INSTITUTE OF ENGINEERING
SUSTAINABLE PLANNING THEORY
Mr. SANJAY UPRETI
THEORETICAL ELABORATIONS ON IDEOLOGY IN PLANNING
“[_ I would say for the young: Don't be straight jacketed by ideology. Don't be driven by a structure of ideas.” -Bill Ayers _
Ideology is a system involving ideas that explains the validity to actions and ethos of a social, cultural, religious, political, or business entity. “It is the body of doctrine, myth or belief that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group” (Anon.). It is a system of ideas that aspires both to explain the world and to change it.
Future is a blend of what we now know as present and past. No human society fully knows what has actually happened through the historical process based on evidence alone. It requires perception, logics and analysis as to predict what might have taken place and what might happen. These elements in their mutual relationship give rise to ideology which has a crucial role to play in a historical account to amalgamate all these dimensions.
This article makes theoretical elaboration on the concept of ideology, studies the relationship of ideology with idea, theory, philosophy, morality, ethics and politics. It also studies the ideology behind planning of ancient cities. It then considers the stand of ideology in the modern world and attempts to seek how planning today is shaped by ideology with reference to theoretical writings and teaching from Robert Venturi.
Ideology, Logic, Theory, Philosophy, Morality, Ethics, Ideologist, Ideologue
An idea can either be a thought or an assembly of thoughts produced in the mind. An idea usually, is produced with determination, but can also be produced involuntarily. Ideas also form through discussions or during brainstorming sessions. Ideology, however, is the philosophy, belief pattern, values or doctrines belonging to an individual or group.
“The term ‘ideology’ was born in the highly controversial, philosophical and political debates and fights of the French Revolution and acquired several other meanings from the early days of the First French Empire to the present.” (Nirmala, 2012)
The word ‘ideology’ came into being when Destutt de Tracy used it to discuss to one aspect of his ‘science of ideas’ in 1796. He classified his ‘science of ideas into three 0aspects: Ideology, General Grammar and Logic directed respectively towards Subject, the means and the reason of this science. He took to referring to ‘ideology’ to be the most general and broad term because of the fact that the ‘science of ideas’ contained the study of their interpretation and manifestation.
He referred to ‘ideas’ as science capable of providing a logical framework to those fascinated towards the study of ideas and those towards criticizing it. The term, however, has been challenged and has become a concept susceptible to change. The term ‘ideology’ also refers to mutually dependent ideas, notions, doctrines, conducts, congregations and even legends that serve as a predictable stand point. The predictable ideas are vulnerable towards being taken for granted and are used in interpretation, in understanding and in guiding values towards a particular direction against those of other ideologies.
In social studies and the humanities, the concept of ideology is defined in different, sometimes equivalent and variant, but sometimes also contradictory ways: 1) ideology is the sum of all positive and pragmatic beliefs, values, modes of behaviour and0 acting shared by a group of theorists or agents, that is, members of culture or a specific distinguished formation within the framework of culture; 2) ideology is the sum of all the misconceptions, false beliefs, and effects of illusions shared by the members of a social stratum, class, nation, political party, a specific culture or world of art, which projects a possible, actual, and current world of existence; 3) ideology is the sum of all the symbolic and imaginary, arbitrary and artificial effects produced by the media system in places of expected reality, ideology posits us as objects among objects of consumption, seduction, and ecstasy, that is, ideology becomes, by means of its media realisation, a techno-multiplied new reality (hyperreality); 4) in its essence, ideology is a phantasmatic construction serving to prop up our reality, in other words, it is an illusion that structures effective social relations and hides traumatic social divisions or confrontations that cannot be symbolised, therefore its function is to provide us with a bearable social reality (Vladimir Mako, 2014).
A study of ideology bring with itself terms such as ‘ideologist’ and ‘ideologue.’ An ideologue is one who adheres to an ideology and has, in the vey adherence, an element of inflexibility and dogmatism contained. An ideologist, however, is one who interprets and develops ideology and is pragmatic.
Theory on the other hand, is a generalization of concepts and are proven to be true. It is an outcome of analysis. A theory needs to be analyzed before being proposed and there is transparency in a theory. A theory serves as a tool of analysis in understanding, explaining and making of predictions of a given concept. It generally deals with the logical aspects of something and tells us what it is, though oftentimes does not include the practical aspect. It explains a phenomenon. Unlike theories, Ideologies are beliefs or thoughts of people in a community and may or may not be experimented concepts. Consciousness of people are result of ideologies. People’s behaviors. too, are sometimes guided by the kind of ideologies they hold. Ideologies may consciously or unconsciously be existent in a person’s mind and may be the governing set of ideas in a particular community that the person lives. They are, generally, results of socialization but can also be generated in a person’s mind and has a possibility of being antagonistic to the very society’s perspective of it. Ideology belonging to a particular society are upheld by the dominant party dwelling in and are capable of influencing the common people. Since, it is not a result of analysis or that of evidence or logics, it is difficult to prove that ideologies are false. Theories, however, enjoy a logical, evidence-based and analytical platform and can be proven false with evidence. Ideologies are responsible for shaping a community while theories are responsible for explaining the existing phenomena. Both ideologies and theories prevail almost in all societies and provide meaning to human life explaining the true landscape of the contextual incidents.
A five-part classification of planning theories is discussed under the heuristic rubric of SITAR, covering the Synoptic, Incremental, Transactive, Advocacy, and Radical schools of planning thought. Comparison is made of their relative strengths and weaknesses, revealing ways they are often complementary, but often strongly at odds. Contradictions among them are not seen to be deficiencies in the theories themselves, but reflections of homologous tensions and contradictions in society at large. Parallel application of more than one theory is usually necessary for arriving at valid, three-dimensional perspectives on social issues and appropriate action implications. An ideology, however, can be broadly classified as political, social, cultural, scientific and so on; while enjoying an spectrum to be classified on several other basis.
Ideology also contrasts with philosophy in certain manner. While philosophy attempts to understand life and the principles governing it and does so adhering to pragmatic approach, ideology merely attempts to continuing its existence and at some point advocating it. The advocacy may, sometimes, have in it, a hope of getting things improved or enhancing the current state of affairs. Philosophy makes peace with the existing world trying to understand it as it exists while ideology may also be directed towards a vision for the future and towards changing the current state of affairs. Philosophy is objective, aware and flexible while ideology is dogmatic, stubborn and rigid. Once fixed, ideology refuses to change regardless of the changes in the environment. Philosophy is open to challenge and positively perceives it while ideology turns a blind eye to challenge. It may, sometimes, even be repellent to challenges. It’s in a philosopher’s interest to arrive on a build for the basis of life and other things but it will also be in his interest to discuss and ponder the philosophies. A philosopher’s willingness to listen to criticism makes him open-minded. An ideologue, on the other hand, will disprove anything challenging his ideology. It can be thus, propagated that philosophy encourages one to think, to think beyond the established patterns of thoughts while ideology also discourages any thinking that goes against the basic principles governing it. Philosophy requires regulated thought. So is not the case with ideology. An ideology has lots of emotions in play. Philosophy, however, is neither harmful, nor helpful for there is no advocacy or greed or any material greed behind it. An ideology, on the contrary, is capable of bringing both good and harm to the society. It is because of its limited or no concern on serving universal interests like philosophy. Ideology demands someone to advocate it and to convert other beliefs and thoughts to that particular ideology. Every ideology, however, has philosophy giving birth to it.
Similar differences and contrasts can be found between ideology and ethics. Moral values guiding a person’s behavior is knows as ethics. While ethics is the study of ethical principles, ideology is more of an inherent value and less of a study. Morality on the other hand are intrinsic values inherent in a person. Ideology rests upon morality. The ideology of a person is a result of the sort of moral realms he believes in.
There also lies a distinction between politics and ideology. “In the most general sense, politics may be defined as the sum of all pragmatic social practices and institutions whereby a social relationship or order is realized. Some theorists distinguish between politics and the political. The political is then defined as the multiplicity of all the antagonisms that constitute human society. Politics denotes social confrontation and attempting to resolve those social antagonisms, i.e. attempting to resolve the political, which constitutes society. In political and cultural terms, an ideology is a relatively coherent and determined set of ideas, symbolic conceptions, values, beliefs and forms of thought, behaviors, expressions, presentations, and actions, shared by the members of a particular social group, political party, state institution, ethnic or gender group, or class of society. Therefore, ideology has the character of identificatory representation and perception. The ideology of an individual is the way s/he perceives her/himself as a singular subject in the context of her/his society, a subject in a community, the community as a subject, and therefore life itself, nature, and the world as phenomena for the subject” (Vladimir Mako, 2014).
Karl Mannheim in historical reconstruction of the meaning-shifts of ideology says that ‘ideology’ in modern terms is used as was born when the politician Napolean Bonaparte, used it to abuse ‘the ideologues’, upon their opposing him.
“Following Marx, Louis Althusser redefined ‘ideology’ as a representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. A specific ideology has its material existence because it is a socially active representation. From this materialistic ground, Althusser derived the following conclusions: a) every practice is enabled by ideology and unfolds via ideology and b) ideology exists only from the subject and for the subject. In that sense, ideology is a system of representations that carries out the interpellation of individuals as subjects vis-à-vis their real social conditions: Ideology is a ‘Representation’ of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to their Real Conditions of Existence.3 Lacanian theoretical psychoanalysis, a step further from Althusser, has pointed out that the role of ideology is not to offer the subject an escape point from her/his reality, but to offer her/him social reality itself as an escape from a real traumatic kernel in the midst of human life. For, according to Lacan, a phantasm is not something that opposes reality, but the last support for that which is called reality. For instance, according to Slavoj Žižek: Ideology is not a dreamlike illusion hat we build to escape insupportable reality; in its basic dimension it is a fantasy-construction which se.0rves as a support for our ‘reality’ itself: an ‘illusion’ which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernel.” (Vladimir Mako, 2014).
Cities earlier used to be a result of popular ideologies of that of individual planners and architects which in the time run used to gain popularity to give rise to a mass ideology. Howard, in ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow’ wanted to design an alternative to the overcrowded and polluted industrial cities of the turn of the century, and his solution centered on creating smaller ‘garden cities’, with 32,000 people each, in the country linked by canals and transit and set in a permanent greenbelt. His scheme included vast open space, with the aim of giving urban slum-dwellers the best of both city and country living. He captioned the above diagram, ‘A Group of smokeless, Slumless Cities.’
Le Corbusier, in his visualization of ‘The Radiant Cities’ was trying to find a fix for the same problems of urban pollution and overcrowding, but unlike Howard, he envisioned building up, not out. His plan, also known as ‘Towers in the Park,’ proposed exactly that: numerous high-rise buildings each surrounded by green space. Each building was set on what planners today would derisively refer to as ‘superblocks,’ and space was clearly delineated between different uses which includes housing, the business center, factories and warehouses. Le Corbusier’s ideas later reappeared in the design of massive public housing projects in the U.S. in the era of ‘urban renewal.’
America’s 1785 Land Ordinance divided most of the country’s unsettled interior west of the Ohio River into a neat grid of townships 6 square miles in size, each containing 36 square-mile parcels of land for the kind of agrarian, land-owning society. Its effects still linger in all those perfectly perpendicular roads and square farms. Frank Lloyd Wright, in his vision to design the Broadacre City, took the geometry of this rural grid even further in his vision for a utopia with each family living on an acre of its own. That level of density would have essentially spread suburbia over the entire country.
The Street Grid Concept refers to the simple, rational street grid that has been a default choice of planners for centuries, one that was widely discarded in the U.S. in the 1950s as we moved into suburbs and cul-de-sacs. The 1811 Commissioner’s Plan for Manhattan tried to establish a strict street grid for the development of the rest of the island. Several decades later, this 1852 map of San Francisco did the same, conveniently ignoring the city’s irregularly shaped coastline and topography.
Planners increasingly talk today about issues involving transportation, the economy and the environment not at the scale of communities or cities, but within whole regions where multiple metros link together. The ‘Megaregion’ concept isn’t new, though. This 1961 map from Jean Gottman’s book Megalopolis illustrates one continuous Northeastern Megaregion from Washington, D.C., to Boston.
Transects have been used by planners as a visual tool to divide landscapes into multiple uses. This particular one, created by architect Andres Duany, illustrates the rural-to-urban gradation between nature and dense urban zones and has become a popular framework among New Urbanists.
As cities came to fill with skyscrapers in the early 20th century, planners turned their interest from the layout and footprint of neighborhoods at street level to the volume of buildings as they rose toward the sky. New zoning laws called ‘The Setback Principle’ in New York City in 1916 from which the above diagram comes required buildings to grow narrower the taller they got, so that daylight would still reach the streets below.
This 1748 map of Rome was created by Giambattista Nolli. It doesn’t look particularly exceptional today, but Nolli’s map established the now common practice of portraying entire cities from above without a single focal point, every block being viewed instead as if the cartographer were directly above it. The resulting image highlights the shape of the city’s street network and its development patterns.
Situationists artists and architects from the 1950s sought to capture the city as it was experienced by actual people, not as it was designed from the top down by architects and planners. At the time, they were revolting against modernist urban renewal plans. Their approach helped give way to a new emphasis in planning on bottom-up citizen experience and input. The above 1961 map from MIT’s Kevin Lynch resulted from a project asking people to map the city of Boston from memory, revealing essentially the most ‘memorable’ parts of the city. Maps today built from Four Square Checkins, Twitter traffic or bike share stem from this same tradition.
The Hockey Stick has little to do with urban planning. This famous image from climate scientist Michael Mann illustrates the spike in temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. SPUR ends its exhibition with this diagram to draw attention to the link between ‘smart growth’ and climate change. ‘That has become really the organizing narrative of planning in the 21st Century,’ Grant says, ‘The idea that there’s a connection between the shape of cities and the patterns of settlement and their climate impact is so powerful. So many other ideas can be sort of subsumed within that narrative.’
Ideology aspires to claim a self-evident condition. Ideology so completely defines reality that we have trouble imagining that our view of reality could be anything else. The result is that the meaning we assign to things such as a building, appear true, natural, and self-evident. When we purchase the typical suburban house there is little confusion as to where the living room is located even though there are no signs hanging on the walls telling where to place the sofa. If we went to a ranch house and saw people furnishing the living room like a bedroom we would claim the occupants were confused and bordering on an unnatural act. Ideology, which we can view as a veil that lies in front of us, aspires to be transparent so that the connection between a particular meaning and an object is obvious and the role that ideology plays in maintaining the arbitrary assignment of meaning is not visible. However, this aspiration for transparency can only be a partial explanation. When we claim a building has an aura that makes it architecture, what we are “seeing” is the reflection of our ideology in the veil. The veil is also a mirror! (Anon., 2016)
‘What we perceive when we look at a building and declare it to be great architecture is most likely not the actual form of the structure and its spatial organization that is in our sight, but the veil that is our shared beliefs about what is great architecture. The veil is a mirrored surface that reflects back the image our ideology has constructed. We do not see the space-time continuum, but a reflection of ourselves.’
As far as planning of ancient city is concerned, Germany can be one. Government actions in National Socialist Germany can be divided into the Period of National Recovery and the First Four Year Plan. During the Recovery Years the national government focused upon such critical issues as job creation and housing production. Particular planning emphasis was devoted to the objectives of ruralisation, the creation of a permanent peasant class and the creation of new forms of community. All three objectives resounded with strong ideological overtones. At the same time, urban renewal, expansion of urban infrastructures and urban land re-parcelisation received relatively little emphasis. Yet it would be misleading to conclude that the Folkish ideology was so strong that it took precedence over all factors influencing the various planning objectives. A review of the ideological inputs leads to the conclusion that there was not just one ideology at work but many, and that they were often in conflict. This becomes clear when the ideas of Feder and Darr are contrasted with those of Hitler. Feder and Darre, as spokesmen for ruralization, argued for the dissolution of the city and for the decentralization of industry. Their ideas contributed to the development of the Erbhofsgesetz (Hereditary Farm ~aw)" and the Siedlungsgesetz.’ While Hitler as Chancellor supported these programs, he was also promoting ideas which were designed to improve the majority of Germany's largest cities. These cities were to enhance the image of the state through the development of new plazas, sports arenas, party buildings and cultural edifices. Berlin, Nuremberg and Munich, in particular, were chosen to receive attention.12 Thus, it is clear that, as extensive as the rhetoric of anti-urbanism was, it did not result in the total rejection of the city as a community form.
‘By the mid-1930s, the economic revival, the rising spectrum of militarism and the need to expand industrial technology, all led to a de-emphasis of ruralisation as a high priority of the national government. In fact, if the Recovery Years can be considered the ‘era of the country’, then the First Four Year Plan must be considered the ‘era of the city.’ The Volkische Beohachter noted this shift when it wrote: ‘We have left the stage of worker settlements, suburban developments and rural communities for comprehensive industrial development with the consequent need for industrial settlements. Today this phase is almost becoming obsolete due to the expansion of our newer middle-sized and big cities. This shift took several routes. First, there was the need to expand production for military needs, and the centers of production were primarily in urban areas. Secondly, urban housing was becoming increasingly scarce. Thirdly, there was a strong desire to remake the cities in the image of the new order. While the influence of ideology could still be found in the site planning and architectural concepts that were applied to key projects, considerations of mechanization, rationalization, production and efficiency took primacy” (MULLIN, 1982).
Above all, it was the need for the production of military materials that stimulated a renewed interest in urban areas. As early as 1935, the rising importance of military concerns could be seen in terms of domestic policies. In that year an act was passed giving the military the right to expropriate any land that it needed. At the same time, an increasingly large share of the Gross National Product (GNP) was shifted to military needs. The British economist Guillebaud labelled the shift as being ‘guns instead of houses.‘14 The results of this shift were felt in virtually all aspects of German life including city planning.
Ideology also enjoys certain interesting quotes coming out from planners and architects. The idiom ‘Devil is in the details’ means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. An older, and slightly more common, phrase ‘God is in the details’ means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. The devil version of the idiom is a variation on the God phrase, though the exact origin of both is uncertain.
Similar ideological differences can be found between seemingly opposite quotes, ‘Less is more’ and ‘less is a bore.’ If the Modernist movement could be epitomized in a single phrase, many would choose Mies van der Rohe’s succinct utterance, ‘less is more.’ The slogan came to embody the very architectural language it engendered, spawning a whole generation of architects who sought to strip back buildings to their bare essentials.
Less is a bore is a term coined by Robert Venturi, one of the major architectural figures of the twentieth century. It is associated with postmodern architecture and the return of ornate designs and expressive forms. Less is a bore is a commentary on the minimalism and highly functional forms that have dominated architecture since the 1940s. It could be considered a continuation of the highly stylized and decorative designs of classical and early 20th century architectural movements such as Art Deco. (Spacey, 2016)
Mies and many of his Modernist peers promoted the abolition of the superfluous, arguing that ornamentation was a distraction from the beauty of structural rationality, or worse still an unethical symbol of extravagance. Of course, as with any ideological action, there is a reaction, and this is where American architect Robert Venturi came in. Venturi pinpointed Mies’ sound bite as a key source of influence and countered with his own, simultaneously playful and cutting in its candor: ‘Less is a bore.’ Venturi’s instantly memorable quote its fame perhaps only surpassed by Mies’ oxymoronic original became the mantra for an entire architectural and planning movement. Postmodernism ushered in an age of warmer architecture, buildings full of character that displayed a greater sensitivity toward context, urban landscapes ingrained with more humor and humility than the earnest monuments of 20th-century Modernism.
For Venturi, this meant taking the shackles off, designing buildings that did not conform to the established rules of the Modernist manifesto. His first commission, a house for his mother Vanna Venturi, embraced this line of thinking, deliberately contradicting the formal language of Mies and more: A pitched roof was proposed in place of a flat roof; solid walls were chosen over glass; a purely ornamental appliqué arch was made the centerpiece of the front façade, referencing Mannerist rather than Modernist sentiments. Venturi argued his position with books as well as with buildings, summarizing the Postmodernist polemic in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published shortly after the Vanna Venturi House was completed. ‘Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture,’ asserted Venturi. ‘I like elements which are hybrid rather than pure, compromising rather than clear, distorted rather than straightforward. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur and proclaim duality.’
And yet, the Postmodernist movement is widely regarded by many particularly within the realm of practicing architects as a failure of the highest order. Many of its buildings are regarded as ugly, with Michael Graves’ gargantuan Portland Building frequently emerging near the top of lists chronicling the world’s most despised buildings. Critics of Postmodernistic designs argue that they are peddlers of pastiche, producing buildings defined by ill proportions and hideously brash details.
Venturi would undoubtedly laugh at such indictments, which display the same lack of humor and open-mindedness that Modernist architecture itself entails. Does architecture really need to adhere to such a narrow set of rules pertaining to composition, structure, color and texture? Venturi embraced the visceral power of design, conceiving buildings that while frequently flying in the face of rationalism would never fail to bring a smile to people’s faces. For him, this was the architecture of gentle anarchy, of free-spirited optimism, of unbridled joy.
Returning to those splitting quotes, editor of Archiobjects Luca Onniboni believes that no single mantra should drive every design decision of a planner. “Both sentences are slogans,” declares Onniboni, ‘and architecture and planning should not be made of slogans, nor should these slogans be taken as holy words.’
Despite this truth, the eternal debate between Modernistic and Postmodernistic ideologies will no doubt continue for many decades to come, a fact that will only delight Venturi, the perennial devil’s advocate of architecture.
Robert Venturi, an American architect, who helped shape the way architects, planners and students experience and think about architecture and the American built environment, is one of the major architectural figures in the twentieth century. His planning, buildings, theoretical writings, and teaching have added to the extension of dissertation about architecture and planning. His favorite place to visit is Las Vegas. It is not because he likes gambling that he goes there or because he likes drinking or going to nightclubs. What he likes about Las Vegas is its architecture. What makes that unusual is that, as Venturi willingly admits, architects are not supposed to like Las Vegas and Venturi not only spurns fellow architects’ charges that the neon‐sign Pop architecture of Las Vegas is vulgar and tasteless, he irreverently suggests that a careful study of the commercial strip of the American highway such as the one in Las Vegas may be ‘as important to architects and urbanists today as were the studies of medieval Europe and ancient Rome and Greece to earlier generations.’
To underline his seriousness, he and his wife, city planner Denise Scott Brown, took 13 Yale architectural students to Las Vegas to study ‘the Strip’ in 1968. The students sought, in the Venturis’ words, a means of ‘learning from the landscape’, a landscape which they see as ‘a new type of urban form, radically different from that which we have known, one which we have been ill‐equipped to deal with and which, from ignorance, we define today as urban sprawl.
Indeed, the Venturis views on design could almost be called counterrevolutionary: instead of sweeping, utopian plans, they prefer piece meal planning; instead of the elaborate creations of well‐known modern architects they prefer the ordinary, economical structures by the side of the road that represent the architectural ‘vernacular.’ It is a curious revolutionary who is perfectly willing to accept the situation as it is as Robert Venturi did in his book, ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,’ that “Main Street is almost all right.”
The urban sprawl that Main Street and Las Vegas represent is here to stay, the Venturis ideology; perhaps architects and planners should learn to love it, or at least learn to deal with it. ‘There no good way to pollute land or air or water,’ says Denise Venturi. ‘But what is called visual pollution which usually means someone else’s home or business is not the same. We can learn to do the strip and the urban sprawl well.’ Says Venturi in his book: ‘The seemingly chaotic juxtapositions of honky‐tonk elements express an intriguing kind of vitality and validity.’
Venturi has tried to reproduce that ‘vitality and validity’ in his own buildings, which are heavily influenced by Pop Art. His Fire Station No. 4 in Columbus, Ind., shows a lesson clearly learned from the strip: like the false fronts of Western frontier towns, the front wall of the fire station is higher than it needs to be, emphasizing its focus on street life and its civic, rather than private, role in the cityscape. Indeed, the entire facade is a huge Pop symbol, the archetypal small‐town firehouse, with big doors and an enormous sign that reads ‘Fire Station No. 4.’
Even more directly derived from the commercial vernacular was Venturi’s design entry in the competition for the National Football Hall of Fame. Called a ‘bill‐ding‐board, the design which did not win, was dominated by a 100‐ foot‐high billboard on which electric lights flashed football plays, Times‐Square style. Behind the extravagant signboard was a straight forward, vaulted‐roof building which was to house the museum itself. Inside, in the gallery, display cases of football “relics” were planned, along with a series of movie screens. The gallery was to be a complex weave of fixed and moving images in which, as if Marshall McLuhan were translated into architecture, ‘the message dominates the space.’
Published in 1966 of ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ set off the storm that surrounds Venturi to this day. A scholarly hook filled with examples reaching back through architectural history to the Italian mannerist and baroque eras, the book set forth the tenets of the Venturi philosophy: that the great architecture of the past was not simple, but often ambiguous and complex, and that the insistence of modern ‘Establishment’ architecture on single style of utter simplicity as often ex pressed in Mies Van Der Rohe’s famous aphorism, ‘less is more’ was an approach unsuitable to the irony and complexity of modern times. Retorted Venturi: ‘Less is a bore.’
Complexity and Contradiction was, in effect, a broadside against the puristic main stream of modern architecture, as represented by the sleek International Style of steel and glass, many critics consider it the first, and still the most significant, written statement made against that style. ‘Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox modern architecture,’ said Venturi and added, ‘I like elements which are hybrid rather than pure, com promising rather than clear, distorted rather than straightforward, ambiguous rather than articulated boring as well as interesting conventional rather than designed, accommodating rather than excluding inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity include the non sequitur and proclaim the duality. I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning.’
Both Robert and Denise Venturi are well schooled in the great architecture of the past, and they make no attempt to hide their admiration for it. ‘No one is happier in Rome than Bob Venturi,’ he says. They, however, are deeply convinced that the monumental approach that has characterized most modern architecture from the days of Frank Lloyd Wright on unfitting for the present age. The modern movement, the Venturi’s ideology, has gone stale and the successors to the great innovative modern architects and planners have turned the revolution that the early modernists led into a new Establishment.
There is nothing, at first glance, very revolutionary about Venturi’s buildings. The ‘billding‐board’ is an admitted eccentric, but most Venturi creations, like the Columbus fire station, seem not complex and contradictory but very ordinary at first an effect the Venturis do not mind. ‘We like to say around the office that our buildings are dumb,’ he says.
But a second glance and then some pro longed staring reveals that Venturi designs are anything but ordinary. Indeed, many of them such as Guild House, a housing project for the elderly in downtown Philadelphia and perhaps Venturi’s best‐known work are carefully studied, meticulous attempts to merge historical allusions and conventional elements into sophisticated, complex design, despite the rhetoric about their being ‘ordinary.’ Venturi’s designs represent what a number of architects, for example, Charles Moore and Robert A. M. Stern, have called the new ideology of ‘inclusion ‘architecture that seeks to work itself modestly into the existing landscape, combining the influences of average, everyday buildings and of past historical styles, as opposed to the more common modern approach of ‘exclusion,’ which, say critics,
The Venturis’ insistence on deferring to the environment in which a building is set means that their designs are sufficiently different from one another that no one can really be called typical; their buildings grow more from the land scape around, and from the functional requirements of program, than from a predetermined design ideology such as International Style or Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘organic’ concept. ‘When you design a building to fit a theory, you get piece of propaganda rather than a work of art,’ Venturi says.
It was in Rome that the new philosophy that was to culminate in his book began to take shape. Tourists saw the great monuments of the city; Venturi saw Rome’s pedestrian scale, its piazzas, and the complex interweaving of great architecture with the common, everyday landscape of the city.
‘We don’t think people want ‘total design’ as it is given to them by most modern architects,’ Mrs. Venturi puts in. ‘They want shelter with symbolism applied to it.’
To the Venturis, ‘shelter with symbolism applied’ is architecture or, to quote from their current jargon, is a “decorated shed.” The Venturis like to call buildings either “ducks” buildings which are themselves symbols. The name comes from a duck‐shaped poultry store on Long Island, which is not Venturi design or ‘decorated sheds,’ buildings which are straightforward structures with symbolism applied.
‘For today’s buildings, the decorated shed is more appropriate,’ Venturi says. ‘Most of the major monuments of modern architecture today are really ducks, they try much too hard to fit their functions into an abstract conception of form, and end up being just big symbols for heroic modern architecture, like the new Boston City Hall. It’s all a big symbol, though it won’t admit it. How ridiculous trying to make a piazza publico, like an Italian city‐state! If they really wanted to make it so monumental, they should have built a plain loft building and put a sign up top saying, ‘I Am a Monument.’ That would have been appropriate to today’s American city.’
PerhapS the Venturis’ most brashly Pop design is their project for California City, new city rising 100 miles to the northeast of Los Angeles. Called in to help create a force ful design image for the desert city, which will consist mostly of subdivisions, the Venturis have planned a system of enormous signs in the shape of desert flowers to mark distances and maintain a theme along the city’s long, empty parkway, and a set of painted signs to create an instant commercial strip for the city’s stores.
Venturi followed his teaching at Penn with a stint as Davenport Professor of Architecture at Yale, that university’s most distinguished architectural chair. He gave up the Davenport chair this year, though, in hope of devoting more time to his practice. The firm’s present roster includes four partners, the Venturis, Clark and John Rauch, who has worked with Robert since 1961, and eight staff architects, almost all of whom are bright young designers who preferred an active role in the small Venturi & Rauch operation to better‐paying slot in a larger but less creative firm.
The office sprawls through parts of two row houses in an old neighborhood near Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, filling parts of both first floors and reaching up to take one second floor and part of a fourth. The entrance provides the visitor with an early introduction to the firm’s approach: instead of an elegant plaque, the door bears only the inscription ‘Venturi and Rauch’ lettered on the sort of small metal sign that more often reads “Gentlemen.” Inside, the vestibule offers a less consistent image: there is an elegant, old‐fashioned wardrobe cabinet, an oaken library cabinet used for slides, bicycle which a staff architect habitually parks inside and an old bench on which sits a sign with a moving electric message. The sign’s motto resembles the slogans from the Whitney show: ‘Symbol in space before form in space. Las Vegas is to the Strip what Rome is to the Piazza.’
John Rauch admits to some unhappiness about the easy‐going operation; he is eager to see the firm get more work, and feels that its reputation as an offbeat atelier isn’t helpful. A wry wit, he once comforted Venturi by saying ‘You’re only a failure. I’m an assistant failure.’ But he has no misgivings about the firm’s philosophy as formulated by Venturi: ‘I came in with Bob because he was the only sane man I could find in this business, and he still is.’
While Rauch does only a small amount of designing himself, he functions as Venturi’s major sounding board for new ideas. Venturi has referred to him as ‘a winnower of ideas whose analytical mind helps set the direction a design should take and reset it when it is lost.’ Rauch’s more defined tasks in the office lean toward the technical: he directs the preparation of specifications and contracts, for example, and is the staffer most directly responsible for the firm’s enviable record of meeting the budget in almost every project.
Although there are enough commissions now to keep the staff busy and paid on time the Venturis share Rauch’s desire for more work, and they are not hesitant to suggest they have been discriminated against in more establishmentarian architectural circles because of the controversial nature of their designs. Their harshest words are re served for fine‐arts commissions, the official arbiters of good taste which pass on architectural plans for many major cities and which the Venturis feel have caused the firm to lose several major commissions.
The Venturis do seem to inspire a special wrath among established members of the architectural profession, which, says Ada Louise Huxtable, ‘is split right down the middle‐90 per cent against.’ That figure might aptly express the architectural com munity’s reaction to the Venturi‐designed Mathematics Building planned for Yale University, which last year was picked by distinguished jury as the winner in one of the nation’s most publicized architectural competitions, then promptly became the center of one of the nation’s most publicized architectural battles. When plans for the building were published, one architect suggested in a letter to Architectural Forum that it resembled ‘an old !Oft building,’ and a less reserved colleague called it ‘a piece of Junk.’
Like many Venturi designs, the highly complex one for the math building is coated with a superficial simplicity; the curved facade, varied window arrangement and intricate floor plan are far more complex than the typical loft building it may call to mind. Venturi likes to point out that the program specifically called for a “non-monumental” building in the hope of not overwhelming Dana House, an elegant 19th‐century mansion and national historic landmark next door. The “non-monumental” requirement also sought to add a background structure to the perhaps overly busy Yale campus, where works by many major American architects struggle for attention. The jury unanimously chose the Venturi plan over 478 other designs, but the presence on the panel of Vincent Scully and Charles Moore (as professional adviser), both of whom are closely associated with the Venturi approach, led some angry architects to charge conflict of interest in selecting the winner. They were not placated by the enthusiasm of Charles Rickert, then math department chair man and a jury member, who said that ‘Venturi sensed our needs as a community of mathematicians. The more I study the plans, the more I discover what I like.’
Joshua Lowenfish, a losing architect in the competition, was still penning angry letters to the Yale administration this year. But the university, preferring to put its stock in the opinions of such diverse architectural jury members as Kevin Roche, Edward L. Barnes and Romaldo Giurgola, all of whom praised the Venturi entry, Giurgola called it “a fresh statement of hope for an architecture of measure, of selectivity, of passion for a sim ple thing… like a door opening onto the future” has eagerly moved ahead in seeking the needed $6.5‐million to start construction.
The extreme reactions that the Venturis’ fondness for the architectural vernacular pro vokes in many other architects remain, however, troublesome thorns in their sides. Peter Blake, accusing Robert Venturi of “reinforcing Nixon’s status quo,” says: “Architects should set examples of a degree of excellence. But Bob is willing to accept the most barren, mindless examples of mid‐cult America, and this is not the function of an architect. He’s terribly amusing oh, I think he’s marvelously funny, but I sometimes wonder if he’s not just a marvelous practical joker.”
Such charges infuriate both Venturis. ‘There seems to be a very fine line between liberalism and class snobbery,’ says Denise Venturi, her usually measured tones now loud. She points out that avant‐garde plan ners such as Herbert Gans have been sug gesting for years that there is much worth preserving in the existing landscape, it is just that the Venturis are the first architects to join them.
‘Upper‐middle‐class architects build to suit themselves,” her husband says, more quietly. “You don’t have to like something to learn from it. We go to Pop culture sources to be stimulated, the way early modern architects went to the factory.’
Despite such criticism as Blake’s, the Venturis continue calling their buildings ugly and ordinary, a tendency that particularly annoys Vincent Scully, who believes that their rhetoric prevents many people from perceiving the underlying sophistication of Ven turi designs. “Words like that alienate a lot of people,” Scully says. “The Venturis imp ishly carry on about being boring and ugly. I understand why they do it, but it isn’t true. Bob Venturi is very much a traditional de signer; he’s extremely esthetic. He sees clearly that we must learn from the architectural vernacular; and he has used this knowledge, I think, to create buildings of genuine quality that deal with realities as they are. I like him because my perceptions are esthetic ones, and I don’t want to see a major design intel ligence such as Bob alienate the profession. His work is anything but boring and ugly.” (Goldberger, 1971)
Venturi, who has a new book coming out entitled “Learning from Las Vegas,” admits that his preoccupation with applying such terms to his work is partly polemical. “Most modern architecture today is superficially extraordinary, but is really a mass of exhibitionistic, Wagnerian gestures it is what’s boring. Nothing in modern architecture has yet been willing to symbolize the ordinary, and that won’t work in something as complex as a city. We need a more modest method, and less of a prima‐donna‐on‐the landscape approach.” He pauses, then adds gently, ‘After all, if you really had a city where every building was extraordinary, then they’d really all be ordinary, wouldn’t they?’
There are two standpoints in which the term, ‘ideology’ is used. In one sense, it’s a clutch of ideas, viewpoints and belief system that sustains an individual or a social order. While it may be used to refer to a clutch of ideas, viewpoints and belief system promoting continuation of the current state of affairs, it may also be used to refer to those opposing the system. It is likely, though not frequent, for a given social system to enjoy various ideologies, sometimes contradictory and antagonistic to one another. Ideologies may also vary as per varying classes. Social-economic and political systems have, in history, been a function of certain dominant ideologies. Ideology, in another sense, has been interpreted as false consciousness in contrast to the real or scientific knowledge of the world.
Ideology differs from idea, theory, philosophy, ethics, morality and politics in the subtlety of their approach though not much in area of their application. Ideologies change over time and so are the cities though at every point of time, there is a possibility that an individual or a group of people suddenly find themselves going with an ideology supposed to be belonging to that of ancient past. Ideologies are subjected to change if held by an ideologist and not by an ideologue. A very ideology can be true at a point of time and false at another. For instance, ‘Less is more’ was wrong before it became a slogan. The kind of architecture and planning embodied by the phrase was a mistake the first time someone thought it up. It was told that a machine age required a machine architecture. No plausible reason was given. All we got was an architectural metaphor for efficiency, not efficiency itself. The kind of architecture modernism replaced worked better at pleasing our eye and serving our needs. Traditional architecture developed over thousands of years, its best practices tested by trial and error and handed down by practitioneers generation after generation. It failed to maintain its market share because modernism had better advertising, not because it was a better product.
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When she realizes, she can no longer live without having solved the mystery of logic, she came across something that complicates things.