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Lost Architectures [Paperback]

Neil Spiller


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Review

"This is an opportunity to glimpse some of the most exciting, yet hitherto hidden, work that has been produced by a broad range of architects, many of whom have since achieved recognition and acclaim, but some of whom remain in relative obscurity. It is also an essential document that preserves for prosterity projects which might otherwise have been truly lost in the course of time."
––Architectural Design, April 2001

From the Back Cover

This book stands in opposition to the popular notion that the best architecture is built on compromise. Rather, Neil Spiller argues, the most original and brave products of the architectural mind are often to be found in those projects which, for whatever reason, never came to fruition.
Lost Architectures presents an array of such projects from the last decades of the twentieth century, consituting the unrealised dreams of some of the most inspirational architects working in the period. Most of the projects featured here have seldom, if ever, been published before, and some represent the last hand–drawn work of their creators before the age of the computer finally came into full force. Whilst they do not follow any specific style, these projects embody a spirit defined by Spiller as New Romanticism – a spirit which combines elements of aesthetic decadence and a certain camp mannerism with a love of angularity and mechanised ritual.
Some of the architects in question are still in practice, with a great deal of high–profile built work behind them; others have never been recognised as they perhaps should have been. In both cases, this book is an invaluable resource of information and inspiration for students of architecture, as well as for theorists, historians and lay readers. It provides essential exposure for a range of work of great vitality which might otherwise risk being lost in the course of time.

About the Author

NEIL SPILLER is a practising architect and Director of the Diploma/M/Arch (Architecture) course at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London. He lectures around the world and his work has been exhibited and published worldwide. He is the author of the monograph, Maverick Deviations (Wiley–Academy, 1999), as well as co–author with Peter Cook of The Power of Contemporary Architecture (Wiley–Academy, 1999), and has collaborated on several issues of the journal Architectural Design, co–editing Architects in Cyberspace (1995) and editing Integrating Archtecture (1996) and Architects in Cyberspace II (1998).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

VISIONS OF SPLENDOUR

Time moves fast in architecture and as technology takes its toll on architectural production, it moves ever faster. Quite often the only in-depth analysis of projects takes place in architectural schools. However, most students in any architectural school were born only a quarter of a century before their architectural education is complete. This means students have short memories as well as being blown hither and thither by the vicissitudes of fashion. This book seeks to excavate some of the more esoteric, idiosyncratic and iconoclastic work of the end of the last century: end of century architectural decadence, one might say. The less insightful architectural histories of this period would wager that the last two decades of the twentieth century will be remembered for late modernism, the flowering of High-tech and the brief abomination of architectural Post-Modernism, with a bit of folding, deconstruction and topological morphosis thrown in. But this simple view of these decades is too easy, too exclusive, too pandering to the establishment and too smooth.

The projects in this book are ones that the flow of capital has often never wetted; it has sometimes sniffed them a little bit but ultimately ignored them. How do we lose architectural projects? Architects are educated on dreams and a non-muddy optimism. The architect's lot is often one of extreme effort and ultimate disappointment. Disappointment because of the job got away, the fruitlessness of competitions or the sadness of the serene beauty of the stillborn student thesis or a theoretical project. In a sense to build is to admit failure, to cast beautiful ideas to the dogs of capitalism and the inertia of specification and budget. Some will tell you that on compromise is the only true architecture built. This is hogwash. This book is part of the missing architectural story at the end of the second millennium. It contains some of the work that was influential at the time but that didn't get its authors a knighthood, urban task forces, RIBA Gold medals, attract well-healed clients or earn its creators large bucks.

In academic circles people become obsessed with the 'criteria of assessment' of architectural work. It might be useful to state mine for this book. Firstly, I liked the work at the time, secondly, I still like it, thirdly, the work is not as well published, as it should be, fourthly and finally, the work is brave. Above all I value bravery, originality and bloody minded achievement whether it is seeing the heroic drawing through to the end, or in dancing with unfamiliar ideas, or in expanding the limitations of architectural discourse. These then are the parameters that mould my appreciation of projects generally but specifically the work in this book. This history is just as exclusive as all others, just as prejudiced as all others and above all not exhaustive. It is an offering that might just be seen as an antidote for high-tech giants, post-modern demons and decon divas. This period was extraordinarily diverse and fecund. The work in this book is mostly unfettered by the computer, in a lot of cases it is the last hand drawn work of some architects, and therefore still maintains the immediacy of blank paper and the visceral dance of friction and drawing.

The sophist tourniquets and corsets of axe-grinding polemicists are forever tightening on this most eventful period. For some what was argued was that the zeitgeist of the time was not loose enough, succulent enough, thrilling enough, theatrical enough or enough of an architectural 'hit'.

After the summer of Punk, the Sex Pistols' river trip, for a whole generation, my generation, nothing was the same again. A generation of iconoclasts, a generation of choice, a generation demanding choice, hedonistic choice above all, a generation caught in an internalised selfish spectacle. At the beginning of the eighties, modernism was pronounced as in good health by most commentators. But in small enclaves and niches (it must be said mostly in London) modernism was not getting the sort of house room it was used to. In fact it was often pushed out of the door into the acid rain where it huddled defensively, offering little in its defence apart from capitalist self-righteousness. In my opinion it never recovered, it never came in from the cold again.

As Peter York, the self-styled style guru, commented to an Architectural Association audience sometime in 1981,'In the midst all withdrawal, there is the ongoing theme - modern, deluded, nutty romantic - of the search for Authenticity. In the midst of the pastiche, people look for Authenticity. They're dead set on the authenticity trail, looking for experience ripped live from the carcass. I really do think that is why those American shock-horror films are so much a part of high culture now. The search for Authenticity along with technical withdrawal, and the acceptance that neither is completely the answer, but living quite comfortably with the contradictions...'

Caught between the poles of the glorification of technology for its own sake, pastiche and purity of functional form was a very virulent form of architectural perversity. Its beginning was shaky, sketchy and masked within an existing modernist rant. But it gestated into a confident, mature and diverse body of work that with hindsight seems to have been left by the wayside as again the technological imperative, late modernism and a sort of a playschool art aesthetic that sees popular as nothing but good replaced it.

This is a resource for students of architecture, those still studying and those who follow its form, it contains documentary evidence of the existence of something else, something that had a vitality of its own and the arrogance to flamboyantly clothe itself. Its proponents are still out there, waiting. I hope poised ready. Some even building - good God.

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