Architectural Education in the United States - 1961


The below text is a lecture given by Paul Rudolph that was broadcast originally by the Voice of America, from the Architecture Series of the Forum Lectures. Rudolph was one of twelve architects who spoke, and the series included other notable architects and educators such as Henry-Russell Hitchcock , Vincent Scully, Philip Johnson, R. Buckminster Fuller, Louis Kahn and Minoru Yamasaki.

[Note: in transcribing this text, we have retained most of the grammar, spelling, capitalization, and construction.]


Architectural Education in the United States

Louis Sullivan took considerable delight in poking fun at all academies, but he never made it very clear just what an architectural student should do; he was against whatever it was that was being done in the academies. Mr. Wright followed him in this, as he did in so many other ways. Indeed, at my first meeting with Wright, which took place at Princeton where I was serving as a visiting critic, he summarily dismissed me by stating all architects who undertook to teach were prostitutes. The truly creative American architects of the last century were in full revolt against all academies and felt that the apprenticeship system was far superior. It was not until 1938, when Walter Gropius arrived in the United States, that a comprehensible alternate was formulated. This alternate is now the established academy and in turn is being questioned.

Today architectural education in the United States is pursued in concert with the practice of architecture. The divorce between action and teaching is ended. This means, among other things, that the leading schools are subjected to constantly changing cross currents; of changing sensibilities of architects themselves and architectural students; of the barrage of technical developments by industry ; by the architectural press ; and by the constant pressures of specialists such as the structural, mechanical, civil, acoustical, and lighting engineers on the one hand, and the art and architectural historians on the other. The abdication of the architect to the planner in matters pertaining to large-scale, three-dimensional design has created a special and urgent problem, for the planner has clearly demonstrated that he is finally more interested in methodology than three-dimensional realities.

In short, the architect and the architectural student are surrounded in school and out of it by a veritable chorus of specialists clamoring for more attention for their particular specialty. Indeed, as the process of building becomes increasingly more complicated, the architect is challenged in his traditional role.

Against such a background the architectural student is surprisingly aware of changing forces and he is, indeed, often a definitive weather vane. There are always a few gifted students, as yet unencumbered by the more mundane considerations, who can cut through current thought and intuitively suggest verbally and graphically new and valid possibilities. Of course, this is in no way a substitute for the rare architect who builds in such a manner as to change the course of architecture, but the fact remains that often the gifted student is able to anticipate the future. It can be argued that he detects sham, caprice, and the merely fashionable more quickly than his elders, who are so intensely involved and harried that mere habit dominates.

The phenomenon of the brilliant architectural student, without much if any help from his teachers, arriving at new and valid points of departure is the architectural equivalent of children's painting. Just as children are seldom able to carry into adult life the immediacy and essential quality of their early untutored work, most architectural students lose their way when confronted with problems of translating the great conception into three-dimensional reality. Various maladies, flaws and omissions in architectural theory and education become glaringly obvious. Paralyzing fears grip the apprentice architect, and usually he settles down into someone else's office, allowing the required three-year apprenticeship to extend indefinitely. By the time he has faced up to the various problems of building, he has lost his ability to think creatively ; frustration, lethargy, and newly acquired personal responsibilities prevent him from making that contribution which seemed so imminent as an architectural student.

The question, of course, may be asked, "Why don't the schools prepare their graduates more adequately for the apprenticeship years?" There are fortunately varied kinds of schools in the United States, some specializing in architectural design, others taking the attitude that they are training architectural draftsmen, and that the architects will develop .continuity within their own firms. Courses vary from Yale and Harvard's eight-year course, not counting the three-year apprenticeship in an architectural office, to five years at most accredited schools in the United States. The schools with longer training periods do not spend more time in the pursuit of architectural studies, but rather require bachelor degrees in the humanities. The variety of different kinds of schools in the United States is of inestimable value, but it is questionable whether or not students find the most appropriate school for their particular bent or talents. Too often it is a matter of simple geography or pocketbook. The important point is the fact that the leading schools approach architecture as a creative art, but creativity cannot be taught. However, an atmosphere and approach can be nurtured whereby the problems are defined and the student can commence the endless journey to find himself.

When architecture as a work of art is discussed with the neophyte architect, the professor, of necessity, must start with the particular set of prejudices of the architect in question. The artist always ignores certain problems, addressing himself to a selected few. He proceeds to solve these so eloquently that everyone understands the statement and its truly glorious solution. Thus, when one stands in front of the Mies Van der Rohe office building on New York City's Park Avenue, it seems absolute in its authority although countless considerations are ignored. Another set of problems are ignored at Frank Lloyd Wright's home in the desert, although it has equal authority. It is axiomatic that certain problems must be ignored if a great work of art is to be created, and in the hands of the artist this is justifiable, indeed necessary. The student of architecture takes refuge in this fact and often finds his critics stodgy because they insist that all problems be solved, or at least recognized. In a sense this is unfair, for the student feels that he too is a great artist (if unrecognized) and must be allowed the same prerogatives as the great mature architect.

This perennial problem of selection or approach to architecture seems to be aggravated by the tempo of American life. It is often said that we tire of a particular point of view and look for new sensations rather than developing more consistent threads. This is not altogether true. for we are currently reassessing the international style and many of its assumptions. The architectural philosophies, principles, and theories, complete with some fetishes of the European architecture developed. during the twenties, arrived in this country via Walter Gropius at Harvard. He did not preach a dogma but rather defined clearly a broad approach. The more gifted of his students were able to build on his teaching and indeed this is his lasting contribution to American architecture. Eventually the half-hearted measures then prevalent in most architectural schools were supplanted by Gropius' approach to architectural education. Indeed, the movement which started out as a reaction against the academies soon became the established regime. The ease with which the old died testified to its basic decay, but the relative lack of a fight also delayed the 20th century's approach to adequate and glorious development, not only in architectural education but also in buildings actually built.

By 1955 the limitations of the European architectural philosophies of the first part of the 20th century were crystal clear, but confusion had risen as to how to make more eloquent our efforts. The ever-evolving cycle in human affairs is at that point where action has outstripped ideas and theory. The last decade has thrown a glaring light on the omissions, thinness, paucity of ideas, naivete with regard to symbols, lack of creativeness and expressiveness of current architectural theories. Interestingly enough the student and layman recognize this more forcibly than many an architect.

This is certainly not an attack on the great 20th century architects who evolved what we now call modern architecture, for their efforts in retrospect seem super-human indeed. It is to say that modern architecture is still a gangling, awkward, ungracious, often inarticulate, precocious, adolescent thing, which has not yet even begun to reach full flower. There are those who would have you believe that we are now tired of those great early precepts, and that we are now at the brink of mannerism. Fortunately this is not true. We are incredibly lucky, for we have yet to see a Golden Age.

I participate in architectural education because I believe that action has indeed outstripped theory and that it is the unique task and responsibility of great universities such as Yale not only to study that which is known but, far more important, also to pierce the unknown. My passion is to participate in this unending search. Theory must again overtake action.

We, in truth, do not know how to do many things which other great period's of architecture have known. Foremost is our lack of a coherent theory with regard to how to relate one building to another, and to give meaning to the spaces between. The Ecole des Beaux Arts did have theories with regard to this, although they have little relevance to our problems. For six decades now we have damned the Chicago Fair of 1893, but they did have a comprehensible way of creating a whole. Indeed, if one compares the gyrations now being indulged in at Idlewild Airport, or the collection of the works of the world's greatest architects at Berlin's "Inter-Bau", one's vote must go to the damned Chicago Fair, no matter how brilliant may be the individual gems. The original concept of New York's Park Avenue - that of a great walled street leading to a gateway to the city, Grand Central Station—was probably a superior one to the haphazard redevelopment currently going on. This is not a plea for a return to the Ecole des Beaux Arts' concepts which no longer work, but a reminder that architects have traditionally determined three-dimensional design on the largest scale and this is still our responsibility.

We need desperately to relearn the art of disposing our buildings to create different kinds of space: the quiet, enclosed, isolated, shaded space ; the hustling, bustling space, pungent with vitality ; the paved, dignified, vast, sumptuous, even awe-inspiring space; the mysterious space; the transition space which defines, separates, and yet joins juxtaposed spaces of contrasting character. We need sequences of space which arouse one's curiosity, give a sense of anticipation, which beckon and impel us to rush forward to find that releasing space which dominates, which acts as a climax and magnet, and gives direction. Most important of all, we need those outer spaces which encourage social contact.

The new scale given by the quickly moving vehicles (they will double in fifteen years), and the whole relationship of vehicles to the space between buildings, to the building itself and to the human, presents a complex problem which cries for understanding. The architect's unique contribution has been the manipulation of inner and outer space. Our traditional concepts of space have been shattered by the automobile and the sheer bulk of our building requirements, but we should not retire to nostalgic, romantic admiration of the European square, which it is currently so fashionable to do. We have something to contribute, and our current abdication to every new specialist is demoralizing and unworthy of our profession. We must find ways of rendering our cities fit for humans, and develop the aesthetics of change. This is our first concern.

Secondly, we are searching for more eloquent relationships between the conceptual aspects of building and techniques. The range of concepts is limited now to gold-fish bowls, buildings on stilts, and the efforts of the structural exhibitionists. The feeling and respect for materials eludes most students, and one fears, some architects. The unique forms inherent in any given material and the construction process must become more clear. In this case, learning by doing probably has little validity because of the number and complexity of the various trades involved. We have almost everything, including the industrialized structure which was such a romantic favorite of the theoriest of the International Style, but we seldom know what to do with our wealth. Driving down Park Avenue is rather like flipping through the pages of a window manufacturer's catalogue. The 35% of our budget which we often spend on mechanical equipment needs reassessment. We should receive more from it than just keeping hot or cold. Structure has caught our imagination, but the mechanical equipment has ruined many fine schemes, turning our buildings into Swiss cheese. There is perhaps too much concern in architectural circles about peripheral matters and too little understanding of age-old concepts, such as fine proportions, how to get into a building, relationships of volume to volume, how to relate building to the ground, the sky, and so forth.

Third on our list of forgotten fundamentals is the concern for visual perception. An architect should be concerned with how a building looks in the rain, or on a summer day ; its profile on a misty day ; the different treatment required for that which is close at hand as opposed to that which is 20 stories removed, with angles of vision, symbolism and content.

Fourth and last on our list will be a renewed concern with visual delight. This is indeed the architect's prime responsibility, for other specialists can do everything else that he does and, quite often, much better. The public is confused as never before about the exact function of an architect, for we have gone through a long period where the specialists talked only of social responsibility, techniques, economy and the architect talked only as a coordinator. We have even apologized for being concerned with visual design. This fact is demonstrated again by the difference between a drawing, a model or a photograph, and the actual appearance of so many of our buildings.

Architectural education’s first concern is to perpetuate a climate where the student is acutely and perceptively and incessantly aware of the creative process. We must understand that after all the building committees, the conflicting interests, the budget considerations and the limitations of his fellow man have been taken into consideration, the architect's responsibility has just begun. He must understand that in the exhilarating, awesome moment when he takes pencil in hand, and holds it poised above a white sheet of paper, he has suspended there all that has gone before and all that will ever be. The creative act is all that matters.