Coop Himmenblau who amalgamate all the professional skills with an in-house research arm and are largely responsible for the abundance of remarkable buildings arising outside this continent. "God is in the details", Mies said meaning that the details are the very source of expression in architecture. But we are caught in a vice between art and the bottom line. Whenever we witness art in a building, we are aware of an energy contained by it. The intensity of that energy reflects the intensity of the creative act, the degree of devotion invested in the work, that is communicated immediately to the viewer. Creation is the bestower of life. Vitality is radiated from exceptional art and architecture. Beauty - a word much avoided in this late mechanistic era, conveys an inexplicable sense of harmony and wholeness. A thing of Beauty is not pretty, nor perfect, nor flashy - but restrained, often odd, tough, indefinable - it touches a higher sense than the emotions alone. Out of the most ordinary circumstance a transcendental experience is distilled. Though lacking in cerebral challenge, since it is beyond the limits of the brain it gives its viewers a sense of highest fulfillment. How do we deal with such a quality - one that is indescribable. It can't be a goal, for that requires a tactic, a plan and procedure - all mental processes. One cannot strive for it. Only when inspired to go beyond consciousness by some extraordinary insight does it manifest unexpectedly. Nor looking back can you tell how or why it happened. This is the moment in all art when reason is abandoned and reverie and inspiration assert themselves. Inspiration in Science may have to do with ideas but not in Art. In art it is in the senses that are instinctively responsive to the medium of expression. No amount of thought can ever reveal what comes unexpectedly. Picasso said "I don't seek - I find." Archimedes also found it in the "Eureka" experience in his bath, the basis of "specific gravity". It is the mystery of the creative act that something other than our conscious self takes over. The artist himself is loath to acknowledge it for he likes to seem totally responsible for his work. Often to cover himself he begins to explain it, after the fact, to make it appear as if it were a reasonable process. Architecture doesn't come from theory. You don't think your way through a building. There is entirely too much cant clogging the communication of architectural criticism. You have to see a building to comprehend it. Photographs cannot convey the experience, nor film. What we are seeing in magazines are too often surface intellectual arguments in steel or concrete - not architecture. We seem today to have lost sight of the original goal of architecture that is - to ennoble the place and the people who use it. It is a gift we have as architects to be able to do that. Architecture, today is only tentatively expressive of the human spirit, having been tempted from its mission by the love of mechanization - the obsession with the machine aesthetic in Europe, or the influence in America of Disney through the reduction of architecture to entertainment. Great buildings that move the spirit have always been rare. In every case they are unique, poetic, products of the heart, of sensibility and with a freshness of view, which shows us the way and reminds us of our mission to inspire. They are honest, simple and stirring. They reinforce the way of architecture - the quiet voice that underlies it and has guided it from the beginning.