By Michael R. Ytterberg I am the architect of a prominent addition to our city, Symphony House, which has recently been both praised and vilified in The Inquirer.
By Michael R. Ytterberg
I am the architect of a prominent addition to our city, Symphony House, which has recently been both praised and vilified in The Inquirer.
Symphony House, beautiful and proud, is its own best defense, but the charges made in these pages of "fakery" of various kinds raise the issue of what counts as rational criteria for the judgment of appropriate development in our city ("Nightmare on Broad Street," Oct. 26). Several points regarding truthfulness in architecture run behind most of the criticism, and all, I believe, are irrational and naïve. However, only the main issue can be addressed here.
Inga Saffron, The Inquirer's architecture critic, asserts that buildings should be "of their times" and that any other way of building is somehow false. This common notion, sometimes called the Zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, holds that each and every great moment in history is characterized by a homogenous society whose material culture expresses a unity of vision. Unfortunately, the historical examples of this phenomenon are the traditional societies of the world, including Western nations from the Renaissance on, which oppressed their own citizens to form cohesive units in a desperate struggle for domination with competing cultural groups.
For example, the ancient Greeks spoke Greek, ate Greek food, worshiped Greek gods, built Greek buildings, etc., and called everyone else barbarians. However, I believe that if modernity means anything, if it has any progressive promise, then it must be the freedom of the individual to live his or her life as he or she sees fit. This individual freedom surely extends to the buildings we erect in which to live our lives.
Architectural eclecticism was a natural outgrowth of modern conditions that the proponents of Modernism have been fighting since the 18th century. Philadelphia is a veritable showcase of this development. This is one sense in which Modernism paradoxically reveals itself as an anti-modern project.
Much more can and should be said about the issue of truthfulness in architecture. But I have endeavored to show that it is our diversity that makes us modern. The joyous outpouring of the citizens of a diverse society is reflected in an equally diverse eclecticism in the physical form of the city they create and inhabit: a city called Philadelphia.