What do we do with this sacred inheritance? We feed it remorselessly into the maw of the Machine to get a hundred or a thousand for one as well as it can do it – a matter of ubiquity and ignorance – lacking all feeling, and call it progress.
Our “technique” may therefore be said to consist in reproduction, imitation, ubiquity. A form of prostitution other ages were saved from, partly because it was foolish to imitate by hand the work of another hand. The hand was not content. The machine is quite content. So are the millions who now have as limitations bearing no intimate relation to their human understanding, things that were once the very physiognomy of the hearts and minds – say the souls of those whose love of life they reflected.
We love life, we Usonians as much as any people? Is it that we are now willing to take it in quantity too – regardless of inferior quality and take all as something canned – long ago?
One may live on canned food quite well – But can a nation live a canned life in all but the rudimentary animal expressions of that life? Indefinately?
Canned Poetry, Canned Music, Canned Architecture, Canned Recreation. All canned by the Machine.
I doubt it, although I see it going on around me. It has its limits. We must have the technique to put our love of life in our own way into the things of our life using for our tool the machine to our own best advantage – or we will have nothing living in it all – soon.
How to do it?
Well! How does any one master tools? By learning the nature of them and, by practice, finding out what and how they do what they do best – for one thing.
Let architects first do that with the Machine. Architects are or must be masters of the industrial means of their era. They are, or must be – interpreters of the love of life in their era.
They must learn to give it expression in the background for that life – little by little, or betray their office. Either that or their power as normal high-priests of civilization in a Democracy will never take its place where it is so badly needed. To be a mason, plasterer, carpenter, sculptor, or painter won’t help architects much – now.
They may be passing from any integral relation to life as their architecture, a bad form of surface decoration superficially applied to engineering or buildings would seem to indicate and their function go to something other and else. An embarrassment of riches, in the antique, a deadly facility of the moment, a poly-got people – the necessity of “ready-made” architecture to clothe the nakedness of steel frames decently or fashionable, the poisonous taste of the period; these alibis have conspired with architects to land us where we all are at the mercy of the Machine. Architects point with pride to what has happened. I can not – I see in it nothing great – at least nothing noble. It is as sorry waste as riches ever knew. We have every reason to feel ashamed of what we have to show for our “selves” in any analysis that goes below the skin.
A kind of skin disease is what most architecture is now as we may view it today. At lease it never is organic. It has no integrity except as a “composition.” And modern artists, except architects ceased to speak of “composition” long ago.
Fortunately, however there is a growing conviction that architecture is something not in two dimensions – but with a third and that third dimension in a spiritual sense may be interpreted as the integral quality in the thing or that quality that makes it integral.
The quality of life in man-made “things” is as it is in trees and plants and animals, and the secret of character in them which is again “style” is the same. It is a materialization of spirit.
To put it baldly – Architecture shirks the machine to lie to itself about itself and in itself, and we have Architecture for Architecture’s sake. A sentimental absurdity. Such “Architecture,” being the buildings that were built when men were workmen – and materials and tools were otherwise – instead of recognizing Architecture as a great living Spirit behind all that – a living spirit that left those forms as noble records of a seed time and harvest other than ours, thrown up on the shores of Time, in passing. A Spirit living still only to be denied and belied by us by this academic assertion of ours that they are that spirit. Why make so foolish an assertion? I have asked the question in many forms of many architects in many places and always had to answer myself. For there is no philosophy back of the assertion other than a denial or a betrayal – that will hold together. Instead there is a doctrine of Expediency fit only for social opportunists and speculative builders or “schools.” There is no other sense in it.
The Machine does not complain – It goes on eating it all up and crying continually for more.
Where is more coming from? We have already passed through nearly every discovered “period” several times forward and gone backward again, to please the “taste” of a shallow present.
It would seem, now, time to take the matter seriously as an organic matter and study its vitals – in a sensible way.
Why not find out what Nature is in this matter. And be guided by Principles rather than Expedients? It is the young man in architecture who will do this. It is too late for most successful practitioners of today to recover from their success. These essays are addressed to that young man.