Peter Blake & Adolfo Natalini: From Mies to Mickey Mouse

By Peter Blake

Adolfo Natalini (1941), Quaderno Americano, pp. 76–77. nscribed next to the beaming face of Mickey Mouse is the note, ‘Mickey Mouse Skyscraper for Chicago Lake Point (to substitute the Lake Point Tower).’ The Lake Point tower, completed in 1968, was designed by John Heinrich and George Schipporeit, graduates of IIT and former students of Mies. The tower was based on Mies’ 1922 design for a glass-curtain skyscraper for Berlin (see link at the bottom of this page), and situated just down the road from Mies’ own Lake Shore Drive Apartments., 1972. Pen and ink on paper. DMC 8598.

Sometimes, in the space between the archive and the library at Shatwell, we make nice conjunctions.

Here together are Peter Blake in 1992, old and very angry, writing for Abitare about the decline of architecture in late twentieth-century America; and Adolfo Natalini in 1972, young and thrilled to have got there, sketching a future beyond the Continuous Monument.

Some time in the 1960s, the American Institute of Architects invited the late Nicholaus Pevsner to come to its annual convention in Miami and to address the assembled throng. ‘The trouble with American architecture,’ Pevsner said, ‘is not that your architects are so bad; it is that your clients are not very civilised.’ This was about the time when postmodernism started to rear its head; and architects who knew how to appeal to the new generation of ‘uncivilised’ clients realised that the way to win them over was to specialise in bad taste! And so, in the name of postmodernism, or some similarly unfortunate new ‘style,’ many of America’s ‘Name Architects’ began to specialise in bad taste – a trademark just as easily recognised and identified as Donald Duck itself!

What a sad decline and fall! Starting around the middle of the 1960s, some of the best American architects – the same generation that had emerged so impressively in the post-war years – began to create their private trademarks with images as silly as those invented by the late Walt Disney – though not always quite as funny. For the thirty years or so that followed the birth of postmodernism, the talented generation that had taught at Harvard and IIT and in the offices of Eero Saarinen and Gordon Bunshaft, was forced to surrender to the merchants of bad taste, or to give up altogether.

From Mies to Mickey Mouse – that, alas, is the story of American architecture in the years since World War II. Down in Florida, not far from Disney World, they are building a new town to be called Constipation or Copulation or something like that – and virtually every American ‘Name Architect’ is contributing to its skyline. And that roster of names includes some of my dearest friends.