Bruce J. Graham’s remarks on the occasion of the announcement of the Chicago Institute for Architecture and Urbanism and its first director
September 25, 1986
September 25, 1986
The time has finally come in America when concern for the environment is not limited to Yellowstone Park, The Chesapeake Bay, and acid rain. Consensus underscores that lack of stability in American cities is widespread. The escape valves of suburbia and “returning to nature” have failed miserably, not only utterly destroying the greenbelts around them, but also weakening the corpus by surgical removal of vital organs.
City planners, social planners, and schools of urbanism have disregarded and discounted the man-created environment called Architecture. They have dismissed as elitism the social and spiritual role of the artist in his search for beauty and elegance. In so doing, they have precluded opportunities for the urban dweller to participate in visions of what could be. The search for an answer through statistic or by mandated living patterns has not arrested the cancer, not only in American cities, but also those around the world. Planning by political imperatives has led to inhuman highway networks, to cheap and unsafe public housing, promoting segregation, the extension of firetraps, and creating great living quarters for rats.
On a brighter note, the community of architects with vision agree, as the community of ideas increases, that the dream of a city beautiful is undoubtedly necessary and entirely feasible as well as financeable. We must build cities which, as Einstein said, “make it easy to do good and difficult to do evil.” The forum and scope of our endeavor is unclear; however, there is not one important school of architecture that would discount the need for research, discussion, and intervention.
It is today impossible to create such an interest within the hallowed walls of academia. Our institutions of higher learning have traditional and calculable format unacceptable as modes of research into aesthetic considerations. Therefore, upon the advice of my partners at SOM, the prestigious Board of the SOM Foundation, and our friends around the world, we came to the conclusion that what is needed is an institute whose sole function is the search for civility in architecture and urbanism, specifically in the built environment…. An institution to search for methods by which these visions can be developed, communicated, and activated; not by one man, one firm, but by the moral force of the sum total of those whom society has trained, directed, and mandated to be in charge.
The SOM Foundation Institute [later renamed the Chicago Institute for Architecture and Urbanism] is not intended to be an ivory tower but a forum for the coalescence of ideas where, by the force of the participants, action can be taken to change the garbage dump called city into a habitable environment which elevates the spirit and allows its inhabitants to thrive in body and soul.
In the interest of continuing dynamism and as a linkage to architectural visions of the past, we elected to purchase and restore the Charnley House, itself a product of the cooperative efforts of two architects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. This will be a place for the gathering of freewheeling symposia, for scholarly experimentation, and for the development of propaganda against the well-defended status quo; but, most hopefully, a place where the artist may develop methods and avenues for influencing a society much in need. We also have established a method of leadership for the Institute which will change every three years to ensure diversity within continuity, thus allowing for specificity of purpose while encompassing relevant modern thought.
For this purpose, we conducted a worldwide search for our first Director. It is my pleasure to announce that Mr. Leon Krier has accepted our challenge. Both he and the Board are aware that we launch into unchartered waters. However, we are also aware that the history of man has never given evidence of great civilizations without great architecture. We need not to accept the false premise that an egalitarian society requires mediocrity and absolute consensus. Leon does not fit this erroneous definition. His apparently lonely search was not really so lonely, for leading architects across the world, in their turn, have suffered by the command to mediocrity.
Vision is not lacking in Leon’s work and we are assured, by the clarity of his thought and the depth of his commitment, of his ability to guide the Institute through its initial three years. We are confident he will help establish the standard that henceforth should become the measure of our work.