2008 - Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk

An excerpt from the 2008 Richard H. Driehaus Prize Book to be published in March 2009 by the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. Please note this copy is not to be reprinted without the written permission of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

Adapted from the Remarks of Andrés Duany
March 29, 2008
Driehaus Prize Award Ceremony, Chicago

Today we have spoken about Richard Driehaus, of his generosity and perspicacity. But something I've come to see in him is perhaps of greater importance: his enthusiasm. The energy of enthusiasm is important to move things forward. Most of us here are enthusiasts about this great thing, traditional architecture and urbanism. And we are something else that we don’t often realize: most of us here are brave, too, as by practicing traditional architecture and urbanism we enter the ring with champions like Lutyens and Palladio.

Modernists do not. They write their own rules of the game, so they always win. Peter Eisenman, for example, is invariably the champion of Eisenman-esque architecture. There are no other contenders. This is clever, but in the end it is not interesting because all the thrilling tension is in his head. Eisenman's increasingly remarkable achievements hold our attention less every time. He does ever bigger buildings that are ever more swiftly catalogued away. They are victories over himself, about which only he can ultimately care.

But what if Peter were to design a classical building? What if he were to attempt something as dangerous as to contest the real champions? There would be a renewed interest in him as an architect, to say the least. And I’m sure it would be a great performance — Léon Krier, who is his friend, says Eisenman knows Palladio very well.

Designing a classical building is virtually the only thing that remains for those avant-garde architects. They have already explored every shape that could be levitated, crashed, randomized, perforated, photo-tuned, upturned, folded, dematerialized, dissed or otherwise transgressed. It is by now the expected. There remains only their engaging in the ultimate test, to compete with the likes of Lutyens and Palladio, under common rules.
But even that would be merely entertainment. For this dismal century before us, architecture and urbanism must be more useful than amusing.

It has been our most useful role, I think, not to recover traditional urbanism, nor to evolve it, nor even to practice it as widely as we have, but to empower it through collective endeavor. Because our work is also the work of others, credit must be widely distributed, so there will be many names mentioned in these remarks.

But for not having met Robert Davis and thereby designing Seaside, others may well be up here today receiving this award. Among them are Robert Orr, John Massengale, Victor Dover, Dhiru Thadani, Phillip Bess, Andrew Von Maur, Steve Mouzon, Neal Payton, John Torti, Pat Pinnell, Peter Calthorpe, Liz Moule, Stef Polyzoides, Peter Katz, Ray Gindroz, Dan Solomon, and our colleagues at DPZ, Galina Tahchieva, Marina Khoury, Tom Low and Mike Watkins. It is very unusual, in this field of authorial individualism, to have such capable people working towards the same end.

And we should not make a distinction between designers and developers, as both are creators. Buff and Johnny Chace, Galen Weston, Patrick Bienvenue, Robert and Daryl Davis, David Tomes, Greg and Susan Whittaker, Joe Alfandre, Steve Maun, and Craig Robins are as knowledgeable about design as we the designers must be about development.

And then our teachers: In the schools, for a short window either side of 1970, there was a genuine open-mindedness about architecture. It was the time when Michael Graves, Allan Greenberg and, above all, Vincent Scully, taught us to love and appreciate all good buildings. They didn't turn us into style bigots. I'm most grateful for that. Because of them I visit the world with much more enjoyment.

With the partners at DPZ, and the professors at the University of Miami, Léon Krier holds a special place as a teacher. In addition to urbanism, he taught us how to be polemical. Those satirical cartoons clarified timeless concepts at the expense of the ridiculous practices of modernism. Over the years his drawings, projects and writings have systematically engaged everything from the region to the detail of buildings. They now constitute a complete body of knowledge. We had only to adjust them to American conditions, and to develop the massive delivery systems required by the present situation.

Having received the Driehaus Prize with the help of so many, it is only right that we should share it. It would be incorrect to take the stipend for ourselves. So Lizz and I have arranged its donation to a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the furtherance of this endeavor that we share. The publication of Léon Krier’s complete works will be its first achievement.

As you may know, it is not my practice to be as nice to everyone as I have been today. But on this beautiful occasion I will continue to do so by thanking our opponents. We are grateful to them because they have discerned the threat that our ideas pose to theirs. By relentlessly attacking the New Urbanism from their illustrious institutions, they have provided us with a world stage. I must thank them also for maintaining such a high level of strategic ineptitude. How easy they have made it for us to take territory outside of their circumscribed world. We thank them for how much they concede by sticking to irrelevant ideologies; by their fascination with the transient, the unworkable, the uncomfortable, the unreproducible, the unpopular, the expensive, the intangible, the unbuildable, the useless, the repellent and the unintelligible. This has been a gift greater even than this prize.

It is a gift not without personal sacrifice on their part. Modernist architects of great talent willingly perform for the applause of only about six critics. And they do so knowing that these critics have a history of raising them up and then discarding them once they are bored. We have seen in our own time the marginalization of truly brilliant architects — Paul Rudolph, Charles Moore, Robert Venturi, James Stirling, Bob Stern, Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman — all once raised to the heavens and then dismissed, even when at the peak of their powers. As with Paul Rudolph, these architects will outlive the critics, but in the meantime it is a terrible waste of cultural resources — and all for the sake of a little game of “gotcha.”

We have taken a different course. We seek judgment, not at the mercy of those six, but in the regard of America at large. When people ask, “Aren’t you worried about what Orousoff wrote?” I tell them, “But I don't know anyone who matters to our practice who knows him.” What he writes has no effect. For the time it would take me to write a publishable response, I could edit a code that would affect perhaps hundreds of buildings. Besides, if we were to respond, it would only empower those critics by granting them visibility in our world.

What then is this world of the New Urbanism, and why is traditional architecture important to it? There are many reasons, but primarily it is because traditional architecture is a common language of the American middle class and therefore the symbolic discourse through which we implement the social and ecological ideals of the Charter of the New Urbanism. The enormous American middle class is the group that really matters, and yet they are the only consumers of architecture not addressed in the modernist schools or the professional periodicals.

Beyond the snobbism, there is a reason for that. To the middle class, unlike the poor, the market gives choice — and given choice they choose traditionalism. Their ability to evade the modernist discourse (which the poor cannot do) confuses architects. But it does not confuse us. It is through the good reputation of traditional architecture that we enlist the middle class to our cause, which is to have them inhabit again a walkable, compact, and diverse urbanism.

You might ask: but isn’t the American middle class culturally trivial? The response to that depends on your conception of culture; it can be either the late modernist one of cultural activity as critique, or ours (coinciding with the early modernist concept) of cultural activity as action. Their conception attempts to express the condition of the world, while ours attempts to reform the condition of the world.

You see, the lifestyle of the American middle class is the root cause of the environmental problems of the world today. It is that simple. It is the way we supersize our habitat, the way we consume as entertainment, the way we drive around to do ordinary things, the way we so freely allocate land to our use, and even how we choose to eat, that is the cause of climate change. It is this lifestyle, and now its export version (pushed by architectural consultant-criminals) to Asia, India, the Persian Gulf, South America and Eastern Europe, which is responsible for the environmental problems we will all suffer.

It was traditional architecture that both politically and technically enabled New Urbanists’ extraordinarily early commitment to environmentalism. If that is what traditional architecture has done for us, the urbanists, what can it do for itself?

To begin, the current renaissance of traditional architecture must be seen not as a single event, but as a process. A first generation restored the old and sturdy citadel which is the discipline of the classical language. The current generation can continue to unfurl beautiful banners from the ramparts, in the hopes that all will recognize its virtue — or it can sally to take territory by force. There is too much territory forlorn by American design. I do not allude to the bits held by modernism, but to the vast areas held by mindless production builders, by the green gadgets that pass for environmental buildings, by the nauseating plan books, by the junk-space of civic buildings, by the junk-products at Home Depot, by the hapless mobile-home industry. These are blights on our physical and cultural landscape that can be redeemed only by traditional designers. This is risky, I know. We could jeopardize the impeccable reputation of the citadel; but we could also show the place that traditional architecture can hold as nothing else can.

In this quest, we must be as courageous as the generation of pioneers. Bob Stern, Jacque Robertson, Allan Greenberg, Tom Beeby, Rob Krier, Demetri Porphyrios and Thomas Gordon Smith all risked their good names by entering the wilderness of postmodernism. But see what they gained on the other side: the architecture that we now so confidently reward with the Driehaus Prize.

The best proof that architecture has been well and truly recovered in that heroic 30 year campaign is that it can be dependably taught. Classicists today can be as good as their masters even while still young. I am aware that the rigor of the classical canon enables this instruction. I am also aware that the discipline of the Orders was the compass that guided architecture out of postmodernism. But in teaching the Orders today we should take care that students not become overly dependent on bookish authority. They must not learn the fear of being caught “incorrect.” The measure should be what Lizz calls “plain old good architecture.” After all, we are building primarily for the commons, not the patrons.

Will this generation bore deeper into refinement and elitism, or will it endeavor to spread classical architecture outwards to a broad, democratic, indeed populist, future? Will they continue reprinting ever more esoteric treatises, or will they write new ones conceived to serve, not the 16th or even the 20th century, but the future which is upon us?

To explain what I mean, please permit me a rudimentary example. How can there be a viable canon of architecture that is incapable of producing an opening wider than it is high — by that I mean a horizontally proportioned intercolumniation? We cannot be effective today if we cannot even deal with a simple barn opening or a porte cochère. And that is just one problem. We must confront the necessity of expanding the classical canon if it is to engage the 21st century.

I would propose a new ethos — one no longer dedicated to the polishing of the classical canon of Vitruvius, Palladio and Vignola, but to supplementing that canon. Because this process cannot be allowed to devolve into neo-postmodernist dissipation, it should still be based on the authority of masters and masterpieces. First we must transcend the closed historic treatises, to rescue that which was discarded in the reductive process of writing them. Then we must recover to our side those transitional 19th- and 20th century architects who have been assigned to the modernist camp — where they reside as the foundation of their authority — when they are, in fact, the last great flowering of classicism.

Take Frank Lloyd Wright. You could see the Prairie School as the beginning of the fall, but you could also see it as the last of the Greek Revivals. Wright was among those who, instead of the Parthenon and all of its proprieties, took the Erechtheion and all of its freedoms, to extract a contemporary architecture. If the Erechtheion — its dynamic massing and multiple columniations, its agile engagement with topography, its free repertoire of moldings, its localized symmetries and rotated approaches, its complex, multi-leveled interior, its contradictions and unresolved tension — is classical, then Wright is certainly among the great masters of classicism. Wright must be on our side if we are to take the territory of the 21st century.

Another master of the canon would be Jose Plecnik, who knew the classical language perfectly. Like Shakespeare, who found literature in moribund Latin and bequeathed it in native English with vitality to spare, Plecnik shows us the workings of what my brother Douglas calls “the vernacular mind.” Not “the vernacular,” which is a style, but the vernacular mind, which is the way of folk art. It is the ability to compose from memory and circumstance, to work sequentially through anything and everything, with craft but not perfection. The folk tradition, which Plecnik brought to classicism, is the essential tool, I think, to withstand the withering that the 21st century will impose upon us. Léon knows it. Look at his American buildings at Miami, and at Seaside and Windsor. What lessons do they hold? Not one of them is correct in the canonical sense, and yet they are canonical buildings. And so I would also bring into the canon the work of Léon Krier.

An expanded canon would include newly drawn plates alongside Vignola’s: the Orders of masters such as Gilly, Soane, Thompson, Tony Garnier, Perret, Hoffman, Loos, Asplund, Piacentini, Terragni, Stern, Graves, Porphyrios, Rob Krier. This treatise would claim an enormous amount of new territory for classicism.

A portion of this Driehaus Award will be applied to such a treatise.

We are almost there. We have only to climb one last Everest.