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NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week from WB K-Y the University of Kentucky in Lexington. One of the programs from its series called interview Don Wheeler director of WB Kyi talks with Herb Greene professor of architecture at Kentucky and well-known throughout the United States for his work and his lectures. We're glad that you can be with us. I suppose that many people know of you I guess because of the famous house that you did in Norman Oklahoma the so-called prairie chicken. You did that for yourself is that right. Yes that's right down it I suppose as the most notorious case I've done it and I don't mind at all people calling it a chicken I did myself probably I was must have been hatched rather than born normally.
It really sprung out of functional requirements. First it was a house for my family on a particular Open site in the central Oklahoma sort of rolling plains. These plans had the character of being more like it see where their contours and if you get above them then you have a great vision of the place and you can see the sky and it was a great place to participate in these thunderstorms you had had in Oklahoma. So we organized that place trying to think about having young children so we kept them out of reach of our good things like records books by key having a sort of accommodations down below bedrooms family room dining and kitchen and a studio a living could be above and then we'd have the view of this rolling plain. So how long did you live there. Oh about three years. Trouble selling the house for you. We had a lot of trouble selling it because of course we can't get any decent financing on it we had to sort of scrape together cash to build the house.
So while there are lots of you usually young people who want to buy the thing they did they could finance it through a mortgage agency. We finally sold it to somebody who bought it in our society today the people will encounter architecture I suppose as motorists as pedestrians often from the air. Doesn't that make it difficult for an architect to try to present you know face to people. It has to be known from so many different levels and I think one of the interesting problems of architecture today is that is that it is presented this way and I think the better architects are quite conscious of this deal and deal with it and solve the problem. I try to do that little house which was easy I suppose because it was seen for to be seen for miles and I wanted to count as a sort of like shark Cathedral you can see it you know a great distance that was part of the ethos there the idea of the time that you would approach this building from a long distance and then as you got closer to it you could see elements and it would give you information about what
happened in the building and then right up into the building to get even the detail of the large unfurled a sort of an unfolding experience. Americans are I suppose frugal at least they would like to think that they are. And very often prefer the cheapest utilitarian way out in almost anything rather than aesthetic qualities what does that mean to you as an architect. It means that I think one of the blind spots in American life is their education toward what it's that it says is true to something frivolous. And to me it really is that it is much deeper than that you need a certain degree of visual complexity to keep from being bored to death you know like the park and glass buildings that are being attacked on many sides by magazine writers because they are so boring. So when there's an economic way to build but it certainly doesn't it makes environment which is sort of stultifying. So I'm for I don't I just I don't have any more money and next person I'd like to try to
be frugal and make things try to make things work isn't objective anymore but the main thing is to enhance life and that's not necessarily commensurate with the economy in fact and yet the problems of city building and the great densities and you know land problems and you just can't work that on economic grounds alone to come up with anything is the single building concept sort of out unless it kind of takes into consideration urban groupings and so forth. Well a good architect has never really been out of that relationship he's always latest doing too with the first the site the physical site. If it's an urban situation he's going to respond to it. Now there's been a startling instances of ignoring this like for instance Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Guggenheim Museum in New York but that was sort of a testament of his against cities and not agreeing with it he should have made it there but he could as an architect like he when is the famous store in San Francisco a small store the more stores most urbane most beautiful
thing worked out thing for site relationship and you know a group of buildings. So this is nothing new nothing new to architecture tall and it's become more fashionable to think that the building has to be done and the group it would just means it has to be related to its neighbors. You think that is the architect concerned with aesthetic and social problems that can be caused by large groups of buildings. Well they're probably amongst the people who you know it's a class of people are more sensitive to these factors that they haven't been able to do too much in the past by way of just responding to you know economic criteria published by say clients or corporations and by being too insensitive to the complexity of visual complexity its need to make a satisfying environment that sort of single simple over simplified architecture just grids for clients and just rectangular grids for elevations filled in with steel and glass people are I think objecting to this. Thomas Wolfe suggested a long time ago that
it was possible that America just might become a plateau sort of nondescript perhaps even unpleasant communities that really lacked architecture they were sanitary but dull. You think that this prophecy is likely to come true. Or has it. I think that's I wish we could take an hour on that question because it's going to come true in some cases. It's going to come true in trailer mobile home towns were just you know occurs Per perhaps new towns as it's going to occur. It has occurred with industrial towns in the past. Just visit Oak Ridge over the weekend saw that was laid out originally had a beautiful site and had some pretty good architects but still it was a pretty deadly sort of layout of buildings and no real privacy no real shopping relation to the houses was not sensitive as all. Well I think that's what it's going to get better and you'll get worse at the same time then what do you who's going to win out of just what
preponderance is going to happen I don't know. Certainly people are getting some people are getting fed up with boring environment. Certain architects are more interested in getting a more beautiful vision and environment have a lot more past to go on more current. There are better examples in contemporary architecture to use as sort of inspiration that we you know accumulated sort of in experience in the last 60 years and there's been more interested in getting privacy and community feeling and as is evidenced in old world cities and Italian hill towns in colonial towns in Mexico. It seemed to have already accomplished so much of what we need to do. And I think travel as these people are traveling all over the world and millions of Americans are they if they see these things is tourism and I think it's going to stick and it may they may be able to get into their own context the need to to have this kind of quality of this is involving privacy and community space and more
interesting textures and materials than not the type of thing we just got out of the industry today or whether used anyhow. I think we're moving toward the Marxist prophecy that the city in the country would just be indistinguishable and become one big club. Well it looks that way when you see most of the urban sprawl or serves as the current magazine calls them and lecithin itself as it is. It's a frightening example of that and I came to the town six years ago I lived on the universal road and now I go out that out that road past the Bluegrass Airport of course you see this kind of urban sprawl of you know drive ins and cheap housing the cheaper apartments that just based on the real estate package at the best the best investment you can make the bankers love it and it's you know there's disaster for the quality of the environment whether Lanz parcel out. But we're still a heck of a lot of land left in America. We've if we could we could do better and I think we know we could do better it's just can we know it's over overpower the inertia of this this economic system tied up and lending tied
up and finance tied up in builder's system that system we've got to do anything about it. I don't know. When does a building become architecture and not just a building. Well of course you've got to keep the rain off your mouth and you. Once you saw these practical problems though there are these expressive aspects of building that can sort of reveal states of mind of people that are very hard to reveal other ways this is the function of art. You know we think we can say the word table you were sitting in one it is. It's a handy thing to a concept that we can you know pass around in no we're talking about. But art architecture than would would would make finite characteristics that would recreate our feeling and recreate in sort of an image of understanding of things then. This is where architecture really becomes my pain as one becomes a work of art and it has to get into these things that are very hard to verbalize what to do with
quality of space that might be to do with a sense of protection and closure the feeling you get that comfort and repose at being close at the same time the freedom or open ending this which lets you sort of plug in a vast amount of experience into the into the circumstance you're in so that you have it wants a good hired you know definite finite things to grasp mass an inclosure light shade. And yet the whole thing an arrangement which lets you relate to a very wide experience I think that's very general terms or some other kinds of generalities that architecture is art begins to deal with. Ruskin made the observation that man might live without architecture but he could not remember. Well here you've got you know the great art critic of this era. He that's he's right. That's not I think that's the function of art of art one of the functions of art in this is I think so odds with some of the contemporary sort of popular understanding of art or is being just a
personal whim of the executer. But actually it's the mear of important modes of feeling of organization of sort of non-verbal experience that has made finite in the work and there you have it. And we have don't have too much of this kind of architecture. It's kind of frightening for me to be reading some of the off-Broadway plays and some of the things that take place in them and then one one tends to remember that as use point out that this mirrors the society it's not necessarily leading it. Then there seems to be some justification I suppose for what they're doing. Robert Weinstock claimed that the standards of musical excellence in the United States and declined was due some. What I supposed to commercial exploitation. He wasn't too impressed with the idea that a symphony orchestra about every 80 miles an hour of one kind or another and he maintained I guess that the quality of the performance dropped with this increase in numbers and
some people complain about the theatre. You know there are not enough Broadway theaters for writers to excel where they can express themselves and I suppose an artist in our country if you could keep alive they would say that that was a successful artist. It is the same thing true of the architect. Well I'm not sure that one minute. I sort of one thing it's simply forming in my mind the middle of your remarks was that there is a problem and audience directedness for I think a creative person and I think today it's that's where the commercial element being so strong in films and in music is as you pointed out certainly in films. I think this probably has some influence in architecture you begin to hear what the audience wants to hear you think what they want to hear because you know that if that you don't you won't sell your product unless you do and this becomes possibly and probably Gertrude Stein may have interesting theory on this which I respond
to. You begin to. Just say what the audience thinks it wants to hear and you're not being direct You're not really seeing what's going on in the contemporary situation and you're not really seeing for instance an architecture of the particular possibilities of this site and this region to try to reflect back on the architecture some feedback that would make it seem like it makes for this place rather than say Baltimore or Detroit or Africa or some other place. You begin to think you think a building forms like it might be a builder's colonial or Georgian style or a contemporary shed roof style that of academic with an actor that goes around that you think will be accepted in this situation and you're not dealing with the particular people that it's not directly enough the site or even the technology currently available in the community. So I'm saying that it's too simplistic a view of attitudes which might relate to more of a commercially oriented you know aspects can destroy the quality of the architecture and probably have asked
Ortega a Spanish publicist some 30 years ago wrote in the revolt of the masses that opening cultural opportunities to the masses would result sort of debasement and destruction of culture unless these persons were quickly taught to understand respect and appreciate artistic achievement do you think that we've fallen down in this respect in our country. Oh I don't know either. Sometimes it's easy to think that we have it. What makes a cultural break in an arts is interesting and I don't know what it would take. It's hard to I was awed by the Russian writers of the turn of the century how you know a fairly small group of people really were the Russian aristocracy could produce that many good writers. It's always baffled me why can't we with all our colleges and our education exposure
produce writers and you can tell me we are on the I'm too old fashion to see them. I don't see it the same architecture you know we produce we're training thousands Evarts it's bassy inferior numbers and adequate to the job of just providing that raw billings are necessary. But where where's the quality in what you know where's the concern with the complexity that makes quali. I think one problem is historical thing that makes college I think culture itself is inexplicable without reference to time past you know it has the sensitivity of things that are coming out of him. And perhaps that's where we're weak in America we don't have enough feeling for it in our Croft to really respect without imitating without you know with all due respect to wanting to be fresh and new. And maybe this is the problem our peculiar drifting around through time and not being able to respond creatively to it. Bertrand Russell made the observation that architecture in America could become the finest in the world and I think he said that
and I correct in saying that back in the late 30s that we offered a lot of hope anyway to the world architecturally. Well I think America has produced some of the great architects of the centuries going back to Louis Sullivan who died in the 20s. And Frank Lloyd Wright in spite of his irascible aspects as a personality and some of his work which was questionable he produced some much good work he produced so many he is so American and an American by way of how he thought about the site and more about materials about the institution he was dealing with. And it's always been sort of touching to me that most educational systems in our teacher in America really look more to Europe for inspiration and that it's interesting in states of mind and you know psychology of education of why can't we see it here. Why we have not been able to make more of an architecture. What would that be want to our land and our way of wandering around on it's a big continent and we can we can
handle many diverse influences and one to one sound which we don't have to have once the style thing that we get from Europe applied onto our sights upon a New Mexico or Maine or Florida. We've had it by way of a more sophisticated education being too afraid to accept the square mid-western. I don't know what's caused but I'm from the east myself but I really you know climbed onto the architecture of Wright as an inspiration in which in which would inform you of American culture American tradition and would you say want to write some of this summer's work like the Johnson administration. Willingly. What do you think of that exam. Well I think that's one of the great masterpieces in world architecture and of course Italy and of course there are some technical problems that Wright should have avoided if he was these are the ideal things to do. The building broker should have an expansion joint because he wanted it he wanted this expanse of break to go by now for all these technically oriented people they say aha you
see these this crazy architect just trying to make a picture or something but that is the picture he made of a building for Americans to work in both the people and the secretarial ranks and the executives to experience to be through it give an image of our understanding of the world of geometry of space of light the light in that building is just awesome in fact it's more it has a kind of a religious aspect. If not does it make you feel like church makes you feel like my heavens what are we done here to really be able to invoke such a speed back of our understanding of transparency. Lighten my ass. In the human scale the whole thing with you makes you feel like a so intimately human but by way of the size of the column but with the size of the Rings that one relates to empathize with if you will. So it presents the image of understanding that so I think one unsurpassed and once one of the great buildings in American architecture or any other architecture image of technology used to let you know dramatize the powers of a
man not not just you know the raw machine but think of my as Vanda rose like Shore Drive apartment. Well I think that's a very finely proportioned cage of steel frame that was really great as the Titians and great artist but I think it's a lousy American building everybody is in a cube. It's in the UN differentiated there's you can't tell apartment house from the from an office building. If you change the color of the drapes you fouled up the aesthetic. It's a rigid sort of uniform idea that's under the guise of you know being sort of a classical system of proportion a building in which somehow the individual must fit in this under the guise of attaining in order to make a good case when they show it against sort of the moderate arm of the gas stations and trashy office buildings that is kind of handsome. But as a demonstration of you know the variety of human life and the residential situation I think is a disaster. Do
you think that the contemporary architecture not only here but but anywhere yet can be matched against the architecture of some of the outstanding periods in history I think there are individuals who have matched it in their their individual powers of course in the old days the state government church. You know they were they were building the buildings and they demanded somehow if they didn't demand they supported the call of the cathedrals of the great cities of pre-Colombian architecture you know. Well today it's if we don't get a corporate structure at least that really wants to have that architecture listen müssen freedom is that somehow the growth has grown in the Western world that idea of freedom as a concept. Been taking some chants and some adventure whereas I suppose in the old days that they didn't make changes but they were you know over a period of time relatively slow to come about and you've had a poor idea of what you're going to get before you designed it now. Part of our
ethos is to solve the problem freshly if we do that let's have a different looking building because problems are not the same sites are not the same situations are. Now I don't think we've got you know on a scale with a great architecture of the past like. That's what the drills or all even some of the Baroque churches we don't have that kind of situation with authority the money and the talent is invested in the same situation produce comparable work. I think we prepped me mate as we hope hopefully we will but somebody's got to show me these examples I don't say them. What about things like Yamasaki McGregor Holland Wayne university What do you think. Well I think that looks very nice it sets a nice pool and of course a lot of cigarette wrappers in the pool and it's a nice skylight makes a good impression on you and to men I don't think the spaces for the people at the offices are so distinguished it's just a beautiful great space to enjoy and well that's something I mean got this big lobby. But I'm trying to be polite
about the button as I think it has and it is it's has it's kind of handsome but I think it really doesn't provide anything new and fresh for stimulating for the people using it inside there are thousands and I think it's it's mostly a formal thing where they're trying to make a picture rather than really deal with the problems of movement through the building and circulation or other problems of light or some sense of this these qualities of space in a more managed abuse that I was trying to talk about before. And what about the lever house and see groups on the corners in The New Yorker. I've always had a warm spit spot. In my heart for the sea for the House and why well because for a pretty large building in part of the human scale and that's something we can relate to with our size and sort of like we have control over it by way of the division of the glass and the color of the glass up to sort of a warm pleasant green or cool let's say wasn't it warm green a cool green that just might be nice to be around by one of the size of the panes of glass.
And of course I was in France about lifting the building off the plaza so you could walk underneath it. This looks good isn't not good expression but actually in New York it's pretty windy on those corners they probably better handle some other way. You made a passing reference to this when you're talking about very chicken house which you designed for Oklahoma and also before we when we were talking earlier you mentioned some of the difficulties that the architect encounters now in attempting to get well almost anything I suppose financed. I want to get tie that in with what Robin Boyd's The Australian that he said that modern buildings would lack individuality and they really would require no architects. I think we've come to that. We're going to have a lot of this big people who just see Billings as facilitates to keep the water out and in and keep yourself from crashing into the next guy when I walk across the hall. That's all you need in the building you can get computers to do it. You can get computers to do these Holiday Inns.
And we'll have these facilities but that's just to be distinguished from architecture which is still in the realm of the art and these non discursive are nonverbal expressions which after all can be pointed out verbally when you when they're in front of the we can do this not like it's some big mystery about it. It's just that there's this just another world and I'm afraid we're going to I think we have a lot of it. Because most of our efforts are economically and technologically based just to do things most efficiently and you know just in most the short take the short view is get the bill get this facility in a package whether it's a factory or dwelling. And this other thing which is trying to relate you understand your position in time and you know should show how you come out of other historical periods and give some anticipation about where you might go in terms of form in terms of suggestion of space that makes the form of the space in terms of the color and shape and texture of buildings where you are being more philosophically oriented and you know making conjectures. Well we're going to this.
Special of the week
Issue 48-69
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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