The Impossibility
of Rejecting History

Talk Review

After attending the Royal Academy of Arts with Docomomo’s first Forgotten Masters event focusing on the work of Jean Tschumi (1904-1962), I found myself musing. My musings were less architectural than psychological in nature.

It is perhaps dangerous to stray into the realms of amateur psychoanalysis when assessing an architect’s (or one’s own) motivations and predilections in design. It is hard not to stray into this territory, however, when faced with a famous architect (Bernard Tschumi) talking about his – as it turns out rather accomplished – father and architect (Jean Tschumi). How much is one formed by the other?

More generally, how much distance do we need from history? Jacques Gubler, an historian, used the evening to outline some lessons elicited from studying Jean Tschumi. For instance, the merits of designing at “full scale” (illustrated by a 1:1 sketch of a cornice) and, conversely, distilling ideas on to sketches the size of a postage stamp. He also caused some contemporary health and safety shuddering by showing footage of a 1930s building site!

Interestingly Bernard Tschumi, who made a career out of distancing himself from architectural history by turning to film and literature as precedents instead, now says he feels “comfortable” teaching architectural history. He also seems ready to learn some further architectural lessons from his father. We should remember that, in his turn, his modernist father was associated with a movement rejecting or reinventing history as well.

Which, rather neatly, brings us back to psychoanalysis and musing. Just how much are we a product of our time and circumstance, and how much distance can we ever get?

This article first appeared on bdonline on 16 March 2015