This Was Tomorrow: Reinventing Architecture 1953–1978

Markus Lähteenmäki, Manuel Montenegro and Nicholas Olsberg

Exhibition poster, This Was Tomorrow: Reinventing Architecture 1953–1978, 13 March – 8 May 2016, Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel. Designed by Ray O’Meara.

This Was Tomorrow: Reinventing Architecture 1953–1978 is an exhibition about architectural imagination and the power, processes and poetics of creation and invention. It presents a series of twelve episodes – beginning in the 1950s – that look at the ferment of new ideas as architects began to reconceive space in response to the conditions of a newly affluent society and the emergence of the electronic age. They are Le Corbusier, John Hejduk, Stirling and Gowan, Buckminster Fuller, Michael Webb, Walter Pichler and Hans Hollein, Constant, Ugo La Pietra, Superstudio, Álvaro Siza, Louis Kahn and Aldo Rossi.

Le Corbusier (1887–1965), Model for Le Main Ouverte, 1956. Plaster, 178 × 254 mm. © FLC-ADAGP.

Selected from the Drawing Matter collection, each of these investigations looks into the basic elements, open futures and varied possibilities of architectural thinking, proposing fundamental new ideas and examining the potentials of the built environment in reforming the relations of human beings to each other and to their environments.

John Hejduk (1929–2000), Study for the ‘Bye House’, Ridgefield, Connecticut, c.1973. Black, green, blue and red ink on letterhead, 210 × 270 mm. © Estate of the architect.

As the pragmatic demands of post-war reconstruction dissolved, a new generation of designers, coming of age in the post-war years and often drawing on nascent movements in art and social thinking, suggested radical departures from the prevailing functional consensus. Looking at the architectural sketch and drawing as the essential vehicle for conceiving, evolving and communicating such new ideas, the exhibition focuses on examples of the great variety of reinvention and experimentation born of that creative context, ranging from the audacious and satirical to the monumental and rational.

James Gowan (1923–2015), Expandable House Study, 1957. Pencil on wove paper, 138 × 355 mm. DMC 2355.14.
James Gowan (1923–2015), Expandable House Study, 1956. Pencil on wove paper, 139 × 335 mm. DMC 2355.4r.

The architects, artists and practices in the exhibition are members of the last generation to draw on paper, working without digital aids. Their ambition as innovators in a changing culture brought them face to face with the limitations and opportunities of the rapidly expanding modes and techniques of representation that were available to them.

Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), Study drawing for a geodesic sphere, 1975. Magic marker on paper, 482 × 607 mm. DMC 1022.
Michael Webb (1937), Sin Centre, Leicester Square, London: wire frame axo drawing. Black pen on mylar, 281 × 654 mm. DMC 1101.2.

The investigations in the exhibition range from Modern masters, compelled to reconsider their own practices, to protagonists of the following generation, who question inherited orthodoxies. From attempts to redefine architecture within its limits as the art of building, to those that question and expand these very limits, executed in a variety of media and aiming at an even greater variety of manifestations. Many stretch the boundaries of the discipline into new terrain, engaging architecture in the wider debates and inquiries of their day and reminding us of the fundamental place the architectural imagination and its expressions hold in the culture as a whole. All of the investigations share a concern to aim beyond the machine and past the functional, towards the emotional, towards experience, and towards the poetics, rather than the necessities of the everyday.

Hans Hollein (1934–2014), City, Communication Interchange, 1962. Pencil, pen and black ink on wove paper, 329 × 418 mm. DMC 2490.18.
Walter Pichler (1936–2012), c.1960–1964. Pen and ink on wove paper, two pieces joined, 223 × 225 mm. DMC 2327.06.
Constant (Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys), New Babylon, no.6, 1963. Lithographs, 400 × 380 mm. DMC 1472.6.
Ugo La Pietra (1938), La Cellula Abitativa, 1972. Pen, ink, pencil and photograph on paper, 310 × 480 mm. DMC 2238.1.
Superstudio, Istogrammi (misure), 1969. India ink on trace, 620 × 860 mm. DMC 2075.

They also mark a departure from the dream of the pre-war Modernists, in which architects and architecture were the somewhat paternalistic instruments of change in society. The new paradigm instead proposes architecture that provokes critical discussion, which can create its own worlds within, and which, by acting as a backdrop and landscape for change whether material or philosophical could embrace or challenge it.

Álvaro Siza (1933), Patio to Bouca housing estate, 1972. Pencil and ink on paper, 503 × 752 mm. DMC 2397.
Louis Kahn (1901–1974), Model photograph, Kansas City Office Building, 1973. Photograph, 405 × 320 mm.
Aldo Rossi (1931–1997), composition with Modena Cemetery, 1979. Sepia ink and gouache on paper, 712 × 1003 mm. © Estate of the architect. DMC 2287.

This Was Tomorrow: Reinventing Architecture 1953–1978, SAM – Schweizerisches Architekturmuseum, Basel, Switzerland, 13th May – 08 April 2016. Curated by Markus Lähteenmäki, Manuel Montenegro & Nicholas Olsberg. Exhibition page.