Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (1) Posted 08.30.13 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Mark Lamster

Architecture's Proto-Blogger



John Johansen's endangered Morris Mechanic Theater, in Baltimore, photographed by G. E. Kidder Smith

I began teaching a course in architecture writing last week, an occassion that forced me to think about critics and writers I might recommend as exemplary. The usual suspects naturally came to mind (Lewis Mumford, Ada Louise Huxtable, etc.) but I couldn't quite figure out where to begin until I came across a copy of G. E. Kidder Smith's Source Book of American Architecture, a compendium published by Princeton Architectural Press in my first years working there. 

Kidder Smith is remembered (when he is remembered, which is not often enough) for his architectural photography, which can be found in many prominent collections and in every serious history of the that form. He began shooting in the late Depression years, and continued for most of his life (he died in 1997). He was a master of light and shadow, with a knack for giving volume and dimension to a building in two dimensions. He had a practitioner's eye for detail and context, and an obvious affection for his subject. Though he often photographed the works of high modernism, his images never seem clinical or detatched. 

Kidder Smith was a gentleman of the old school, a native of Alabama educated at Princeton, and there's a certain courtliness to his writing. He had a long association with MoMA, a sponsor of the project that became Source Book, which began life as a three-volume documentation of American architecture, from the building of Native Americans pre-colonization through to the present. He also published books on the new architecture of BrazilItaly, and Sweden, and contributed to just about every professional architecture magazine of note (Forum, Record, Review, PA....) Reviews for those publications played to his great strength as a writer: he was an absolute master of the short form. Your typical Kidder Smith piece begins with a historical lesson, pivots into a precise analysis of the work at hand, and exits gracefully with a closing thought or gesture, typically generous.

No architecture writer had a better sense of economy, a trait ideally suited to his penchant for writing pointed letters to the Times (and others), on subjects of architecture, urbanism, and preservation, often correcting the paper for inaccuracies or wrongheaded positions. In the days before the paper had a full time architecture critic (Huxtable, notably, also attracted attention through a letter), this was one of the few outlets for shaping public conversation. Kidder Smith was an effective advocate: among his achievements, he was instrumental in the preservation of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House and Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye. 

Critical sharp-form writing working in tandem with compelling imagery; Kidder Smith would have been perfect for the Internet. He never really had the chance, but the lessons of his writing are perfect for a generation who will live on line, and a figure worthy of rediscovery. 

@marklamster
|
Share This Story

Comments (1)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

I once reviewed Kidder-Smith's three-volume travel guide for Suzanne Stephens's and the IUAS's Skyline. Noticing how many of Kidder-Smith's choices were built after 1950, I made a list with each choice and the year it was built. The numbers below are from memory and obviously not the actual numbers… but they're not far off, either.

Before 1800 30%
1800 - 1840 5%
1840 - 1890 5%
1890 - 1925 5%
1925 - 1950 15%
!950 - 1980 40%

In other words, 40% of the buildings most worth visiting in the United States were built after 1950, and 70% of the buildings most worth visiting were built after 1950 and before 1800.* Art Deco, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright etc. took a certain percentage of the buildings between 1800 and 1950.

If I remember correctly, the Guggenheim and the Whitney were two New York museums listed, but the Frick wasn't. I don't think McKim, Mead & White's Metropolitan Museum was.

Personally, I think McKim, Mead & White built many of the greatest buildings in New York and with their City Beautiful and American Renaissance colleagues gave the city much of its character. Sullivan, Wright and 18th century American architecture are among my favorites too.

* When there were not a lot of buildings being built in Kansas and Nebraska.

12.28.13 at 05:58


Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture. A contributing editor to Architectural Review, he is currently at work on his third book, a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow: @marklamster.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









RELATED POSTS


Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).

The Astrodome and the Challenges of Preservation
The Astrodome and the future of preservation.

Not Afraid of Noise: Mexico City Stories
A photographic tour of Mexico City, house by house, wall by wall.

Genzken and the City
A review of Isa Genzken's current retrospective on view at the MOMA.

Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.