Author: Tom Wolfe, 1981.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Art History - Architecture. Modernism.
Other Details: Hardback. 143 pages.
O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within thy blessed borders today? - Tom Wolfe, Introduction From Bauhaus to Our House.
After enjoying Wolfe's critique of modern art, The Painted Word, I was looking forward to reading his companion piece on modern architecture. However, I found myself quite disappointed as this turned out to be pretty much a non-stop rant against the influence of the European schools of architecture upon the new generation of American architects in the period after WWI and this continuing legacy into the early 1980s. His venom was mainly directed at Walter Groppius, founder of the influential Bauhaus school and Wolfe's constant snarky quoting of the Bauhaus motto, "start from zero!" grew stale very quickly.
However, he did make the excellent point that in Europe movements such as Bauhaus were linked to socio-political agendas but when these ideas were adopted by American architects they were divorced from such contexts. It was an aspect of the book that I hoped he would develop but instead he just returned to slagging off various buildings and architects.
In my study of Art History, I am quite accustomed to reading critical texts but even the most savage critics of Modernism do bring some perspective and balance to their arguments. There was no evidence of this here, it was just a tirade, that made a few good points and then sputtered out. Though the book was only 143 pages, it seemed far too long and repetitive and felt more like an essay or magazine article that had been padded out. It also seemed very dated and given that it was recently re-printed it is odd that the opportunity was not taken to add material and consider the changes in architectural styles since 1981.
Excerpt on Wolfe's web site