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Category Archives: theory


An excerpt from a talk called “Functionalism Today” by Theodor Adorno.   Adorno was one of the leading members of the “Frankfurt School” is a marxist philosopher.  His talk was somewhat in response to Adolf Loos’ writing “Ornament and Crime.”     In terms of his words, can postmodernism architecture be seen as a type of pandering,  possibly a necessary one, to a society that simply isn’t “good enough” to appreciate modernism?   

 “Functional architecture represents the rational character as opposed to the suppressed instincts of empirical subjects, who still seek their fortunes in all manner of nooks and crannies (in society). It calls upon a human potential which is grasped in principle by our advanced consciousness, but which is suffocated in most men, who have been kept spiritually impotent. Architecture worthy of human beings thinks better of men than they actually are. It views them in the way they could be according to the status of their own productive energies as embodied in technology. … Architecture still remains, as Loos’ book title complained 70 years ago, a cry into emptiness. The fact that the greatest architects from Loos to Le Corbusier to Scharoun were able to realize only a small portion of their work in stone and concrete cannot be explained solely by the reactions of unreasonable contractors and administrators (although that explanation must not be underestimated). This fact is conditioned by a social antagonism over which the greatest architecture has no power: the same society which developed human productive energies to unimaginable proportions has chained them to conditions of production imposed on them; thus the people who in reality constitute the productive energy become deformed according to the nature of their working conditions. This fundamental contradiction is most clearly visible in architecture. … Because architecture is both simultaneously autonomous and purpose-oriented, it cannot simply negate men as they are. And yet it must do precisely that if it is to remain autonomous. … Living men, even the most backward and conventionally naïve, have the right to the fulfillment of their needs, even though these needs may be false ones. … Hence there are those to whom legitimate architecture appears as an enemy, it withholds from them that which, by their very nature, want, and even need.”

A provocative article by Mohsen Mostafavi, in the current (March 2009) issue of Harvard Design Magazine.


Mostafavi became Dean of the School of Design at Harvard in 2008.   Previously, among other positions, he was Chairman of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London for 8 years.    He was born in Iran.

He maintains a “global consulting practice.”     My question – how does he do it all?   How can a single person take on the responsibilities as Dean at Harvard GSD and also maintain an active architectural office?    Yet, if he was not in practice, his value as an educator would undoubtedly diminish.