A lecture by George Dodds, PhD, Alvin and Sally Beaman Professor at the University of Tennessee
“Today, more often than not, a building is an attention-seeking object that glorifies its owner and architect and is oblivious…to its physical, and…social context. Its plan is diagrammatic—…and…[its] exterior [seems] reduced to one purpose: to excite the eye…by clever pattern.” This opening passage from Klaus Herdog’s epoch-setting, The Decorated Diagram (1983) could easily be supplanted for a gloss of the most press-worthy projects and buildings of this century.
Three decades after The Decorated Diagram, Antoine Picon begins Ornament: The Politics of Architecture and Subjectivity: “Over the past 10 to 15 years ornamental practices made a spectacular return in architecture.” He continues, “To fully grasp the novelty and radical character of this revival, it is necessary to remember how modern architecture has been suspicious of ornament almost from the start,” citing the Viennese architect and theorist Adolf Loos’s famous “Crime and Ornament” essay from the early 20th century.
Owing to its subtly and complexity, Loos’s argument remains much debated and often misunderstood as many presume that he meant to equate crime with all ornament. He did not. He did take issue, however, with his fellow Viennese architects covering the surfaces of their architecture with patterns and images that had little to do with the building’s tectonics, their immediate situation, or the manner in which the building would be used.
You’d think we’ve come a long way from the Vienna of Wagner, Hoffman, and Loos. Yet, within our current era, in which what heretofore would have been considered the building’s ornament is often equated to the architecture; in which form follows a digital program rather than an building program (or function), in which architects without architecture seems to have supplanted Architecture without Architects (1964), it seems propitious to rethink some of the unquestioned operational polarities of 20th century architectural discourse – particularly those that situate Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at opposite ends of an architectural spectrum, particularly as regards their use of ornament.
George Dodds has taught at several universities throughout the United States, and practiced in offices in Detroit, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia. He was a fellow in Landscape Studies at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library (Washington, D.C.) before earning his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania (2000) and joining the University of Tennessee (UTK). Dodds has published two books: Building Desire: On the Barcelona Pavilion, and Body and Building: Essays on the Changing Relation of Body and Architecture (with Robert Tavernor), along with dozens of articles. He was the Executive Editor of the Journal of Architectural Education (2006-2010), and served on its Editorial Board and Design Committee for five years prior. He is a Distinguished Professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and was the College of Architecture + Design’s first UTK Cox Professor (2006-09). In 2008 he was the Mickel Visiting Professor of Architecture at Clemson University. He has authored over 30 articles for his column on the criticism of the built environment, “Architecture Matters,” for the Knoxville Mercury, which is currently a book project with the University of Tennessee Press. He is the Alvin and Sally Beaman Professor of Architecture (2012-2023).
Free and open to the public.