Architecture and the Philosophy Of History

A response to:

Don Ruggles's thesis on architecture poses a threat to society. Joanne Ostrow's Is Denver's contemporary architecture killing us? illuminates Ruggles's world view:

1. architecture should all be the same.

2. it is for the elite.

3. people all think the same.

4. human experience is not varied. 

Ostrow cites Ruggles: "The brain is a pattern-recognition machine. Avoidance is five to seven times stronger than approach." Five to seven times stronger? Where does this metric come from? 

Ruggles founded a rear garde institute that insists all buildings be neoclassical. Now he reappropriates the rhetoric of a discipline foreign to him in order to obscure his vacuous architectural beliefs--or lack of beliefs. 

"Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but a neurological event." Does this suggest that neurological events are not varied between individuals? I believe it does but inadvertently so. It is the rhetoric of an individual rationalizing his own designs to capitalize on a discontent market. 

I remember the first time I experienced the Cheesman Park Pavillion. It was awe inspiring--even more so in the snow. Do I think all buildings should mimic it? No. 

The aesthetic analogy between the Weckbaugh Mansion and a mother's face is not only a stretch but non-existent. There is no evidence to support the analogy. To suggest all buildings should emulate an ill conceived mansion could be killing us. It is a worldview detrimental to society.

"Architecture can make us hesitate. If we hesitate, we might think. If we think, we might dream. If we dream, we might live in a different society." Mark Wigley

Brad Cloepfil has published the design process for the Clyfford Still Museum. The design is in part derived from the rubric of nine equal cubes. Do I think that means it is a neoclassical building? No. If we deny post neoclassical developments in architecture, we could not have the Clyfford Still Museum. 

The building employs concrete as its primary material—board formed reinforced concrete. The process constitutes a series of rigorous material investigations that are at once artistic and scientific. The experience of the space unites human experience with environment, space,art and the history of an artist’s life.

The building explores experimental material investigations and the simultaneity of interconnectivity and isolation. It does so while effectively displaying the artwork of one of the greatest renegades of American art history. 

The building need not be confined to classical metrics. It is something unto itself and profoundly linked to its time and all time—to human life.

The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture is as manipulative as The Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture. If we are willing to accept these entities as institutions, they are institutions intended to facilitate mediocre architects in achieving unwarranted publicity and success. 

Some people might argue it is better for Don Ruggles to build neo-historicist buildings than no buildings at all. It is not. 

Is Denver’s contemporary architecture killing us? Yes, it is. It is killing us by creating a placeless—not really city—but habitat.

We could take old buildings in five points and amplify their history. We could live with the people who live there.

But what are Denver architects doing? They are displacing Denver’s history and people. The contemporary modern farm houses that may well be anywhere negate architecture’s connection to context. But they look cool, right? That is the concern: Denver architects are reducing the architect to some sort of master of style.

Don Ruggles is not offering anything different than a modern farm house. His buildings are just wearing a different mask. It’s a papier mache mask we could poke our fingers through and watch crumble. It’s all surface—all finish. It has no human depth. It has no soul.

Architecture is not limited to style or even design. It’s a humanism.

If we really want to learn from history, we should look to neighborhoods like the Baker historic district or what five points and RiNo were—not what they have become.

An appropriated neo-historicist approach to architecture is antithetical to the approach of a learned and thoughtful historian.

Yes, Denver’s contemporary architecture is killing us including the neo-historicist buildings.