Vincent Scully: Architecture and the Power of Language

Vincent Scully: Architecture and the Power of Language


Good afternoon everyone
Jock Reynolds here yet again wanting to welcome all of you to the third of the
great new John Walsh lectures and again I want to extend my thanks to many of
you in the audience who are amongst the 224 donors who’ve established this
remarkable lecture and education funded John’s honor
we have a wonderful speaker for you here today and I’m going to introduce my
friend and colleague Deborah Burke the new dean of the Yale School of
Architecture to introduce him Paul Goldberger in a few minutes but I first
want to just say what a absolute pleasure it is for those of us here at
the Yale Art Gallery and those of us who are also partners with the Yale School
of Art to have a new dean who is so friendly and supportive of artists I
think many of you know Deborah designed and renovated the Jewish Community
Center and added the whole new studio building for the Yale School of Art back
when the huge Rick leavened inspired renovation expansion of the ill arts
area started and I was lucky to come into it but Deborah and Richard Benson
were amongst the first builder architects of that era so to have
Deborah here to introduce Paul today is a
special pleasure and I just want you to know how happy we are Deborah to have
you as a new colleague I wanted to also mention we’re gonna have another
distinguished women curator and Temkin here on April 20th she’s going to
deliver a lecture be now the curator of painting sculpture the principal curator
at MoMA I’m what inspired her as a student here the teachers that inspired
her much as Paul will be talking about about Vin Scully she will talk about the
teachers who inspired her Yale and also the works in this collection that
brought her into a life of art so without further ado I would like to ever
to come up and do the honors thank you so much Deborah Thank You Jock and I think it says
something about Yale that at 19 months and nine days one can still be called a
new dean I’m not counting so thank you Jock and hello to everyone here this
is one of my favorite rooms on campus and it’s in one of my favorite buildings
on campus and I am with among all the rest of you friends in the audience two
people who are both friends and individuals I admire enormous Lee that’s
you Jock and you Paul so it is wonderful to be here particularly as we
are here to celebrate and learn more about the work of another great person
of Yale perhaps one of the greatest that’s Vincent Scully Yale is often
described as a place that produces senators Supreme Court justices and
presidents this is a truth and a remarkable legacy I hope it’s the truth
that continues but in my world the comparatively smaller field of
architecture Yale also has a remarkable legacy that of producing an unusually
large number of architecture critics these writers serve a crucial public
role of interpreting and advocating for a better built environment they help
broaden the understanding of our field to the public and they keep developers
cities institutions and God knows us architects ourselves on our toes at all
times Blair Kaman of the Chicago Tribune
Giulio Veen of the Wall Street Journal Alexandre Lange of curbed and
Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times are just a few of the more
prominent Yale educated names that cover and critique the field of architecture Vincent Scully most certainly had a lot
to do with this as Scully ignited an interest in architecture in so many much
by situating it and abroad and exciting cultural conversation across the ages
and the disciplines not having had the good fortune to study under Scully
myself leave the more nuanced description of Scully’s influence to our
featured presenter my friend Paul Goldberger but I want to talk about Paul
for a minute given his meteoric rise to the most
important critics seat in the country at the New York Times following in the
footsteps of the diminutive giant in the field ADA Louise Huxtable Paul
Goldberger stands today as the Dean of the very small Club of American
architecture critics I wish a club that were bigger but I’m happy it has a Dean
this significant Paul held his post at the Times until 1997 along the way in
1984 he won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism following his
years at the Times he served as architecture critic at The New Yorker
and he currently covers architecture and design as a contributing editor at
Vanity Fair Paul is the author of several many actually significant books
including building art the life and work of Frank Gehry published by Knopf in
2015 and why architecture matters published by Yale University Press in
2009 a book that I actually suggest to anyone and there are plenty of any ones
these days who ask me what should I read to understand architecture I say
Goldberger why architecture matters will tell you all you need to know it’s a
it’s terrific and I actually recommend it to you all are they selling any
outside in recognition of the significance of his writings in 1997
Paul was named a literary lion which is the New York Public Library’s distribute
to distinguished writers and in 2012 he was awarded the gold medal of the
National Institute of the social sciences and appropriate for today’s
talk that year he was he also received the Vincent Scully prize given by the
National Building Museum in Washington DC it is a prize that acknowledges
exemplary practice scholarship or criticism in architecture historic
preservation and urban design and Paul was a most deserving recipient of the
Vincent Scully prize in addition to his books and articles he has also had an
important career as an educator he has taught here at Yale at the University of
California at Berkeley and at Parsons The New School of Design where he holds
the Joseph urban professor of architecture and urban design and
actually served as Dean there between 2004 and 2006 titles and awards aside
Paul is the perfect person to talk to you all today about the work of Vincent
Scully not only because he knew and was inspired by him but because in his own
work Paul captures some of the best attributes of Scully’s teaching erudite
but always free of jargon Paul makes architecture exciting accessible and
important to the millions of readers that he reaches an architectural record
Paul recently wrote of Scully quote that was the key to his vast sphere of
influence he didn’t speak only to architects but to everyone and the same
could be said of you Paul it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Yale good afternoon and thank you so much
Jacque and Deborah both I have a new back cover for my book now Thank you
Thank You Deborah really wonderful it’s wonderful to be here at the Yale art
gallery talking about Vincent Scully it does feel a little bit like traveling to
Florence to talk about Michelangelo or to Charlottesville to talk about Thomas
Jefferson the connection between Vincent Scully and this room is particularly
potent of course since so many of us remember his regular lectures here but
it does not end with these walls it really extends across all of New Haven
since we can’t truly separate Scully from this city where he was born where
he grew up and lived almost all of his life even when we talk of his work in
Greece that yielded the earth the temple and the gods or his work in the American
Southwest the presence of New Haven is somehow always there always shaping his
thought always framing the questions I’ll come back to New Haven and its
impact on Scully in a moment but the other most important thing to say about
Vincent Scully the overarching thing before we even begin to get into what he
achieved as a scholar and a teacher what he stood for and what his legacy might
be is to say that he seemed if you look at it in broad strokes to fit no
established pattern he was a townie who went to Yale a student of literature who
made his life within the visual world a scholar who was also an activist an
academic who was driven by passion a public man who was most comfortable in
private a sophisticated man of the world who often found his greatest love in the
plainest and most familiar things he was the Politis man
you can ever meet except when he was rude he was a lover of institutions yet
a skeptic about political power he exuded Authority and yet he distrusted
Authority he was a man whose reputation came in part from the brilliance and
power of his ability to perform on the lecture platform yet he nevertheless
approached each lecture with trepidation and fear of failure all of this adds up
to what might seem on the surface to be a bundle of contradictions and indeed it
is but it is only by looking at all of it and seeing all the elements of Scully
not as simple contradictions but as more of if I may say indications of a complex
and difficult whole that we can begin to understand him
now this very phrase indications of a complex and difficult whole sounds as I
say it more than a little clinical and I suspect that Vince would loathe hearing
it not because he would say it was wrong but because the phrase has such an
analytical quality about it trying to explain Vincent Scully by methodically
dissecting the contradictions inherent in his persona is the antithesis of
Scully the ultimate unschooling like way to try to understand him it is only a
little closer to reality than if we were trying to explain him by saying he was X
feet tall and weighed X pounds it is bloodless and that is the very opposite
of what Scully was he was full of passion visible passion which he not
only felt but could communicate more effectively more convincingly more
powerfully than any scholar I’ve ever known if anything characterized Vincent
Scully it was not his ability to feel passion it was his ability to come
very passion to make his students feel what he was feeling
or better still to make them feel so engaged with what they were looking at
that they would be inspired to find ways to feel these things on their own
inspired by Vincent’s passions for architecture and art to begin to have
passions of their own and yet still it would be a terrible mistake to think of
Vincent Scully for all that we associate him with passion as a historian driven
primarily by emotion and instinct that’s been a criticism of him from some
academic quarters throughout his career the notion that it was emotion and not
intellect that shaped his views that sells him short it denies him the
brilliance of his eye the sharpness of his judgment the ultimate contradiction
in his persona perhaps was the extent to which he was rigorous tough minded
unsentimental analyzer of form for his entire life as a scholar even as he was
also refusing to engage in what we might call form based scholarship even as he
was saying that meaning was not to be found wholly in form itself but in the
relationship of form to social cultural political and psychological realities to
the concerns that drive any humanist and whatever else can be said about Vincent
Scully he was a humanist above all else the architecture historian Michael Lewis
observed in an elegant essay written after Scully’s death that while Vince’s
hero’s changed over time from and I quote from right Tula Corbusier to Louis
Kahn to Robert venturi and finally to Donnie and platters I Burke what might
seem at first glance to be unprincipled fickleness what
in fact an expression of consistency on the part of Scully who always identified
himself with what he felt to represent the most humanist direction of
architecture at any given moment that I think is the truth about him that
matters but he was a humanist above all and that if he seemed inconsistent it
was really a response to changing conditions in the world itself
conditions to which he was throughout his life exquisitely sensitive another
way to say all this would be to say that for Scully no work of art no work of
architecture ever existed outside of social and political and cultural
context and of course these contexts change and shift constantly it could not
be otherwise the world continually changes and in Scully’s view it is the
job of the art historian not to analyze the object in isolation from the world
but in connection to it so as the world continued to change
Scully’s view of what any single architect work of architecture was or
what the career of any particular architect meant or exactly how one
interpreted the mission of creating a humane and socially responsible
architecture inevitably read differently against a different
context before we step back and talk a bit more chronologically and
geographically looking at Scully’s life and work with particular attention to
its connection to New Haven let me make one final general observation which also
falls into this category of seeming contradictions the point is this Scully
was a historian of the visual arts who was working just as much in the realm of
language an art historian who for all the sharpness of his eye was deeply
interested in the English language and what it could do what it could mean to
connect to art how in other words we could use the verbal to enlighten us
about the virtual visual rather now of course all art history is verbal every
artists re and uses words to describe images and make judgments about them and
about their significance so what made Scully different in this regard the more
I look back at Scully’s famous lectures a handful of which thankfully have been
preserved on film and the more I look back at his writing the more certain I
am that the thing he really reveled in thinking about purely in terms of form
wasn’t architecture it was language he all but tells us this in that fine
checkerboard film about him in which we’re calling his beginnings as a
student of literature says my culture was all the word I majored in English
and then goes on to say when he moved on to the history of art I could use
language about something that wasn’t language use language about something
that wasn’t language yes and what really drove Scully was the Greek principle of
a crisis the use of rhetoric or literary form to describe works of art the very
foundation of his career we might say was this concept which begins to tell us
why Scully played with the English language with a precision that went
beyond clarity of communication and into the form driven act of making poetry he
deconstructed and reconstructed words making phrases and sentences on the
basis of rhythms and sounds and associations as a poet might another way
to say this would be to say that I don’t think he fully wanted to leave
literature when he moved on to art and architecture as
partly because he was frustrated by the limits of the new criticism which in
some ways is to literature what a purely form based analysis of Arty’s to art
history I think it’s fair to presume that Scully experienced literature as
more empathetic as connected to feeling as much as form and my sense looking
back at the whole of his career is that he saw in art history and architecture
an opportunity for his instinctively empathetic viewpoint to be expressed
more freely than it could in the world of literary teaching and criticism now
he was of course driven by an obvious and deep love for architecture and art
and for the by the discovery that he responded to them and had plenty to say
about them it was hardly a random choice to move away from literature to art an
architectural history but part of the thought process for Scully
I suspect was that architectural history was a discipline that would be more
amenable to his way of seeing the world than literature had been but he could
still use and would still use literary techniques a literary approach that’s my
point so when we talk about Scully and language we’re really observing that
architecture became in a very real way his literary material it was his
literary source because he saw an architecture the power of great
literature and he chose to treat it that way as something that affects us deeply
and powerfully and at its best also as something that can teach us important
lessons about how to live we read great novels after all to be excited to be
engaged to be moved and to learn about life Scully had us look at architecture
for the same reasons it is not just eloquence that marked his
prose but the drive to assemble words in a way that went beyond direct
communication and would use the power of language itself putting together words
and sentences in all their magnificence and might and subtlety and grace to put
visual images before us and help us not just to comprehend them but to feel them
deeply and to think about what they mean for our lives he wanted to use the power
of language to awaken in his students an understanding of the power of art maybe
that’s the best way to put it that unlike most architects art historians
for whom language is just a tool language was something more to Vincent
Scully I would not go so far as to say it was an end in itself but there are
moments when it seems to come close to that when the language takes on the
poetic quality of words that are about the form of language as well as about
their nominal subject we all know that art is whatever else at least in part
about the idea of art by the same token great in poetic languages about the idea
and form of language and about what it can do and what it can mean and in the
case of Scully how using language with the power of poetry can make us
understand and feel the power of art and the power of architecture that is a
great even transcendent thing I don’t know any historian of architecture who
has treated words as Scully did there are many many examples but I’ll give you
just a couple of them one that I find particularly moving is this passage from
the earth the temple and the gods at the end of the chapter on the Parthenon in
which Scully writes there is only being and light time lies dead in the white
and silver light of the outdoor room between the Parthenon
Rexie on it dies upon the parthenons white and golden columns so that athena
takes her one step forward and outward forever gods and men alike are radiant
in the light it is the only immortality for human beings approaching the hazard
of the light with the gods in this illuminated instant which is the whole
of time in the light everything is simple and grave the relation of the
buildings to each other into the hand to the land fuses in the white light what
remains is beyond action to instantaneous for every to deep for calm
it is silence the sweet deep breath taken time stops fear lies dead upon the
rock the column is it stands time stops fear lies dead upon the rock the column
is it stands this is not descriptive writing and it is not analytical writing
it is something beyond that a kind of writing that engages so deeply with the
form and meaning that and I would even say with the sensuality of words that we
cannot but think of it in poetic terms it is in every way a crisis the use of
rhetorical language to describe works of art but so too with many more
conventionally analytical sentences of skully’s like this reference to Frank
Lloyd Wright in the splendid Cooley house the separate pavilions were inter
woven by long heavily framed corridors and the low ceilings sail on seemingly
endlessly before the flat faces of the deeply embedded fireplace walls it was a
kind of freedom and their being as it were no end to it it was also a kind of
death underneath everything how great and terrible in architecture
was we asked ourselves about the clients did they know what they had or what had
swallowed them what did the client see here what did they want it why did they
want it they saw a piece surely and utter calm and dim quietness and warmth
and marvelous functional flexibility despite the general order these things
probably induced them to put up with some feeling of oppression and the
occasional real darkness and the sense of an utterly competent leader directing
it all or the reference to Bernhard may Beck’s Palace of the Fine Arts in San
Francisco with the low dome Jefferson’s domes adrift on the Pacific at last what
a wonderful phrase that is and how much is in it Scully refers not only to
Jefferson’s favored low pantheon like domes but also implicitly to his
connection to American expansion to the growth of the nation across the
continent all these ideas Jefferson’s love of classicism and his belief in the
manifest destiny of the United States to cross the continent come together in
that simple elegant phrase just seven words Jefferson’s domes adrift on the
Pacific at last and while we’re on the subject of Bernhard Maybach Scully ends
another essay by contrasting may back to the crafty Frank Lloyd Wright and
describing him as one of the great innocents in every age always free
I read that phrase decades ago and it’s simple but slightly quirky syntax still
resonates with me it’s more than about Maybach it is about the very idea the
very meaning of innocence I recall from my days as a student
hearing Scully quote Robert lolz great poem for the Union dead when he taught
up sorry I in the wrong direction here vo when he taught about Augustus sang
Gordon’s celebrated bar relief of Robert Shaw’s Civil War regiment in Boston
Common but I realized he wasn’t just showing us how the sculptor had inspired
this poem he was showing us how Robert Lowell and so much other poetry had
influenced him that’s what we’re really seeing here his own language was as
fluent and is deeply in love with the form and sound and shape and meaning and
juxtaposition of words as the poet’s was Scully wanted to be the poet of
architecture and that is what he became and so back to the beginning to New
Haven and some biographical facts that probably most people in this room know
Scully was born in 1920 the only child of a middle-class couple in New Haven
his father a Chevrolet salesman who became a local alderman his mother a
housewife who had aspirations of singing opera in the 1920s New Haven was very
much a city not a huge one but a prosperous small city in the way that
almost every small American city had a certain kind of provincial prosperity to
it a few things distinguish New Haven however and they would all leave their
marks on Scully the city’s plan with its famous nine squares was the most notable
so was its natural geography set between east rock and restaurant unusual huge
rock outcroppings for a northeast student waterfront city
this there was urban planning of the highest order
with public space at its heart and there was that powerful and beautiful natural
feature about which Scully would write it blazes at sunset like a Butte
bursting up from Arizona to dominate the Connecticut Shore so it was in this
small comprehensible city that was New Haven that Scully came first to think
about themes that carried through all his work the belief that architecture
has a social purpose the shaping of community that confers a meaning that
goes beyond its purely formal qualities as he would put it many years later in
another context what he valued most about architecture was its connection to
the actions of human beings and the effect of physical forms upon their
spirit and it was the connection between east rock and west rock and the
waterfront and the streets of New Haven that gave Scully his first sense of what
he would consider the critical balance for architecture the harmony between the
natural and the man-made something he so believed in that he would come to take
that phrase the natural and the man-made as the title of one of his books the
third thing that distinguish New Haven besides the nine squares plan and the
striking natural setting of course was Yale the only place Scully
studied after he graduated from Hillhouse High School it is where he
received all his degrees where he taught for six decades and became one of the
most celebrated and influential faculty members of modern times his final book
Yale and New Haven architecture and urbanism written with his wife the
architectural historian Catherine Lin with other contributions by Eric votes
and by me published in 2004 is nominally in an analysis
of the relationship nearly three centuries long between Yale and its City
an issue Scully had been reflecting on it is fair to say for his entire life
it’s a book that analyzes the campus and the city and studies how architecture
both reflected and influenced the city and the university’s long and mutually
dependent but also adversarial relationship it’s also in many ways the
culmination of Scully’s complex relationship to Yale an attempt to pull
together what New Haven and Yale had meant to him now relationships between
universities and the cities in which they sit have often been studied as
political and economic Scully’s book was one of the few that looked at it purely
in architectural and symbolic terms University buildings
Scully wrote should be among the city’s most enduring it is after all something
like immortality they deal in offering an escape from the restrictions to life
that ignorant imposes this should be especially true of Yale in New Haven
God’s City under the mountain Haven of X Isles heaven on earth for all mankind to
see we can see the direct influence indeed the inspiration of New Haven also
in such earlier works by Scully as American architecture and urbanism
originally published in 1969 this is a great book perhaps the closest he ever
came to transferring the experience of his lectures to the printed page it was
in this book that Scully describing the relationship of Peter B White Street
Hall Swart well to old Yale art gallery Louie Kahn’s new Yale art gallery and
Paul Rudolph’s art and architecture building
I did beside one another along Chapel Street at the edge of the campus offered
one of his most famous and most resonant definitions of architecture which he
called and I quote a continuing dialogue between the generations which creates an
environment developing across time it is one of Scully’s most quoted lines and it
is important to remember that it was inspired by what he saw in New Haven
indeed by what he saw just outside this door on these blocks of Chapel Street it
is no exaggeration to say that Scully had something of an 80 year long lover’s
quarrel with Yale he believed deeply in the university and at the same time it
drove him crazy then again he drove it crazy he criticized the university’s
architectural decisions constantly in his lectures and his relationships with
the presidents he knew and liked best could probably all be described as
consisting of stresses interrupted by periods of tranquillity that was true
even of Whitney Griswold who Scully encouraged to hire Louie Kahn to design
the Yale art gallery in 1951 the most significant work of modern architecture
at Yale and the one Scully always felt was the best
Scully deeply admired Griswold for his commitment to building modern
architecture at Yale in a long oral history interview with Jeffery Kappa
Service he referred to Griswolds deep convictions about building serious
modern works here but he also of course thought highly of Kingman Brewster and
Rick Levin Rick Levin if in different ways many of the stresses involved
Scully’s fury over the loss of what he considered to be key buildings on the
campus like Sheffield and North Winchester halls which were torn down in
1967 to make way for Marcel Brewers Becton Hall with
Scully detested he probably hated by nicking library even more just because
of fun shafts designed not because of the loss of anything to make up for it
to make way for it rather I don’t know that he ever came to terms with this
building as many of the rest of us who hated it for a long time eventually came
to do he did however make a peace with euro Saarinen’s Engels rink which he
said and I quote was cited with no regard for its surroundings had no place
on a street was in every way a shameless intrusion on the other hand and I’m
still quoting nobody could really perceive until later what a wonderful
place it was in which to watch hockey how it swooped with the puck and
reverberated with speed and violence and how with too many people inside it the
better it became Scully was more than a little Impala tick in his constant
criticism of the university over many of its architectural and preservation
decisions including allowing the Davies mansion on Prospect Street to
deteriorate almost to the point of collapse though it was later beautifully
restored as Betts house and late in life he fought Rick Levin over plan changes
to the Yale Divinity School and even over some of the college renovation
plans but he was more than the local architectural curmudgeon he could also
be remarkably perceptive and as we’ve seen subtle and willing to take in
empirical evidence and shift his observations
a little bit more biography now with apologies to those of you to whom these
basic facts are familiar slowly spent almost all of his academic career at
Yale retiring a sterling professor of the history of art in 1991 and
continuing to teach is an emeritus professor until 2009 when he was 89 well
he also had a flourishing late career as an adjunct professor at the University
of Miami where for a decade he spent half of each year after stepping down
from the sterling chair Yale it is worth saying one more time that New Haven
remained his home his touchstone as well as the place he looked to for lessons
about urbanism almost to the end of his life and as by now I suspect everyone
here knows he spent his last six years in Lynchburg Virginia the family home of
his wife Katherine Lynn which is where he died on November 30th 2017 other than
sabbaticals in Europe and the time he spent abroad as a marine in world war ii
his years in Lynchburg were the only time he did not reside in New Haven if
New Haven is not just a place in which Scully formed so many of his perceptions
but also a frame in which so much of his life played out another theme of his
life and work surely is a sense of constant engagement with the world as
I’ve said as an art historian he refused to accept a purely form driven way of
analyzing art architecture he saw everything within the context of its
time in its place and he was the model of the activist scholar I’ll come back
to that in a moment since it brings together his New Haven roots and his
academic instincts as perfectly as we could ask for but first just a couple
more words about his more conventional academic progression if we could call it
that Scully student Neil Levine the Emmet Blakeney Gleeson professor at
Harvard has suggested that Scully’s interest in seeking an empathetic
connection to form reflects the influence of all evil CEO who taught at
Yale from 1940 till his death in 1943 Levine is written that falsie owns la
vie de forme through a quote its emphasis on the changing meanings of
forms over time and their relationship to the viewers direct visual experience
would remain a guiding principle of Scully’s mature thought his early years
as a graduate student at Yale where he returned in 1946 after being in the
Marines exposed him to colleagues like George Kubler and Carol Meeks and also
ravine is written to the writings of Siegfried Gideon Henry Russell Hitchcock
D H Lawrence the Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright he received his PhD in 1949
completing his work in only three and a half years and writing a dissertation
that would eventually become one of his most influential books the shingle style
published in 1955 a remarkable work that more or less single-handedly transformed
perceptions of late nineteenth-century domestic architecture in the United
States rendering what had been thought of as being a vernacular only marginally
meaningful to architectural history into a body of work of deep and lasting
significance in 1947 while still a student Scully would make a brief foray
into architectural design himself taking a course in the architecture department
and eventually designing a small suburban house for himself and his first
wife Nancy Keith who he married in 1942 the design followed a pilgrimage the
skully’s took to meet Frank Lloyd Wright who is his first architectural hero at
Taliesin where with a glorious sense of hubris or perhaps innocence they asked
the great man to take on the commission himself right actually did produce a
house for the skully’s it did not meet their budget of $20,000 and so Scully
decided to design a simplified version of it himself which Neal Levine would
later describe as a woodsy part Johnson part brewer international style box he
published his first article architecture as a science is the scientific method
applicable to architectural design in the Yale scientific magazine in May of
1948 a critique of siegfried Gideon that might be said to prefigure skully’s
later prominence as a critic of modernist orthodoxy at least so far as
it was expressed in the Neo Bauhaus world of Harvard by the time that
article it appeared certainly had already burnished his voice in
opposition to what might be called Harvard modernism
despite the resemblance of his own house to Harvard modernism by appearing along
with Marcel Breuer Walter Gropius Philip Johnson Eero Saarinen Alfred Barr Lewis
Mumford and Hitchcock at a symposium at the Museum of Modern Art entitled what
is happening to modern architecture I wish he took issue with Breuer and
Gropius for marginalizing right he was the youngest participant on the panel
and the event would foreshadow a lifelong eagerness to assure that the
walls of the Academy did not limit his ability to engage in public discourse
about architecture and so his public career was launched we hardly have time
to review all his works even the major ones
so I’ll restrict myself to just a few comments about some of the themes that
characterized Scully’s work as his writing and his teaching evolved the
most important thing to say for our purposes today is that he did not
approach any subject in a conventional Orthodox way as the shingle style
published in 1955 rethought American domestic architecture of the late 19th
century and showed how it paved the way for modern architecture the earth the
temple and the gods published in 1962 looked at classical architecture in a
way that was altogether different from the way classicists had treated it
Scully saw Greek temples not as an ordered system of architectural form but
as the assertion of the gods as represented by man’s creation into and
onto the form of the earth man was heroic positioning himself on the earth
as a challenge to nature as much as an embrace of it it is no accident that
Scully’s book modern architecture published in 1960 looked at modern
Western architecture in the same kind of heroic terms the community of scholars
of classical architecture did not think much of a Scully’s approach and by and
large dismissed his connection between architecture and landscape he was shaken
and quite saddened by the mixed critical response to the earth the temple in the
gods Scully may have celebrated heroism but
he did not have himself the hero’s indifference to popular response not I
think because of this criticism but more because of what I earlier calls his
exquisite sensitivity to what was going on in the world not that many years
after the earth the temple and the gods was published
Scully began to see things differently the 60s
changed him as they changed so many people he was active in protesting
against the Vietnam War he marched on the New Haven green in 1968 living the
intention of the city’s planners that the central square be a meaningful
public realm he became highly active as a critic of
New Haven’s celebrated urban renewal program under Mayor Richard C Lee Scully
saw earlier than many critics how much it of it depended on eviscerating the
city’s poorer neighborhoods replacing low-income quarters however stable they
may have been with highways and fancy buildings by famous architects Urban
Renewal Scully wrote was cataclysmic automotive and suburban a beautifully
considered trio of words Scully had come to think that the heroic heroism he had
once admired the American and modern heroism that he considered the heir to
the Greek heroism that brought civilization the Greek temples was a
sham a sign of arrogance more than greatness the Vietnam War and urban
renewal were both Scully felt American arrogance run amok he became so
disenchanted with a certain kind of architectural ambition that he once
referred to the architecture of Kevin Roche as paramilitary dandyism he became
a strong advocate of historic preservation and publicly apologized for
not being sufficiently enlightened about preservation back in 1963 to have joined
the protest against the demolition of Pennsylvania Station in New York he made
up for that with what is probably the most famous line ever uttered about the
glorified subway station that is the current Pennsylvania station once Scully
said one entered the city like a god now you scuttle in underground like a rat by
1974 Scully had published a new edition of modern architecture with an added
chapter subtitled the age of irony which supplemented quotes from Camus with
quotations from Shelley and Wallace Stevens students in his lecture courses
in the 1960s and 1970s of whom I was one recalls Scully telling them with a
candor they did not expect to find from an eminent professor how he changed his
mind about many of the things that he had most believed early in his career
most particularly the notion that modern architects could boldly remake the world
he was always enough of an urbanist to a view the Veals had to use with
skepticism if not outright disdain but he came to view Lycoris yays buildings
increasingly in terms of how well they worked into an urban fabric rather than
in terms of their sculptural power he placed on his lecture screen an image of
the curb you see a high court at Chandigarh when it was new and then a
later one showing its pillars painted in bold colors in an earlier time Scully
might have suggested that the paint was a defacement but by the 1970s he
proclaimed his willingness to see it more as an attempt to humanize the
building’s the evolution in Scully’s thinking is in many ways expressed by
the contrast between the earth the temple and the gods and one of the books
that followed it Pueblo mountain village dance published in 1975 both Bookshare
view of architecture not as pure form but as object inseparable from the
landscape the difference was the Greek temples for Scully boldly confronted the
earth pueblos by contrast accommodated to it the temple was
assertive and freestanding the pueblos gentle and connected if
classical scholars had not been enthusiastic about Scully’s new way of
seeing the Greek temple and it was indeed a new way when he turned his
attention to the American Southwest he was able both to enter territory little
explored by previous architecture historians and also defined a parallel
to his wish to turn modern architecture away from heroism and toward
accommodation it’s important to say one more word about the book that came in
between the earth the temple and the gods and Pueblo Mountain Village dance
and that is American architecture and urbanism of 1969 it is in many ways the
work most characteristic of Scully’s impassioned and socially engaged
approach to architectural history it was surely the one that most closely
replicated the famous experience of the Yale lectures with their cavalcade of
images rapid-fire associations and comparisons between architecture and
painting architecture and poetry and works of high and vernacular
architecture as I’ve said Scully was deeply engaged by the urban crisis of
the 1960s and he wanted to use the tools of the architectural historian to offer
a sweeping vision of the United States as a nation whose love of movement and
open space had left it in deep conflict about its cities
Scully wrote in another of his characteristic phrases at once a call to
action and a reverie we can hardly flee our neighbors along the highroad forever
crazy the image and dear to us and if we are fortunate we shall make more of it
in the future farther out and wilder but it cannot be all in its pursuit is of
emptiness and we must stand up now to urban
with our fellows in our feared and hated cities though the smell of the morning
break the heart on the high plains Stelling love the open road
he loved automobiles and he loved small towns and villages as much if not more
than great cities not the least of the reasons those sentences from American
architecture and urbanism are so indicative beyond the fact that they
demonstrate the commitment to social responsibility that wove through almost
all of his writing is that they stop short of sermonizing to acknowledge the
visual pleasures that can be found amid sprawl and the strip Scully was always
more inclined to romanticize than to scold and that remained true as he
underwent the shift of his thinking in the mid-1960s that we’ve been talking
about putting aside his belief in the heroic possibilities of modernism in
favor of the view that there were important things to be learned from the
architectural vernacular in general and the commercial vernacular in particular
for that Scully owed a particular debt to Robert venturi later Venturi’s wife
and partner Denise Scott Brown as well as to his student and longtime colleague
deborah birx predecessor as dean the architect Robert AM Stern who we see on
the far left who first introduced him to Van Therese work when stoon Stern was a
student at the Yale School of Architecture Scully would come to write
the introduction to Venturi’s complexity and contradiction in architecture in
which he would assert that the book published in 1966 was the most important
writing on the making of architecture since the Kirby’s gaze there’s you in
architecture of 1923 it was a statement that seemed hyperbolic and at one Scully
few friends outside the turi camp by the time the book was
reissued in a new edition 11 years later it had become something of a classic and
Scully’s claim for it no longer seemed like a wild exaggeration it was the
deliberate anti monumentality the irony inventory’s architecture that most
excited Scully however he was always more comfortable
with the aspect of enteries work that could be described as a Mannerist take
on traditional architectural form that on the aspect that celebrated Las Vegas
and the banality of the everyday to him the notion of an architect a skewing
monumentality was exactly what American culture needed in the mid-1960s as an
antidote to what he viewed as the militarism and overbearing displays of
American power of the Vietnam War Scully often described then thérèse
buildings as gentle and he made no secret of how different he found it from
the work of the modern architect who’d been his first passion Frank Lloyd
Wright without of the Corbusier with whom he had come later to be equally
besotted in the years before he discovered venturi he had romanticized
these and other heroic modern figures as representing a kind of existential power
seeing in their forms the embodiment of decisive human action not for nothing
did Scully quote Camus at the beginning of that 1961 book modern architecture
the architecture of democracy if Scully’s
enchantment with the idea of modern architects as heroic figures led him to
embrace Robert venturi in the 1960s we should fill in an important gap in this
chronology by going backwards in time for just a moment to say that he
contributed no less to the rise of another important figure Louis Kahn in
the previous decade and you can see Kahn actually poking up to the left of Scully
way in the back there in this image taken actually in on a trip to Moscow as
with venturi he was the first prominent architectural historian to demonstrate a
serious interest in Kahn’s work and his monograph in George Brazil errs series
on contemporary architects Louis Icahn published in 1962 was the first book on
Kahn who Scully saw as representing something different among the heroic
modernists whose work had so excited him kondeh Scully was no less ambitious no
less heroic but his somber and distinctive modernism broke firmly from
both the international style and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright
Scully presented Khan as an architect who did not so much reject history as
reach back into it in search of something basic something primal rough
and raw his buildings like quote now from Scully his buildings despite their
Roman connotations are hard and normally without covering finishes they are
exactly what they seem not for the faint-hearted which is as it should be
come therefore requires wise and courageous clients who are willing to
forego the gloss of superficial perfection in order to take part in a
sustained and demanding process of which they may one day be proud let me add one more important thing to
this story something else that marked Vincent Scully
as unusual which is his generosity to his students and his willingness to
acknowledge their contributions to his thinking
indeed his willingness to change his thinking in response to what he learned
from them it was unusual in the world of
scholarship not only did he acknowledge Robert Stern’s role in connecting him to
venturi he thanked stirring in print for his work on George Hal before Stern’s
book was even published and he made frequent references as I said to Stearns
role in connecting him to venturi surely this is much as his commanding presence
on the lecture platform was the reason that so many prominent architects and
critics many of them his former students journeyed back to New Haven one morning
in late April of 1991 for what was expected to be Scully’s final lecture
before retirement required by then Yale’s van mandatory retirement age of
70 taking seats in the lecture hall in a surprise tribute to their teacher the
event attracted Philip Johnson Milan Caesar Pelli Stanley Tiger Minh Kevin
Roche Leon creer Andres Duany and Robert stern among many
dozens of others and ended up as the subject of a front-page story in the New
York Times which noted that Scully was so startled to see the famous visitors
scattered among his students that he briefly had to leave the auditorium to
compose himself before beginning his lecture after the lecture the visitors
adjourned to lunch at Kavanagh’s an old Irish bar on Chapel Street the
Scully favored over New Haven’s more polished establishments and you see an
image of Scully with Phillip and david whitney after lunch here it
was the first time the place had ever closed probably the last time it ever
closed for a private party it is worth saying here that the circle of students
that if the circle of students rather closest to Scully was made up of
architects art historians and critics his influence extended far beyond people
professionally connected to architecture as a teacher of one of the most popular
courses at Yale for more than 60 years he reached countless students who became
lawyers bankers teachers and doctors and ignited in many a lifelong interest in
architecture he may well have created more sympathetic and engaged
architecture clients than anyone else ever has but no list of Scully’s
students would be complete without Andres Duany and Elizabeth platters I
burg whose impact on him may have been the most notable of all like Stern they
were not Yale undergraduates they encountered Scully when they arrived at
Yale as graduate architecture students in the mid-1970s as Scully was
completing his rethinking of what constituted a contemporary humanist
architecture after they established their own firm DPZ they would design the
influential town of seaside in Florida which Scully admired particularly for
its elevation of town planning principles over the architecture of
individual structures and they would go on to found the new urbanism movement
and perhaps most important of all to the later chapters in his life they would
invite him to teach at the University of Miami for more than a dozen years he and
Katherine Lynn would spend their winters in a small cottage in Coconut Grove and
a generation of non yale students would be exposed to architecture as seen
through the lens of skully had hoped that the new Urbanists
would call their movement the architecture of community but their
decision not to do so did not prevent him from serving as the group’s guiding
philosophical figure or from taking that phrase as the title for the Jefferson
lecture in the humanities which he was invited by the National Endowment of the
humanities to deliver at the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1995 he would
give other versions of that talk most famously at the White House in 1998 when
he was invited to speak at a dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of the
Pritzker Prize his presentation there entitled America at the Millennium
architecture and community was an event with no small degree of irony since so
much of his talk was devoted to praising the vernacular design of traditional
communities over the iconic buildings of famous architects such as those the
Pritzker Prize was created to honor it was not surprising that Hillary Clinton
in her remarks following the talk thanks Kelly by calling him eloquent and
forceful but quite subversive it was around the same time that the National
Building Museum gave Scully perhaps an even greater honor which was to endow a
new Prize in his name to celebrate exemplary practice
scholarship or criticism in architecture historic preservation and urban design
the first scully prize in 1999 went to scholar himself Jane Jacobs got the
second and the award has since gone to Prince Charles the AG economist Lambert
and among Scully’s students Dewani and plotters I Burke
Robert Stern and myself it’s a great part of the sculling legacy
and it continues strong although for all the eminence that the award has come to
represent it does not bring to mind those words that Hillary Clinton used
when she spoke at the White House so let me come back to that phrase eloquent and
forceful but quite subversive for a moment I think Hillary Clinton got
Scully exactly right it is a combination of words that you would not always put
together but that of course is in the great Scully tradition something that
doesn’t seem at first to fit as so many things about Scully’s life did not seem
at least on the surface to fit together the townie who became Yale’s great
figure the poet of architecture who embraced contradiction his ability to
use contradictory words to transcend apparent differences and show us
underlying truth was nowhere more apparent I think than the wonderful
summary he once offered of the mission of our history and with that I will
conclude in 1969 Scully wrote that art history had to be
conservative experimental and ethical has another remarkable trio of words
seemingly contradictory but not really showing us yet again his exquisite
sensitivity to language our history should be conservative because he knew
that it had to represent the past since learning from the great work of history
is central to its mission it should be experimental because at the same time he
wanted to make the point that the real value of understanding the architecture
of the past must be to inspire the highest creativity in the present it had to be ethical because he believed
that the noblest mission of architectural history at least as he
practiced it was to encourage the building of community and the betterment
of civilization that is Vincent Scully’s true legacy that words can change the
world thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *