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Colin Rowe Memorial/Interview-John Hejduk, Robert Slutzky

via Philip Handler


The following is an excerpt from an interview with Colin Rowe from
AS I WAS SAYING: Recollections and Miscellaneous Essays by Colin Rowe

…and how do you define “Modern Architecture”? 

CR: I had hope that this question was not going to arise. For “Modern Architecture” is a very slippery and eel-like concept. I was given a quote from Nietzsche the other day. It is to the effect that only that which has no history is capable of definition; and, therefore how to define “Modern Architecture” –wich was, intrinsically, and attempt to render obsolete the contingencies of the time? I would suggest that “Modern Architecture” was an approach to building which was penetrated by the sentiment of modernity; and, then, I would suggest that this sentiment also represented a highly odd collection of ideas. It involved (did it not?) fantasies about progress, science, and emancipation. It also involved (certainly?) further fantasies about organism, evolution, and the structure of time. So some of these fantasies were French and some were German. Some relate to the famous seventeenth century querelle and some relate to Sturm und Drang. So, perhaps, the French sentiments involve ideas of precision, and the German, ideas of continuity and the social fabric. But this must be overgeneralized. From Denise Scott-Brown I have annexed the term physics envy (apart from being amusingly Freudian, it possibly, descended from Decartes, via Turgot, Saint-Simon, and Auguste Comte); and then, from David Watkin, the term Zeigeist worship, which displays a mostly German origin. So the idea that architecture should be an “exact science” (like an imaginary version of physics) and the further idea that it should be an emanation of “spirit of the age” are, evidently, at variance. The two demands are not compatible. In no way can the “exact” be made so abruptly and ally of the “cloudy”; and, if Karl Marx was able to do this, then so much the worse (so much the ridiculous) for Karl Marx and, also, for “Modern Architecture”. But the sentiment of modernity is something so virulent and so much extremely still with us that it is apt to defy analysis. It is crazy sentiment of course; but isn´t it all the more potent for that reason?