Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930

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Overview

Modern Architecture is a landmark text—the first book in which America's greatest architect put forth the principles of a fundamentally new, organic architecture that would reject the trappings of historical styles while avoiding the geometric abstraction of the machine aesthetic advocated by contemporary European modernists. One of the most important documents in the development of modern architecture and the career of Frank Lloyd Wright, Modern Architecture is a provocative and profound polemic against America's architectural eclecticism, commercial skyscrapers, and misguided urban planning. The book is also a work of savvy self-promotion, in which Wright not only advanced his own concept of an organic architecture but also framed it as having anticipated by decades—and bettered—what he saw as the reductive modernism of his European counterparts. Based on the 1931 original, for which Wright supplied the cover illustration, this beautiful edition includes a new introduction that puts Modern Architecture in its broader architectural, historical, and intellectual context for the first time.

The subjects of these lively lectures—from "Machinery, Materials and Men" to "The Tyranny of the Skyscraper" and "The City"—move from a general statement of the conditions of modern culture to particular applications in the fields of architecture and urbanism at ever broadening scales. Wright's vision in Modern Architecture is ultimately to equate the truly modern with romanticism, imagination, beauty, and nature—all of which he connects with an underlying sense of American democratic freedom and individualism.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
The endpapers of Modern Architecture—which Princeton University Press has reissued in a facsimile of its original 1931 edition—are embellished with Wright aphorisms that recall the improving mottoes typically displayed in Arts and Crafts interiors. . . . The Princeton reprint has an authoritative introduction by the architectural historian Neil Levine.
— Martin Filler
Rocky Mountain News
Perhaps some people think you can have too many books on Frank Lloyd Wright, but I believe there's always room for more. This year, it's a scholarly duo from Princeton University Press: The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright: Critical Writings on Architecture, edited by Wright scholar Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (453 pages, $49.95) and the essential Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930, with a new introduction by Neil Levine (115 pages, $29.95).
— Mary Chandler
New Republic
Praise for the original edition: Exuberant, confessedly romantic, insistently individualistic, at times even florid and rhetorical, [Modern Architecture] is still (and I say it, who fought my rising enthusiasm at every turn of a page) the very best book on modern architecture that exists.
— Catherine Bauer
New York Review of Books - Martin Filler
The endpapers of Modern Architecture—which Princeton University Press has reissued in a facsimile of its original 1931 edition—are embellished with Wright aphorisms that recall the improving mottoes typically displayed in Arts and Crafts interiors. . . . The Princeton reprint has an authoritative introduction by the architectural historian Neil Levine.
Rocky Mountain News - Mary Chandler
Perhaps some people think you can have too many books on Frank Lloyd Wright, but I believe there's always room for more. This year, it's a scholarly duo from Princeton University Press: The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright: Critical Writings on Architecture, edited by Wright scholar Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (453 pages, $49.95) and the essential Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930, with a new introduction by Neil Levine (115 pages, $29.95).
New Republic - Catherine Bauer
Praise for the original edition: Exuberant, confessedly romantic, insistently individualistic, at times even florid and rhetorical, [Modern Architecture] is still (and I say it, who fought my rising enthusiasm at every turn of a page) the very best book on modern architecture that exists.
From the Publisher
"The endpapers of Modern Architecture—which Princeton University Press has reissued in a facsimile of its original 1931 edition—are embellished with Wright aphorisms that recall the improving mottoes typically displayed in Arts and Crafts interiors. . . . The Princeton reprint has an authoritative introduction by the architectural historian Neil Levine."—Martin Filler, New York Review of Books

"Perhaps some people think you can have too many books on Frank Lloyd Wright, but I believe there's always room for more. This year, it's a scholarly duo from Princeton University Press: The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright: Critical Writings on Architecture, edited by Wright scholar Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (453 pages, $49.95) and the essential Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930, with a new introduction by Neil Levine (115 pages, $29.95)."—Mary Chandler, Rocky Mountain News

Praise for the original edition: Exuberant, confessedly romantic, insistently individualistic, at times even florid and rhetorical, [Modern Architecture] is still (and I say it, who fought my rising enthusiasm at every turn of a page) the very best book on modern architecture that exists."—Catherine Bauer, New Republic

New Republic
Praise for the original edition: "Exuberant, confessedly romantic, insistently individualistic, at times even florid and rhetorical, [Modern Architecture] is still (and I say it, who fought my rising enthusiasm at every turn of a page) the very best book on modern architecture that exists.
— Catherine Bauer
Rocky Mountain News
Perhaps some people think you can have too many books on Frank Lloyd Wright, but I believe there's always room for more. This year, it's a scholarly duo from Princeton University Press: The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright: Critical Writings on Architecture, edited by Wright scholar Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (453 pages, $49.95) and the essential Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930, with a new introduction by Neil Levine (115 pages, $29.95).
— Mary Chandler
New York Review of Books
The endpapers of Modern Architecture—which Princeton University Press has reissued in a facsimile of its original 1931 edition—are embellished with Wright aphorisms that recall the improving mottoes typically displayed in Arts and Crafts interiors. . . . The Princeton reprint has an authoritative introduction by the architectural historian Neil Levine.
— Martin Filler
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691129372
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/21/2008
  • Series: Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,088,208
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Neil Levine, the Emmet Blakeney Gleason Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University, is the author of "The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright" (Princeton).
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Read an Excerpt

Modern Architecture Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930
By Frank Lloyd Wright Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12937-2


Introduction NEIL LEVINE

In a review in the New Republic in July 1931, just three months after Frank Lloyd Wright's Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930 was originally published, the brilliant young critic and early devotee of European modern architecture Catherine Bauer described it as "the very best book on modern architecture that exists." A future leader in social housing and community planning, Bauer wrote this neither out of ignorance of the field nor out of personal sympathy with the author's position in it. She had spent the year 1926-27 and the summer and early fall of 1930 in Europe, where she met many of the important figures in the modern movement and studied the work being done. Ernst May and J.J.P. Oud, both deeply engaged in the area of housing, along with her mentor and lover Lewis Mumford, whom she met in 1928, were particularly instrumental in shaping her thinking on the social and collective purposes of architecture.

Bauer began her review of the Wright book affirming her belief that "architecture is intrinsically an unsatisfactory field of expression for the individual poet-genius." "A new architecture," she continued, "depends primarily on the careful establishment and strict acceptance of an idiom that has its roots in the social and economicstructure of the time." Acknowledging that Wright was "without doubt the most brilliant individual architect of our time," she deplored the fact that he "only wants to express his own personality" and thus concluded in the review's preamble that his way was not the way of the future. "The future," she stated, "lay in the hands of men like Oud in Holland, Gropius and Stam and May in Germany," who have worked "to strip architecture to its essentials, [and] who have suppressed their differences in the interests of the unit and the whole."

At this point, Bauer stopped and declared: "So much for the convictions of the reviewer.... [Bauer's ellipses]" and then went on to exclaim: "Exuberant, confessedly romantic, insistently individualistic, at times even florid and rhetorical, [this book] is still (and I say it, who fought my rising enthusiasm at every turn of a page) the very best book on modern architecture that exists." After summarizing and analyzing its contents, she finally concluded:

I am, still, in active disagreement with about a third of the book. I still would really rather live in a workingman's house in Frankfurt [by Ernst May] than in one of Mr. Wright's handsome prairie mansions. I still believe that symbolic variations cannot be invented cold on a drafting board, that they must evolve in time out of the functional forms themselves or not at all. But, fundamental as this criticism may sound, it detracts very little from my perplexing enthusiasm.... [Parts of this book are] so rich in sound observation, trenchant comment and philosophic purity that architecture itself takes on a new dignity, a fresh social importance. And Frank Lloyd Wright emerges as one of the most interesting figures that America has yet produced.

In its exceedingly direct and honest assessment, Bauer's review reveals both the enormous significance of Wright's book as well as the complex and ambiguous status it bears in relation to the evolving history of modern architecture in what is usually considered to be its heroic stage.

Culminating a period of intense development and radical change since the beginning of the century, four books were published in English between 1929 and 1932 under the general title Modern Architecture. The one by the German architect Bruno Taut attempted to explain the "principles of the new movement" mainly through its production on the European continent and under the influence of the new material, social, and economic conditions of the industrial age. The other three texts all carried subtitles. The young architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock's Modern Architecture: Romanticism and Reintegration, which also came out in 1929, was the first comprehensive historical account and analysis in English of the movement, locating its origins in the breakdown of the classical system in the later eighteenth century and the ensuing eclecticism and technological advances of the following one.

Hitchcock was also directly involved, along with Philip Johnson, Alfred Barr, and Lewis Mumford (who was assisted by Bauer) in the last of these books to appear, Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, which served as the catalogue for the show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that took place in the early months of 1932 and that introduced the American audience to the architecture that the authors referred to as the International Style. Intending neither to trace the history of the movement nor to outline its social and industrial sources or implications, the exhibition catalogue focused on the formal characteristics that defined modern architecture as a "genuinely new style." One of the architects given a featured place in the exhibition, along with Oud, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier, was their architectural "uncle" Frank Lloyd Wright. This was "not," as Barr wrote, because he is "intimately related to the Style" nor merely a "pioneer ancestor," but because, as "a passionately independent genius whose career is a history of original discovery and contradiction," his work had to be seen as "the embodiment of the romantic principle of individualism" that "remains a challenge to the classical austerity of the style of his younger contemporaries."

Wright's Modern Architecture appeared the year before the International Style exhibition. In its focus on the role of the individual in the creation of a spiritually liberated form of modern, democratic design along with its opposition of the idea of "an organic architecture" to one based on a collective "machine aesthetic," Wright's book stands as his first major public pronouncement on the subject of how his architecture fits into the development of the modern movement. It is the first actual book he ever published and thus represents the beginning of a determined effort on his part to bring his views on modern architecture into the public domain, an effort that soon saw the appearance of An Autobiography and The Disappearing City (both 1932) followed by numerous other books over the next twenty-seven years. While laying out the groundwork for a conception of a modern architecture grounded in nature and eschewing the mechanistic and functionalistic stereotypes of the "machine aesthetic," Wright's Modern Architecture also foreshadows the new world of decentralized living the architect was soon to call Broadacre City, a world that was to offer all the advantages of modern technology without any of the disadvantages of the urban congestion and blight that many recognized at the time as a major consequence of modernity.

THE PRINCETON KAHN LECTURES

As its subtitle indicates, Wright's Modern Architecture was based on a series of public lectures. The fact that these lectures took place at Princeton University in the spring of 1930 is quite extraordinary, considering the conservative character of architectural education at American institutions of higher learning at the time. Walter Gropius would not begin his career at Harvard until 1937 and Mies would not begin his at the Armour (later Illinois) Institute of Technology until the following year. But the invitation to Wright to lecture at Princeton was not offered by the university's School of Architecture as such. Rather, it came from its art history department, then as now known as the Department of Art and Archaeology and under whose aegis the School of Architecture functioned as a fully integrated entity from the time of its establishment in 1919-20 until the early 1950s.

Princeton's Department of Art and Archaeology was the oldest in the country, dating from 1883-85. It was also one of the largest and certainly one of the most prominent. Among its distinguished faculty in 1930 were Frank Jewett Mather, Charles Rufus Morey, Earl Baldwin Smith, and Theodore Leslie Shear, almost all specialists in medieval and ancient art or architecture. Sherley W. Morgan, an associate professor in the department, served as director of the School of Architecture. Morey, whose main interest lay in medieval iconography, was the prime mover of the department as well as one of the leading figures in the development of art history as a discipline in the United States. He served as department chair from the early 1920s through the mid1940s, during which time he proved to be a highly successful fundraiser, with special emphasis on the department's publications program.

One of the persons Morey was able to attract as a major donor to the department was the New York banker and philanthropist Otto H. Kahn. Born in Germany, where he got his start in banking, Kahn emigrated to the United States in 1893, first working in New York with Speyer & Company and then with Kuhn, Loeb & Company, where he eventually became a chief partner and the firm's expert in the financing of railroads. His great love was music, and he began his support of New York's Metropolitan Opera Company in 1903, becoming chair in 1911 and president in 1918. He also gave a significant amount of money to underwrite the restoration of the Parthenon in Athens. In the area of higher education, he served as a trustee of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Rutgers University.

Morey began corresponding with Kahn in 1923 soon after the financier's son entered Princeton as an undergraduate. By the spring of 1924, Kahn had agreed to give the Department of Art and Archaeology $1,500 a year for two years (subsequently increased to three) in part to bring lecturers from Europe for extended stays. Over the next three years, the scholars brought to Princeton through Kahn's gift included Michael Ivanovitch Rostovzeff, the social and economic historian of the ancient world; the French Byzantinist and professor of aesthetics at the Collège de France Gabriel Millet; and the British Middle Eastern archaeologist John Garstang, who lectured on Hittite art and archaeology.

In 1927 Kahn joined the art history department's Visiting Committee (on which he remained until his death in 1934) and promptly agreed to the "continuation" of his support for a lecture series. The "Kahn Lectures," as they came to be officially called, were to run for a five-year period, beginning in the academic year 1928-29. Out of the $1,500 to be spent annually, half was to go for the lecturer's fee and half for publication costs either for the lectures or for any other books in the Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology series. The annual "course" of lectures was "to be eight in number with two evening seminars for graduate students and members of the faculty at which the research problems in the subject will be discussed."

In its deliberations over who should be the first invitee, the department considered Arthur Pillans Laurie, a British authority on the technical processes of painting from antiquity through the seventeenth century, and Eugénie Sellers Strong, the classical archaeologist and art historian noted particularly for her work on Greek and Roman art. Without mentioning any names, it also considered the options of "a lecturer on American [meaning Precolumbian] Archaeology ... and a lecturer on Architecture." In the end, Johnny Roosval, a respected Swedish medievalist and the first professor of art history at Stockholm University, was invited to speak in the spring of 1929 on the history of Swedish art. Despite the fact that he had no expertise in the field, he was asked to make "particular reference to Swedish architecture, including some of the modern developments." Roosval's lectures, which were apparently not very exciting, were published in 1932 by Princeton University Press in the Princeton Monographs series under the title Swedish Art: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1929.

One senses that there were those in the department lobbying for a speaker on architecture, and particularly modern architecture, since that is precisely the field that was targeted for the Kahn Lectures for 1929-30. In his talk on "Frank Lloyd Wright and Princeton," given at Princeton University in the spring of 1980 in the colloquium "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Princeton Lectures of 1930" celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the event, Robert Judson Clark, upon whose research and insights I have relied heavily for this history, states that a major source for the push for architecture was the request by one of the younger members of the faculty, the medieval architectural historian George Forsyth who was then teaching the required Modern Architecture course, to have "practicing architects be brought in to augment this course." Indeed, the reason given by Morey to the architect eventually chosen by the department for holding the lectures at the end of April or the beginning of May was so that they would "coincide with the closing part of our Modern Architecture course."

Frank Lloyd Wright was not the department's initial choice for the second round of Kahn Lectures. Rather, it was Oud, who at the time was the chief architect of the Municipal Housing Authority of Rotterdam and one of the recognized leaders of the modern movement in Europe. Morey wrote to Oud in early January 1929 asking him if he would "consent to deliver a course of lectures ... on the modern architecture of Europe or of Holland, or any aspect of the latest movements in architecture which you would prefer to treat." "We feel that no one could speak with more authority than yourself" on "the modernist movement in architecture." Morey also promised that a publication of the lectures in the Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology would be part of the deal.

It is unclear precisely who suggested Oud to Morey and his colleagues. Though certainly not a household name by then, Oud had become a star in the rising pantheon of younger European architects. Still, you had to be in the know. Henry-Russell Hitch-cock, the most serious and trusted young critic and historian of the movement in the United States, wrote an important article in The Arts magazine in February 1928, a year before the invitation, praising Oud's work "as of a quality equal to any which the new manner has achieved in France or Germany" and asserting, in his final sentence, that Oud's work had to be viewed alongside that of Le Corbusier to appreciate its true merit. "Oud and Le Corbusier," Hitchcock wrote, "are as different one from the other as Iktinos [the architect of the Parthenon] and the architect of the temple of Concord [at Agrigento] or the master of Laon and he of Paris." In other words, each is a master in his own right, equal to those who designed the greatest monuments of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Philip Johnson was blown away by this piece and later claimed that his "conversion" to "modern architecture" "came in 1929 when I read [the] article by Henry-Russell Hitchcock on the architecture of J. J. P. Oud." In addition to the purely artistic merits of the work, not to speak of its profound social values, Oud impressed his young American admirers, whether it be Hitchcock, Johnson, or Bauer, with his straightforwardness, his informality, and his openness to discourse.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Modern Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION
PREFACE
CHAPTER 1: MACHINERY, MATERIALS AND MEN
CHAPTER 2: STYLE IN INDUSTRY
CHAPTER 3: THE PASSING OF THE CORNICE
CHAPTER 4: THE CARDBOARD HOUSE
CHAPTER 5: THE TYRANNY OF THE SKYSCRAPER
CHAPTER 6: THE CITY

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