Jan. 5, 1696, in Parma.
I think this book review at the New Criterion puts paid to any recent, somewhat optimistic takes on the architect, Albert Speer. And, yes, Michael J. Lewis is a good historian who I’ve met on a couple of First Things occasions. The end of his review is pretty telling, and provacative, perhaps moreso than any pure polemic that modern architects tend to employ, because it doesn’t have to twist history or facts for its power…history itself is often quite enough:
“But somehow one senses that Speer falls in a different category, that one cannot excuse the opportunism of the artist in order to appreciate the integrity of the art. Kitchen briefly mentions without comment one telling fact, which is that as an architecture student Speer occasionally paid poorer students to prepare his drawings. The practice is not unknown, but it is not what one expects from a truly architectural mind, from someone who lives and thinks architecture, and who exults in the making of form. Kitchen suggests that Speer’s cleverest design ideas, such as the Luftwaffe searchlights illuminating the Nuremberg Rally grounds, came from his assistants.
Why is it, one might ask, that there are no architectural drawings by Speer among the book’s illustrations, not a single sketch, not one perspective? The idea sketches that survive for Germania are not by Speer but by Hitler. Hitler was not an architect of terrible originality or distinction, but in a certain sense he was more of an architect than Speer—that is, he was brimming over with ideas for buildings and forms—derivative and conventional to be sure, but fired with all the passion and longings and resentments of his frustrating years in Vienna around 1909. He had the one architectural quality that Speer did not: an urgent architectural imagination. One somehow cannot imagine Speer waking up in the middle of a night with the compulsion to sketch a sudden idea.
This is what makes Speer in the end so repellent, and all the more so because of his courtly good looks and air of easy urbanity; it is that he does not even have the excuse of the opportunist, that he made political compromises in order to practice his art. Stripped of the murderous politics, in which his complicity is now beyond all doubt, there is precious little art left.”
However, the weak link in this argument is that, as one of my friends mentioned, there is something very artistically consistent about Speer’s work which is indicative of a guiding mind and vision in much the way many modern “starchitects” work, at the very least. This suggests that his involvement was more than simply the role of a “critic” or the public image of someone else’s genius or someone else’s drawings, but rather that he had a real architectural personality which held authoritative sway, and this evident most conspicuously because of its absence in equal measure or degree by Hitler’s other architects.
I recently submitted the following abstract for the conference below:
Abstract: Architecture in the Metaxy
Man is a (dependent) rational animal. This classic formula, while not exhaustively defining man in all of his ontic nor ontological density, is useful in that it points towards characteristic features by which the presence of “the human” might be distinguished in the anthropological record—in other words, how we might recognize ourselves and our origins within the “evolutionary” milieu.
In short, the presence of “the human” makes itself known in the vestiges of the characteristic operation of its mind, as the movement-in-being by which we abstract from and recapture our corporeal existence and use it to signify rather than merely to co-exist in the world (Merleau-Ponty). Thus, the anthropological record is inherently, and perhaps essentially, the material record of this symbolizing activity.
A philosophical anthropology indicates that this symbolization flows from the beginning of man’s “experience of being” in which is disclosed a two-fold experience: that of being not only in relation to the world in which he finds himself, but ultimately to the ground of being itself (Voegelin). According to Aristotle’s principle of equivalency, there is a recognizable identity between the experienced reality of this “metaxy” and its symbolization at various levels of differentiation, ultimately as forms of analogical participation.
One such characteristic form of analogical mediation is Architecture, not narrowly or reductively understood within either an equivocal tectonic paradigm nor a univocal conceptualism, but rather as Mircea Eliade and Bernard Lonergan explicate it: as the analogically patterned objectification of space whereby psycho-somatic man posits an orientation in space and time that manifests, orients, and transforms his relationships within the world, as well as his participation in—and search for— the “ground”.
In view of such an architectural anthropology, this paper serves to explore how Architecture comes to reveal, extend, and transform, whether implicitly or explicitly, each person’s and each culture’s horizon— the beliefs regarding who they are and what it means to be human within the metaxy. In so doing, it seeks to provide some cursory analysis to the question of “how should we build today?”.
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With the inauguration of the Year of Faith promulgated by Pope BXVI in the fall of 2012, the Jesuit community of Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL, was inspired to undertake the renovation of their existing 1960’s community residence chapel. I was subsequently commissioned to create the designs for the renovation, which ultimately included just about everything in the space– all trimwork and millwork and stonework, the window grilles, pews, reredos, altar rail, lectern, altar, side altar, statue pedestals, etc– except the statuary and the metal pieces such as the altar cross, candlesticks, and holy water fonts.
The existing structure– an unequal octagonal edifice with board and batten siding, stone-clad piers, and copper sheathed clerestory– was entirely retained and provided the skeletal framework, and thus the limiting conditions, within which the interior was to be reconceived. The existing interior, also still dating from the original chapel construction, was comprised of a central octagonal worship space circumscribed by perimeter storage and sacristy rooms, woven cloth walls under a veneer of wood batten strips in the nave, terrazzo slab floors, and applied abstract stained glass treatment at the perimeter windows and clerestory. The new interior was conceived as a complete cosmetic renovation with an extensive and entirely custom-designed and fabricated millwork and furnishing package.