Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky: Life as a Voyage edited by Architekturzentrum Wien
Bernard Rudofsky is not a household name like his most famous book, Architecture Without Architects, even though the Austrian-born architect/designer/critic/curator authored eight other books, ranging on subjects from clothes to pedestrian streets. Perhaps this owes to the fact his achievements as an architect and designer haven't had the longevity of his books, and his most well-known books tend to downplay authorship, even though his subjective prose peppers illustrations on vernacular architecture, urbanism, and fashion. In other words, Rudofsky embraced and expressed the ideas of others; he was not naive enough to believe that any ideas he could develop would be original. If anything, he was highly critical of such a stance, one behind the embrace of technology rooted in Modernism. While Rudofsky's architecture was formally aligned with Modernist contemporaries mid-last century, he never abandoned what came before; a humbling idea at the root of his work, and one reason he deserves to be a common name.
This book, edited by Architekturzentrum Wien in association with The Getty Research Institute and a companion to an exhibition (PDF brochure) that started at the former in 2007 and ended at the latter one year later, is an illuminating account of one man's voyage, in more ways than one. Born in Austria, Rudofsky called many other places home, most notably Greece, which he lovingly portrayed in numerous watercolors and which strongly influenced his ideas on the vernacular, and Japan, on which he wrote one of his books. His semi-nomadic existence is one of the characterizations found here, running seemingly at odds with the energy he gave to "the art of dwelling," one rooted in Mediterranean courtyard houses but exported to places as far as Brazil. Through the analysis of Rudofsky's residential designs, penchant for travel and other subjects, we discover a common strand in all of his undertakings: "that sensory pleasure should take precedence over intellectual pleasure in art and architecture."
This direct quote of Rudofsky's illustrates how even while designing with flat white walls he could be at odds with Modernism. His embrace of courtyards (he believed all rooms should have direct access to an outdoor room), among other beliefs, placed the tactile and the phenomenological over the abstract. Even the aerial formalism of Architecture Without Architects -- the author additionally presenting places he never visited or that no longer existed -- has an almost tangible sense of the place coming across in the images and the text. A similar thing can be said about this book, in relation to Rudofsky himself. The combination of lengthy essays, sketches, architectural drawings, photographs, and book and magazine excerpts, all thoughtfully composed in a beautifully-made book, gives some valuable insight into a unique personality the likes of which the world of architecture hasn't seen since, but it should surely welcome.