Architecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky demonstrates
that anonymous builders achieved great form based on function.
Confess right now -- designers, planners, architects!! You don't have
this book? You don't even know about this book or its author, Bernard
Rudofsky? Verdict: You are culturally deprived, which means possibly
professionally challenged. Certainly missing chances for inspiration on the job.
This classic contains a sweeping revelation of universal traditions of
"vernacular" architecture -- structures and spaces built by untutored hands in
"primitive" cultures, many now destroyed. Their images remain as amazing
testaments to ingenious answers to survival issues and creature comforts
in remote locales which, we see, have considerable sophistication.
Today's higher education for the design professions, focused on formal issues
of a few recent centuries, may have turned you away from study of remote cultures
in distant times, viewing vernacular as "inapplicable" in a high-tech world.
On the contrary, these places and structural events (including whole mountainsides)
demonstrate the significant human act of building with nature-given materials,
for human needs and use, with sensitivity to innately purposeful form,
without a thought about the disruptive gloss of fashion cycles.
Bernard Rudofsky was a brilliant iconoclast and innovator. As a restless architecture
student in Vienna in 1923, he cut loose to undertake a wanderjahr exploring distant
places and forgotten world cultures. Backpacking across Europe, Middle East, Asia,
and Africa, he photographed what he discovered -- indigenous building
forms and construction methods that created real architecture, unburdened by
pretensions and formal imitations. He documented solutions that were
simple and direct, and elegantly ingenious in the interest maklng things work.
Today more than ever, "primitive" construction can amaze and instruct, and inspire
by addressing ever-present habitation needs -- climate conditioning by controlled air flow,
light control with roof and wall materials, floor heating, even lifts and elevators,
all achieved by design strategies unacquainted with modern mechanics
-- i.e."energy" powered by ingenuity.
In the early 1960's, after his exhibition "Are Clothes Modern?" for New York's MoMA,
Rudofsky prepared an exhibition on anonymous architecture, broadening his own photo
documentation with collectors' images from other distant realms, enriching the
theme of enduring historic form and purpose.
His exhibition "Architecture Without Architects" (1964-65) brought avant-garde insight
to the expanding horizon of modernist values, demonstrating that vernacular form and
purpose are indivisible, and usually immutable -- as they are serving their purpose
In this recapitulation of the exhibition, there are shelters, streets, and functional
enclosures crafted for the lasting use of whole communities. There are the "found"
habitations of rocky hillsides, underground villages safely recessed from climate and
predators; habitable hilltop fortresses, medieval streets lined with shady pedestrian
arcades; a city of roofs built as "windscoops" to direct breezes into each room; huts
made of decorative woven matting, some with vegetal roofs; decorative pidgeoncotes
to facilitate fertilizer production; aerated vermin-proof granaries; streets shaded by
mats and vines, high structures built of grass.
The know-how of the anonymous builder shown here presents the a major untapped
source of architectural inspiration for industrial man. The wisdom derived goes beyond
economic and esthetic solutions that press on our wasteful modern mechanical
solutions. In the author's words, It touches on the "increasingly troublesome problem of
how to live and let live, how to keep peace with one's neighbors" while dealing with
the diminishing natural resources we all must share.
Here is Green Design before it was invented -- again. Here is Civic Design
and indeed Urban Design when few except Rudofsky recognized it.
This book of arresting images and informed ideas may stir you to speculate:
What might simple ingenuity forge for us in our low-energy future?
Thompson Design Group Inc.
Boston, MA 02210