Architecture’s Vernacular In A Post-COVID-19 World

The COVID-19 Plague will deeply impact the world of aesthetics. For the first time since League of Nations was founded, a future of universal aesthetics may cease to be the academically sanctioned Architectural Canon. As Markus Breitschmid defines it, in his article “In Defense of the Validity of the ‘Canon’ in Architecture,” the Canon in Architecture is a way to divorce architecture from the rest of the world:

“The ’Canon in Architecture’ buttresses the autonomy of architecture in two ways. For one thing, it structures our thinking about architecture per se. Secondly, it enables us to contemplate architecture autonomously (’architecture through architecture’)”.

This “Canon in Architecture” is increasingly tone-deaf as each of us are forced, right now in sequestration, to see our world from our own individual places, rather than “the autonomy of architecture”. Each of us has always had our own vernacular, our own aesthetic language, now our culture may be rediscovering that in our isolation. This realization counters a century of “Canon”.

Before the end of World War I, the world had coexisting architectural vernaculars, such as The Prairie School of America, The Amsterdam School of the Netherlands, Gothic Revival of England, and the Arts and Crafts Movement centered in the materials and craftsmanship of scores of individual cultures. In addition, there was a nascent idea of a “Modernist” vision of architecture in central Europe.

With the full realization of the Industrial Revolution, things changed by 1920.  A Brave New “One World” imperative fostered expressions attempting an Architectural Esperanto throughout the world and, “The International Style” soon became Canon.  In 1927, Le Corbusier famously wrote in his book “Towards a New Architecture” that “Our world is strewn with the detritus of dead epochs”. For the last 100 years, this effort at universality morphed into “Modernism”. Defining a universal language of building is just part of what some aspire to build. That perspective is neither “Right” nor “Wrong”, but the exclusivity of the last century’s Canon is inevitably incomplete as it shortchanges our latent diversity.

The world is having its collective nose rubbed in each locus: that idiosyncrasy will change: the way all of us see the world, and that perception is not controlled by any Canon. Each of us is being force-fed our idiosyncrasies while everyone sequesters in situ.

I submit to you nine architects from all over the United States, their words, and their projects.

“The pandemic of today calls into question the dominance of a century of architecture’s disregard for the history, climate, and material realities of any given place. The hygienic selling point of the International Style movement – our architectural Canon – has turned out to be nothing more than snake oil. We have ‘paved paradise’ to put up gleaming steel, glass, and concrete forms in which most of us now live in fear of deadly superbugs. The future of architecture will require a reconciliation with history and place. We must renew our commitment to the legacy of craft and invention of previous generations and our abiding regard for the meaningfulness of place.” — George Ranalli