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Vanguards and "Vanguards"


In a piece entitled “‘Vanguards’” published in the April issue of e-flux journal, Felicity D. Scott looks back at the Yale School of Art and Architecture (A&A) in the late 1960s, an extraordinarily fecund time at the school. In this period, students at A&A had two primary preoccupations which intersected is surprising and revealing ways: emerging information technology, and grassroots-oriented architecture:

While frequently situated as a radical or avant-garde departure from traditional formal and aesthetic concerns in architecture, the late-sixties engagement with information technologies and computerization as well as the rise of the “user” as an object of social scientific knowledge—all under the rubric of “responsiveness”—can also be read as symptomatic of the discipline’s functionalist response to a period of rapid technological transformation and of tumultuous social change, for which it was indeed seeking new tools. In what follows I want to trace some instances from the late 1960s wherein the ambivalence of such “responsive” architectural strategies—resonating between attempts to forge departures from a dominant matrix of power and inscribing architecture more firmly within it—came to the fore at the A&A: at a moment when architects are again engaging the unstable forces of technological and material change while seeking new modes of social engagement, understanding the complex dynamics at work during this earlier period seems to warrant critical attention. Shifting fluidly and at times indistinctly between forging participatory environments and testing social and environmental control mechanisms, these ambiguous experiments remind us of the complicated and politically charged milieu within which architecture necessarily operates and to which it contributes. If these dynamics were evident elsewhere, Yale during the remarkable period under Moore offers a particularly cogent case study of the difficulties of negotiating this milieu, and of the need to take responsibility for one’s position within such a shifting matrix.

Read the Scott’s piece at the e-flux journal website.

Image above: Charles Moore and Felix Drury in collaboration with Kent Bloomer, Project Argus: An Experiment in Light and Sound Environment*, Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture, Connecticut, 1968. Photo: Joel Katz.*