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A writer, blogger, and historian, born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, now based in London. read more

A Decade of Driehaus

A Carl Laubin capriccio pays tribute to the first decade of Driehaus laureates

THIS YEAR MARKED the tenth anniversary of the Driehaus Prize, the annual award honouring a living architect who has contributed to the field of traditional and classical architecture. To commemorate the first decade of the Prize, the architectural painter Carl Laubin was commissioned to produce a splendid capriccio depicting the works of the first ten Driehaus laureates.

As Witold Rybczynski, a member of the Driehaus panel of jurors, writes:

In the foreground is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a bronze miniature of which is presented to each laureate. It’s fun to try and identify the individual works in this large (5½ by over 8 feet long) painting. But what is more striking is that Laubin has created a convincing urban landscape solely out of landmark buildings.

That, of course, is the advantage of classicism: however it is interpreted, it is a tradition that manages to produce a more or less coherent whole. Even Abdel-Wahed El Wakil’s mosque, standing next to a Seaside beach house by Robert A. M. Stern, doesn’t look too out of place.

The Driehaus Prize was founded in part as a rival to the more publicised Pritzker Prize awarded to modernist architects. But, Mr Rybczynski points out, the fundamental nature of modernist structures is that they thrive only as a visual contrast to buildings constructed in a traditional style.

Can one imagine a similar townscape of Pritzker Prize winners? Well, maybe with the work of some of the early laureates—Pei, Bunshaft, Tange, Siza—but modern buildings need a background of nineteenth and early twentieth century urbanism to shine. A town made up of only signature buildings by our current generation of stars would resemble a carnival or a theme park—Pritzkerland.

I’ve often thought this of the United Nations headquarters in New York, which, when it was first built, must have stood out brilliantly as a bright and fresh harbinger of a better future, but which has been rendered altogether rather boring by the construction of neighbouring buildings of third-rate plate-glass modernist designs.

The UN headquarters on the East River and Lever House on Park Avenue were breakthrough buildings, but the increasing replacement of their traditional stone-clad or brick neighbours by cheap, tawdry modernist structures has exposed how reliant this type of architecture — even when well-conceived and properly executed — is on being surrounded by a contrasting style.

But enjoy Mr Laubin’s painting — while remembering that all these buildings were designed and built by living architects.

More on this year’s Driehaus Prize is available from David Brussat here.

This post was published on Sunday, April 7th, 2013 10:00 pm. It has been categorised under Architecture Art and been tagged under , , .
Comments
  1. roryabu
    26 December 2013
    10:16 am

    Some English hands here: the central river terrace buildings are Quinlan Terry’s at Richmond, London SW; the Gothic-Tudoresque mix to its right is a scheme for an Oxford institution, then the centrally planned Doric villa is Terry’s law Library at Downing Coll. Camb.

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