Estudios de casos

A Mosaic of Modern Architecture

Luis Fernández-Galiano 

Modern architecture through case studies: so goes the original title of the work of Peter Blundell Jones (complemented in the second volume by a younger colleague, Eamonn Canniffe): ‘case studies’ is different from the term ‘model’ used in the Spanish edition, which refers to the imitation or reproduction of the buildings analyzed. Far from the archetype and the generic, the 32 projects studied here are described as products of specific circumstances, true to the training and interests of the main author, who has also written monographs on the likes of Hans Scharoun, Hugo Häring, Gunther Behnisch, or Gunnar Asplund, and whose admiration for contemporaries like Aldo van Eyck, Ralph Erskine, Peter Smithson, or Giancarlo De Carlo efficiently charts the coordinates of his historiographic efforts, surely well summed up in his oft-repeated quote of Van Eyck’s refutation of the ‘bible’ of the Modern Movement, Siegfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture: “Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more.”

Place and occasion are in fact the guiding threads of these detailed case studies, which offer a pixelated portrait of modernity through 32 tesseras rich in iridescences. The resulting mosaic contains all the usual suspects – the canonical masters, though sometimes represented by unexpected works – but also throws light on episodes or architects that many histories relegate to the margins, from Häring, Mendelsohn, or Nervi to Egon Eiermann, Sigurd Lewerentz, or Lucien Kroll. Of special interest is the choice of examples such as the unbuilt National Theatre Mannheim to represent Scharoun – instead of the more obvious Berliner Philharmonie –, being more radical, contextual, and spatially rich than his capolavoro; or the Munich Olympics facilities to represent Behnisch, clearly establishing the role played there by Frei Otto and Jörg Schlaich.

Driven by his devotion to organic architecture and his familiarity with Team Ten, the architect and professor Blundell Jones – well known for his writings in The Architectural Review and The Architect’s Journal – here gives us 24 texts of commendable pedagogical spirit, equally useful to students and design tutors because this is the historical genre that can best inspire practical work in schools and later in the profession; and Canniffe, his colleague in the classrooms of Sheffield, adds another eight examples which, though more predictable – from the Eameses and the Smithsons to Venturi & Scott Brown through Scarpa, Foster, Piano and Rogers, Rossi and Eisenman –, bring the story to 1990. In the end, and despite the misleading title, this book of the fine series directed by the architect and professor Jorge Sainz deserves both critical acclaim and success as a school resource.

Reviewed books:

Modelos de la arquitectura moderna

Monografías de edificios ejemplares

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