When Architecture Welcomes Art
"If we lived in a really civilized country, there would be no need for Art museums but, since we do not, it is good that such institutions exist. In what other public places can our artists’ works be seen?”
This was the substance of an address given by me in the Art Gallery of Hamilton over thirty years ago. It was the first public lecture given in the new building in Westdale. I strongly advocated at that time a much greater integration of the arts in architecture and the allocation of at least two per cent of the cost of large buildings for the use of sculpture, painting and works of craftsmanship in their enrichment.
The current retrospective exhibition of my works in another “New” Art Gallery of Hamilton testifies to my continuing concern with the public uses of art and the hope for a world in which art museums would be unnecessary.
It has long been my belief that architecture has a greater need for the so-called lesser, ‘decorative’ arts than for those works we more readily define as sculpture or painting. This is not to denigrate the fine arts in favour of the applied arts. Of course we need those great monumental works by masters who are able to focus our attention upon works of excellence, but such works are capable of being separated from their architectural context and seen as things in themselves. The decorative works, on the other hand, become part of the whole enriching (or overdressing) the built environment. When used sensitively by architects as part of their architecture, the nuances of form, texture, light and shade made possible by these so-called lesser things greatly increase the expression of their buildings.
Decoration is to architecture what development is to music. A great symphony cannot be merely the bald statement of a theme.
Throughout the spiritual desert created by promoters of the “International Style”, architecture was reduced to a narrow specialty practiced by purists who measured the virtue of buildings more by what was left out than by what was included.
During the fifties and sixties, we witnessed an unprecedented period of building. Massive shiny towers almost all starkly, even militantly unembellished, have completely transformed the skylines of cities in all parts of the industrialized world. The corporate decision makers accepted completely the aesthetic rules laid down by the ruling architectural clique.