The Shape of Things to Come

It is often observed that when we look to the past we can see our the future. More than 90 years ago, Swiss architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) wrote an influential book on modern architecture, Vers une Architecture (1923) that helped to radically change our built environment. Translated into English in 1927 under varying titles (Toward an Architecture, or Towards a New Architecture), the book caught the appreciative eye of New Yorker architecture critic George Chappell, who wrote under the pseudonym “T-Square.”

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Nov. 12, 1927 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

Given that most new architecture in Manhattan was adorned in architectural stylings from the past, or gussied up in Jazz Age art deco, Chappell was introducing his readers to something very different, to ideas that would transform their city within two generations.

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A SOBER-MINDED THINKER…Le Corbusier at work in his apartment at 20 Rue Jacob, Paris, in the late 1920s. (Brassai Paris)

In his embrace of technology and mass production, Corbusier maintained that houses should be built in standardized forms that allowed for continuous refinement, designed as “machines for living” with the same precision as automobiles and airplanes…

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In case you doubt the architect’s fervor, here is Corbusier’s manifesto on mass production included in Towards a New Architecture:

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MACHINES FOR LIVING…This two-family structure on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Germany, was designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret in 1927. It was one of the first built manifestations of Corbusier’s Five Points of a New Architecture, a manifesto written in 1926. The house set an important precedent for the emerging International Style associated with Germany’s Bauhaus movement. (noordinaryhomes.com)

In Towards a New Architecture, Corbusier wrote that while architecture was  stifled by custom and lost in the past (“to send architectural students to Rome is to cripple them for life…”), engineers were embracing new technologies and building simple, effective and “honest” structures. Rather than rely on past forms or contemporary trends such as art deco, Corbusier said architecture should fundamentally change how humans interact with buildings.

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ALL DRESSED UP WITH NOWHERE TO GO…A photograph from Towards a New Architecture. Corbusier said contemporary architecture was stifled by custom and lost in the past. (monoskop.org)
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FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION…Examples of “honest” and functional industrial buildings featured in Towards a New Architecture. (monoskop.org)

Corbusier concluded his book with a moral imperative and an ominous choice  for the future: “Architecture or Revolution.”  He asserted that the “great disagreement between the modern state of mind…and the stifling accumulation of age-long detritus” would force modern man to live in an “old and hostile environment” and deny him an “organized family life,” ultimately leading to the destruction of the family.

In less than 10 years the Nazis would chase the “degenerate” Bauhaus out of Europe and into the embrace of American academe. In short order Corporate America would adopt Corbusier’s International Style, if imperfectly, but most Americans would prove resistant to making their homes into “machines for living.”

Corbusier would doubtless be shocked (and disappointed) to know that 100 years hence people would still choose to live in mock Tudors and “Tuscan Villas,” especially in the midst of so much advanced technology.

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HOME SWEET HOME…Villa Savoye near Paris, France. Designed by Le Corbusier in 1928, completed in 1931. Named a World Heritage Site in 2016. (projectoras.com)

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AS HE WAS SAYING…

The new Sherry-Netherland apartment hotel near Central Park was exactly the sort of architecture Corbusier detested. The New Yorker editors in “The Talk of the Town,” however, seemed impressed with its elegant appointments…

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SUMPTUOUS…The foyer of the Sherry-Netherland, restored to its former glory in 2014. (Wikipedia)
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ROOM WITH A VIEW…The Sherry-Netherland penthouse, priced at $35,000 a year in 1927, is now worth more than $100 million.

“Talk” noted that beneath the Sherry-Netherland’s spire the penthouse apartment could be had for $35,000 a year, roughly equivalent to $477,000 today. The building went co-op in the 1950s, and that would have been a good time to buy the penthouse. Today it is valued at more than $100 million.

Poo on Pooh

Dorothy Parker lamented the state of children’s literature in the “Books” section, and expressed her displeasure with A.A. Milne, a former humor writer for Punch who “went quaint” with his Winnie the Pooh stories.

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OLD SOFTIE…A. A. Milne with his son Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear, at Cotchford Farm, their home in Sussex, in 1926. Photo by Howard Coster. (npg.org.uk)

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New Game in Town

Niven Busch Jr. wrote about the growing popularity of professional hockey. Tex Rickard’s two-year-old franchise, the New York Rangers, were a major draw at the new Madison Square Garden (they would win the Stanley Cup in their second year), and even Texans were into the sport–Busch noted that a game between Dallas and Fort Worth teams drew 20,000 spectators.

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ICE MEN…Stanley Cup winners, the 1927-28 New York Rangers. (rangers.ice.nhl.com)

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And finally, from the world of advertising, here is one in a series of classically themed ads for the McCreery department store…

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…and this advertisement for the Marmon 8, an “ideal woman’s car”…
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Next time: Mutt & Jeff…

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No More Monkey Business

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August 1, 1925 cover by Garrett Price.

For all of The New Yorker’s attention to the Scopes Monkey Trial, the August 1, 1925 issue had little to say about the trial’s outcome.

The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes was decided in the Criminal Court of Tennessee on July 21, 1925, with Scopes found guilty and fined $100 (equivalent to $1,345 in 2015), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality.

“The Talk of the Town” offered this brief observation under its weekly wrap-up column: “Mr. Scopes, found guilty, goes home to Paducah, Kentucky…”

And then this item toward the end of “Talk,” announcing the death of the Scopes Trial defense attorney (and one of the magazine’s favorite punching bags) William Jennings Bryan:

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“The Graphic Section” offered this cynical twist on the trial’s outcome:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

In a related item under “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker wrote, “Representative Upshaw of Georgia will introduce an anti-evolution bill in Congress. Upshaw is never happy unless the Ship of State is making twenty thou-shalt-nots an hour.”

Clarence Darrow, a famous Chicago lawyer, and William Jennings Bryan, defender of Fundamentalism, have a friendly chat in a courtroom during the Scopes evolution trial.  Darrow defended John T. Scopes, a biology teacher, who decided to test the new Tenessee law banning the teaching of evolution. Bryan took the stand for the prosecution as a bible expert. The trial in 1925 ended in conviction of Scopes. ca. 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, USA
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan have a friendly chat during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Following the trial Bryan traveled hundreds of miles, delivering speeches in multiple towns. On July 26, 1925, he returned from Chattanooga, Tennessee to his home in Dayton. After attending church services he ate a large meal, then died during a nap that afternoon, five days after the trial’s conclusion. When someone remarked to Darrow that Bryan died from a “broken heart”, Darrow responded, “Broken heart, hell, he died of a busted belly!” (Wikipedia)

Brubaker also quipped, “Tennessee is not the only State where there is arrested mental development, but it is the only one so far where it has been fined.”

Back to “The Talk of the Town,” the design for a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt was approved, to be erected as part of the east façade of the Museum of Natural History. It was noted that the design featured Ionic columns that Roosevelt “would have detested in favor of a “native expression of the arts…”

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The Museum of Natural History façade designed by John Russell Pope. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Talk” continued: “One recalls that Colonel Roosevelt wrote the American Institute of Architects deprecating the use of the lions which doze at the entrance to the Public Library, and advocating the placing there of bisons instead…The memorial to the man who insisted thus on American art, rather than imitation of foreign models, is to be a severely classic as the facade of –let us say—the First National Bank of Dubuque, Iowa.”

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Lion guards New York Public Library entrance. Teddy would have preferred the native bison. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Profiles” featured Walter L. Clark, a “genius who made art into business.” The movie reviews included Theodore Shane’s fumings on prudishness of American censors (Will Hays in particular) especially when compared to more liberal European productions by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch:

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In books, the magazine continued its admiration for the jottings of A.A. Milne:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

As for night life, The New Yorker lamented (“When Nights Are Bold) that the rooftop garden at the Biltmore “was the only bower worthy of the name left in town where quiet or startling simplicity reigns”:

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The Biltmore Cascades (Museum of the City of New York)
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Illustration of the Cascades by Helen Hokinson (New Yorker Digital Archive)

And speaking of society pursuits, Philip Pratt offered this parody on falconry, while Hans Stengel took aim at the starving artists:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And we end with a detail of summertime images (by Helen Hokinson) from the center spread of the August 1 issue:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

Next time: The dog days of summer.

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