GLEN COVE, NY — When I was about 10 years old, I built a dollhouse for my little sisters. President Truman was adding a new wing to the White House, Hollywood had just made a movie directed by King Vidor of The Fountainhead, and Louis Kahn would shortly start his plans for the new wing of the Yale Art Gallery. My dollhouse was ugly, very ugly in fact, but nobody told me because that would have been ungrateful. I would not have listened anyway, because I was the architect and everyone else was a Philistine.
The dollhouse lacked ornamental or decorative features, and it had a flat roof and enormous picture windows. In short, I was part of the avant garde of the new architecture. I was a 10-year-old version of Howard Rourk, the hero of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Rourk designed a housing project without any ornamental or decorative features and then dynamited it in the dead of night because some ornaments had been added to the exterior and some doors removed from some closets. Naturally, in the novel he defends himself without a lawyer and is acquitted because the villains changed his design. My excuse is that I was only 10 years old. Ayn Rand was old enough to know better.
The most notorious example of the style I adopted for the dollhouse is seen in the new wing of the Yale Art Gallery. It houses some of the most beautiful paintings in America, but architecturally it is an adult version of my dollhouse. A major part of Tom Wolfe's book, From Bauhaus to Our House is a denunciation of this structure.
At the same time that housing projects were being built from Moscow to New York to Chicago, Bill Levitt was building what people really wanted — houses. These houses were not architectural masterpieces, but they were sufficiently flexible for those who lived in them to make them beautiful enough. Levitt built some community buildings, but he did not build the libraries, fire stations, police departments, and churches that were needed to serve the residents of his houses. These buildings were designed by architects with the same ideas I had when I was 10 years old. Architectural banality swept the nation.
At the end of the 1950s, university professors were still praising the Seagram Building and the Lever House in New York City as great architecture. Today, these structures are hardly distinguishable from the dozens of other glass-clad, rectangular prisms that surround them.
In Chicago, a beautiful federal courthouse was destroyed and replaced by a glass-covered banality. All over the country, old courthouses have been replaced by undistinguished towers in which the elevators are inadequate for the morning and afternoon rush hours.
The interior of Our Savior Church in New York
A few people did not get on board the 1950s cult of sterile modernity. Huntington Hartford was hated for his New York City museum. At a time when fish-shaped churches with exposed brick interiors, or without a clear East façade, were spreading like weeds through the suburbs, Our Savior Church was rising amid New York's glass towers. No one would guess upon entering it that it was built in the 1950s. It is a beautiful, ornate church with statues, side chapels, classical murals, icons, and an inlaid marble floor. It is everything a Church should be.
Like my Bauhaus dollhouse, the architecture of the 1950s achieved total sterility. It had no choice but to reverse course. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Bauhaus or International style will become a historical curiosity..
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2013
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Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
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