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2007 02 26
Angle of Incident #42: Seminar 4, Rethinking the Status of the Natural, Part 3
It began with a presentation by seminarist Ricardo Wulff, who had been reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (I must remember to show them the King Vidor film), bringing it to the table as a contribution to the letter “I” in our burgeoning Alphabet of Ideas. Here is Ricardo:

The condition of having no part or element taken away or wanting; undivided or unbroken state; material wholeness, completeness, entirety. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Architectural Integrity
Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe. 1951

“What is it that I like so much about the house you’re building for me, Howard?”
“A House can have integrity, just like a person” said Roark, “and just as seldom”.
“In what way?”
“Well, look at it. Every piece of it is there because the house needs it – and for no other reason. You see it from here as it is inside. The rooms in which you’ll live made the shape. The relation of masses was determined by the distribution of space within. The ornament was determined by the method of construction, an emphasis of the principle that makes it stand. You can see each stress, each support that meets it. Your own eyes go through a structural process when you look at the house, you can follow each step, you see it rise, you know what made it and why it stands. But you’ve seen buildings with columns that support nothing, with purposeless cornices, with pilasters, moldings, false arches, false windows. You’ve seen buildings that look as if they contained a single large hall, they have solid columns and single, solid windows six floors high. But you enter and find six stories inside. Or buildings that contain a single hall, but with a façade cut up into floor lines, band courses, tiers of windows. Do you understand the difference? Your house is made by your own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive of your house is in the house. The determining motive of the others is in the audience.”

- The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Page 136 -

The above two references in many ways define modernism in its very essence. Through the process of looking inward, deep meaning is found. In a complex world full of challenges, modernism aims to find clarity through minimalism or simplicity, By reducing objects to their true essence, strong ideas are formed. More than anything else though, the value of modernism lies in its faith in the human being as an individual hero. It is from within one’s own soul that an understanding of what is right and wrong can be found.

The extreme version of this modernist attitude could be quite dangerous as we know from examples like Hitler’s vision of a perfect human race, or Mussolini’s socialist movement. The danger lies in its failure to acknowledge the gray areas in between, the exceptions to the rule, the room for error. After all, nobody is perfect. However, the human being is always changing, evolving, and there is no denying the fact that there is a need for clarity in today’s troubled environment. Perhaps it is the openness to new ideas in our process of finding clarity that will allow for the creation of successful achievements in the built world.

Ricardo soon found himself embattled. It’s late in the game to defend Rand’s brand of integrity,” but Wulff did his best.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 02/26 at 06:24 AM

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