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News Archive

No Excuse for "Just Following Orders"

On 15 March 2012, architect and new urbanist Andrés Duany talked about his forthcoming book Heterodoxia Architectonica. The following is a report on the lecture by Matthew Hardy, founding INTBAU Secretary.

Describing Palladio's I Quattro Libri as an "office brochure" gave an appropriately irreverent beginning to a rollicking survey of the Orders and their application since the Renaissance. Introducing some of the themes of his forthcoming book, Heterodoxia Architectonica, due out later this year, Duany cites Summerson's idea of "the classical language of architecture" as a key influence on his approach. Using this idea as a guide, the book will argue that the 5 Roman Orders are in effect what amounts to 'standard English' for classicists. But Duany argues that just as so much of the liveliness and poetry of language comes from vernacular language, which in time "bubbles up into standard English", so today's classicists must learn to broaden their appreciation of the "energy and expressiveness of idiom from the vernacular". Sincerity of the author, Duany argues, is key to separating kitsch (insincere) from vernacular (sincere).


The rest of the talk, as we can in due course expect of the book, was a lively and acute history of some 250 versions of the Orders taken from the work of leading architects from Gilly - the architect tasked with expressing the power of the Prussian empire - to the Prairie School, where architects had to cope with demands for openings far wider than the 'standard' rules would allow. Controversially, Duany claims for classicism a number of 20th century architects, hitherto claimed by Pevsner as "pioneers of Modern design". Detailed analysis of intercolumniation, proportions and other elements, he says, show that Mies van der Rohe, the early Corbusier, Gropius and others were all addressing the 'studied connection between column and beam" that Duany argues is the foundation of the Orders.

The lecture finished with Duany's version of the Parallel of the Orders, which he agreed reminded him of "the bar scene from Star Wars" that famously included "a lot of different genetic material but still communicating with each other". This he noted was in contrast to gatherings of Modernist architects, who due to each creating their own rules, could never compare their work and thus had nothing to talk about in each others' presence. We look forward to the appearance of Heterodoxia Architectonica, which if nothing else, is very likely to promote a lively debate about what we might call, in contrast to Christopher Alexander, 'the nature of Orders'.

- Matthew Hardy