Architecture is hard to be ignored, is the most public of the arts. It bears profound meaning and acquired knowledge of generations past, it is a reflection on time and people everywhere you travel. The lay traveller, whose emotions command attention to the visual force of the built environment can’t stand idle to the abstract impersonation of the object. The architect-traveller approaches the process from an equal visual perspective, but from a different focus and previous knowledge. In order to investigate the phenomenon of the impact of relevance for architecture to travel and experience for himself the object of his knowledge, particularly in an age of virtual visual knowledge, I would investigate the eighteenth century custom of the Grand Tour and one of most prominent figures, Sir John Sloane.
Then I will analyze the figure of Rem Koohaas and the particular significance of his theories in relation the Grand Tour experience.
The Grand Tour was a phenomenon greatly associated to the young members of the British aristocracy and gentry of the eighteenth century.
Although not a solely British custom, as it was also fashionable among other northern European countries, it was Britain who contributed with the larger numbers.
The custom and its social relevance started in the middle of the seventeenth century. One of its first relevant figures to embark on the trip was Inigo Jones, who most probably travelled for the first time in the late 1590s, but it was in 1613 when he travelled to Italy in the company of the Earl of Arundel, one of Britain’s greatest patrons of the arts of his time. Patronage became the driving force of this new phenomenon, guiding the young grand tourists’ curiosity and providing them with much needed access to the local establishment and sources of knowledge. The Grand Tour became a staple in the education of young gentlemen, and although they had to travel through other countries, Italy was its primary destination.
By the mid 1700s, the trip had been formed of a series of expected destinations, including Paris as a first stop in the continent and followed by a journey down to Marseille, to then enter by sea into the Italian peninsula through Genoa. Italy at the time was formed by a collection of city-states that rivalled each other in the arts, architecture, wealth and power, which were therefore very suspicious of foreign visitors. The renaissance era that had started in Florence as consequence of the new focus in literature and historic texts by scholars went hand in hand with a desire for cultural and artistic achievements. The highlights of the trip were Florence along with Naples, Rome and Venice were the highlights of the trip. It was precisely Florence the common first stop, and the British consul Horace Mann, who welcomed travellers into the Alglo-Italian society, for almost a most of the century, which eased the arrival of grand tourists and prepare them to the main attraction of the trip, Rome.
Rome had regained its predominant position as Europe’s most popular place of pilgrimage a few centuries back with the return of the Pope from Avignon, but the city itself was only a mere shadow of what young British aristocrats might have imagined from their education, with considerably less vibrant cultural life but comparison with neighbouring city-states; but in turn provided travellers with the ruins the Roman Forum. In an age of limited access to culture, the grand tour provided with a unique opportunity to learn from the sources of this ancient texts, which were used as the main educational tool of places such as Oxford or Cambridge. The term, and to some extend the custom are said to have derived from the writings of Richard Lassels’s book ‘the voyage of Italy’ published in 1670, a little under a century prior to its height in popularity, which occurred between the 1740s ad 1790s (Borley, 13). Though it never experienced the popularity of the late eighteenth century, since it suffered an abrupt halt during the French revolution and the hostilities between France and England, a slight revival of tour took place in the 1820s for a brief time as new routes to Greece (with the demise of the ottoman empire) and the appearance of mass tourism (Thomas Cook established his international travelling agency in 1841), shifted the focus and tradition of the Tour.
The lucky and audacious young aristocratic men who took part in the trip during these years where in search of leisure and drinking as much as in learning from the Italian masters, ‘pleasure and profit, or voluptas and utilitas’ where the twin poles around…(the) debate on the pros and cons of foreign travel’ (Chaney, 58). Rare exceptions to this norm were the aspiring artists on travelling studentships that were made available by the different academies, or under direct patronage. The trip used to take between three and five years, and it was the opportunity to acquire education, manners and a sophisticated taste, it was a right of passage, Dr Samuel Johnson remarked that a man who has not been to Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see” (Borley, 38)
Patronage or the arts, not only by Academies back in England, but as a popular sign of distinction among British aristocratic, often of older age, along the journey, came to signify a great source of development (and income) for travelling students such as John Soane. Patronage would mean access to Italian aristocracy and their collections, as well as the British societies that had established in many Italian cities by the mid eighteenth century. Patronage often required of draughtsmanship and the production or acquisition of drawings, engravings, statues or any other artefacts to bring back to an England keen consume foreign culture
“Wherever I walk, I come upon a familiar object in an unfamiliar world; everything is just as I imagined, yet everything is new” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Italienische Reise (Borley, 32)
‘My attention is entirely taken up in the seeing and examining the numerous and inestimable remains of Antiquity…’ John Soane (Darley, 25)
In his notebooks, as sparse as they are and dating back to 1780, hardly a year passed without John Soane mentioning the anniversary of his journey to Italy (Darley, 1). He set off on March 8th, 1778 on a travelling studentship granted by King George III through the Royal Academy (that he often referred to as my Academy) in the company of fellow travelling student Robert Furze Brettingham and by the 2nd of May he had reached Rome. He was among a small minority of architects among artists and grand tourists. His early choose o destinations and building to survey came from a letter given to him by sir William Chamber, member of the Royal Academy and a grand tourist himself, and to some extent responsible for the studentship that gave Soane the opportunity to travel.
Born in Goring-on-Thames on 10 September 1753 as John Soan (he would later add the final ‘e’ in order to make more upper class sounding) into a low middle class family of bricklayers, profession that he mastered at early age and provided him with a privileged knowledge of the building processes and a sense of the medieval scheme of architecture design (Bolton, 6), this perhaps influenced his constructive approach to architecture, as opposed to a more academic or theoretical one. He arrived in London in 1768, the same year in which Robert Adam began the Adelphi. He must also have seen Lansdowne House and the famous Fete pavilion at Epson Hall of 1774, the middle point in Roberts Adam’s career. It was during these years that England had began a somewhat architecture revolution with the city and the interior spaces being re-coded into classical themes.
Soane was a follower of Adam and Inigo Jones, but the architect who became his mentor and encouraged him to pursue the grand tour was George Dance (1740-1825). Dance was chosen among dissatisfied members of the Incorporated Society of Artists to represent architecture in the newly Royal Academy. The academy successfully petitioned patronage from King George III (granted on December 10th 1760) (Stoud, 21). The creation of the Royal Academy and the close relationship between Soane and Dance, who he worked for a short time before moving on to Henry Holland’s practice (which he thought more practical) but with whom he kept an excellent friendship; was critical to the young Soane and his future development as an architect. Being a founding member of the Academy, it is doubtless that he encouraged Soane to join it. Joinig was also a requisite to opt for a travelling studentship, surely an ambition by now of the young Soane, who had attended the lectures being delivered by the likes of Thomas Sandby, Joshua Reynolds or William chambers, all of whom had experienced the awe and inspiration derived from travelling and studying abroad and were adamantly in favour of classical aesthetics.
Soane successfully obtained the Silver medal of the Royal Academy with a drawing of the façade of Banqueting House in 1774 and after a failed attempt the following year, the Gold medal in 1776 with a drawing of a triumphal bridge (Stoud, 22-23). During the ceremony of the Golden medal, and probably through the connections of Sir William Chambers, Soane was introduced to the King George III, who awarded him one of the two available travelling studentships of the Academy. Soane’s involvement with the academy increased during the years after he returned from his travels, becoming a full member in 1802 and in 1806, on retirement of Dance, was elected Professor or architecture.
Soane spent a total of two years and one month of the total of 3 years that the travelling studentship originally lasted where he travelled almost the whole length of the Italian peninsula. He also visited Sicily, where he got a faint grasp of Greek orders and the true evolution of architecture, a simplicity that made much of an impression on the young Soane.
“Architects, for the first time in several decades, are being solicited for their power to physically articulate new visions…once again one feels a belief in the propagandistic nature of architecture.” New York Times, September 11, 1994
Rem Koolhaas was born on 17 November 1944 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, but have come to embody the figure of the global architecture in the same fashion grand tourists embodied the figure of travelled aristocracy and pioneers of new styles in architecture and construction techniques. He has doubtless become visionary architect in the same way Robert Adams or John Soane were in the eighteenth century. Having lived during his childhood in Jakarta, formerly a Dutch colony, he developed a taste for discovery, as perhaps more importaly, a ‘formative attitude towards modern development.
Joan Ockman states that with Koolhaas, ‘we appear to have arrived at a paradigm shift. If we may characterize the objective that underlay the journeys of the most emblematic architect-tourists of the twentieth century as cognitive mapping, that of the globe-trotting Koolhaas (300 hotel nights a year) might be described as global positioning.” This idea is not only a consequence of a self-aware seek of publicity and appeal to wider audiences (his books have always been printed in English and he often uses the editorial pronoun when talking about the reasons that motivate him to investigate new urban phenomenon), but of a bigger picture, where his ideas of the role of an architect is focused on the research and understanding of social and cultural changes. Having worked as a journalist and film maker “Koolhaas has always paid close attention to this renewal of term: ‘having been a journalist, I am very aware of the impact of the most subtle change of meaning provided by words’.” (Croquis, 5).
In 1972, Koolhaas was given a Harkness Fellowship, which allowed him to study at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City. While in New York, he studied under Peter Eisenman and O.M. Unger. It was while in New York that his talent for observation developed into his main architectural focus. He saw the urban dynamics of the people living in the city of New York as “the culture of congestion” (Koolhaas, 1994, 125). Based on his observations on the city he wrote Delirious New York, a ‘retro-active manifesto’ for the city of Manhattan, which he considers to be a testing ground for ideas.
This manifest became an instant success and according to Koolhaas, the last theoretical manifesto about architecture since then, even though he is dubious about the academic value or qualities of the manifesto itself, being more abstract in essence, in line with the laboratory of ideas that it was Manhattan in his view. With a keen interest the application of new technologies to the contemporary flows of data and information, Koolhaas indentifies the advent of a new culture in New York between the 1890s and 1940s, a new culture he envisaged as ‘the machine age’. He has since been looking out with an eager and educated eye for the new phenomenon of urban development. Such investigation has led him to the investigate new testing grounds as well as to explore in collaboration with his research-based mirror practice of OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), AMO where his intuition leads him in a hunt for the future in urban sprawl developments in the global-city regions and a special interest in self-organization, and how information technology might affect them.
Koolhaas reveals that in order to ‘renew the architectural profession and to maintain a critical spirit, it is important to be aware, to observe’ (Burdett, 246). In order to do so, and in a similar way to the original Grand tourist, he also uses the tool on a new lexicon, and a new revolutionary language, both visual and in writing to reinterpret the architecture of his time. Through the medium of observation, Koolhaas, the new global-tourists; translates the city into a new language, in order to organize it in a new way and being able to make adaptable to future changes.
“if you are a young man….seek the acquaintance of such as are your superiors, men of undoubted sense and abilities; and be swift to hear everything that may tend to give you the least instruction; always taking care to behave with the greatest respect to them” –essay on the duties and qualifications of an architects.” ( du Prey, 39)
“The word ‘architecture’ embodies the lingering hope—or the vague memory of a hope— that shape, form, coherence could be imposed on the violent surf of information that washes over us daily.” (Koolhaas, 2004)
Although Sir John Soane and Rem Koolhaas are not the only two architects that have provided with a discursive formation of the architect’s gaze throughout the centuries, and acknowledging that to some extend most modern architects have experienced travel and architecture in foreign countries, they provide an excellent example of some of the elements they have in common and that I believe might have influenced in his professional career and success. The experience they both gained revealed similar frames of underlying elements and activities that come from experiencing architecture in a particular way. This could also be true for architect such as Inigo Jones or the above-mentioned George Dance in the same way that it could have been said of contemporary architects such as Le Corbusier or Brown and Venturi.
I believe this underlying elements give inklings into the missing pieces of a body of knowledge like is the history of architecture; in other to understand its current state of affairs. In Soane’s time, the close encounter with Roman architecture and engineering, and certain hints in to the its evolution from Greek architecture, gave Sloane and his contemporaries and better understanding of the world they came from and the necessary knowledge of how to adapt that classical knowledge into their own time. I think, that is one of the reasons why the English classical style is still favoured by large number of the public today, even more than other architectural styles that succeeded neoclassicism in Britain.
In the same way, I believe that the type of knowledge gathered by Le Corbusier during his constant travelling in the last stage of his life, or Koolhaas during his formative years (and still now) provided them with a architectural tool for gathering new information about the changing nature of the built environment, and an intuition (sometimes self-fulfilling prophecies) about where it is leading. I think this could be a reason why Koolhaas has become such a prolific editor of architecture books but have not penned another theoretical manifesto since delirious New York. His experience have endowed him with inklings into acceleration nature of information and communication technologies applied to the future of architecture
Koolhaas states that the word urbanism has lost all of its purpose and referential meaning and has become obsolete to represent the reality of the metropolitan built environment around us and that it should be replaced by the word city-marketing*. I can only assume that by the same logic, the world tourist, in reference to the architecture profession is indeed, equally obsolete and perhaps, it should be an indispensable attribute of the qualities of an architect.
Chaney, E. (1998) The evolution of the Grand Tour : Anglo-Italian cultural relations since the Renaissance. London : Frank Cass
Borley, L.; Europa Nostra.; Royal Society of Edinburgh. (2008) The grand tour and its influence on architecture, artistic taste and patronage : a series of essays derived from a conference held in Edinburgh in conjunction with the Royal Society of Edinburgh in September 2007. Scotland : Europa Nostra UK
Burdett, R.; Sudjic, D; (2010) The endless city : the urban age project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society London School of Economics and Political Science. London : Phaidon
Koolhaas, R (2001) Mutations : Rem Koolhaas, Harvard Project on the city; Stefano Boeri, Multiplicity; Sanford Kwinter, Nadia Tazi, Hans Ulrich Obrist. Bordeaux : Arc en rêve centre d’architecture, Barcelona : ACTAR
Koolhaas, R. (1994) Delirious New York : a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan. [New ed.] New York : Monacelli Press
Koolhaas, R, (2004) Content : triumph of realization. Köln : Taschen
Various Ed.(1990) Rem Koolhaas : projects urbans (1985-1990) = urban projects (1985-1990) Barcelona : Col.legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya
Ockman, J; Frausto, S. (2005) Architourism : authentic, escapist, exotic, spectacular Munich, London : Prestel
T Bolton, A. (1923) The works of Sir John Soane, F.R.S., F.S.A., R.A., 1753-1837 London : Sir John Soane Museum 1923
Stroud, D. (1996) Sir John Soane architect. 2nd ed London : de la mare
Darley, G (1999) John Soane : an accidental romantic. New Haven ; London : Yale University Press
Du Prey, P (1982) John Soane : the making of an architect. Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press
Golding, L (1931) Adventures in Architecture. Architecure Review, year 1931, vol. 70, p125-127
AMOMA/Rem Koolhaas 1996 2007 II : teoría y práctica = AMOMA/Rem Koolhaas 1.. . – II, 1996 2007. – Madrid : El Croquis, vol.134-135, 2007.Architecture
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