wk11 reading response

Art and Craft of the Machine: Frank Lloyd Wright
On Technology, Form and Industrialization: Mies Van der Rohe

These several related readings present somewhat dated, but nevertheless relevant issues on technology and architecture.  If they can be looked at not within the confines of the early 20th century, but rather across time, we might find valuable lessons from the great masters.  One thing holds true now as much as it did for Mies and Wright in the early part of the 20th century- that is that technology has a great deal of potential for architecture, including the democratization of societies, and we cannot afford to simply dismiss it.  Yet we must always be critical as to how and why we are using technology so that it is not us who get used by the technology itself.

It is interesting to ponder what would have been the trajectory of architecture if the technology of steel had not been accepted in the profession.  Mies Van der Rohe is famous for his critical use of technology (particularly steel) in the creation of form.  Yet, it is clear in his writings that he didn’t lose sight of what was important.  In regards to architectural expression, he said something to the effect of ‘life is the decisive factor, not form for forms sake’.   This speaks to his whole take on technology in architecture.  In order to create successful architecture which assumingly responds to its inhabitants, we must use technology as a means to an end.  Technology is only a small part of the equation.  As humans, we must define technology’s relevance and meaning.

“Wherever technology reaches its real fulfillment, it transcends into architecture.  It is true that architecture depends on facts, but its real field of activity is in the realm of significance.”- Mies Van der Rohe

Frank Lloyd Wright suggests that it is ridiculous to use technology to copy the handicraft of our past, when in fact the present circumstances require from us something completely different from that of the past.  Put another way, he is suggesting that the influence of the machine cannot be overlooked, but that also we must be critical of how we are using this newfound technology to create the cultural milieu of the day in order to make honest expressions of architecture.  He advocates for simplicity, which he defines as “a synthetic, positive quality, in which we may see evidence of mind, breadth of scheme, wealth of detail, and withal a sense of completeness found in a tree or a flower”.  The way Wright saw us achieving this ideal of simplicity is through realizing the potentials of the present and not getting stuck in the nostalgia of the past.  It goes without saying that in order to allow for progress, we must not only study the past, but also incorporate the complexity of the present (of which technology is only a small part).  Only by synthesizing all of this information, in my opinion, are we truly able to be holistic in our approach and therefore honest in our expression of architecture.

What is infinitely interesting is that these ideals do not simply apply to the “soft” sciences such as the arts, architecture, sociology, and the like.  They apply to the whole of our world.  Take our economy, just as a for-instance.  We are seeing the same issues arise today with energy production as Mies and Wright witnessed with the architectural profession’s resistance to new technology of the 20th century.  Coal-fired power plants and oil production companies are living on borrowed time.  The decision makers in these industries must seek a clear path to more viable futures because (ignoring the many other factors within these systems) when coal and oil run dry, the relevance of these companies becomes nil.  They must choose to incorporate technology that will propel them into a better situation ensuring a competitive future.

One Response to “wk11 reading response”

  1. ecboone Says:

    Chris, I think you made some great points which updated these “dated perspectives”. It would be interesting to write a current response to The Art and Craft of the Machine.

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