Architecture is a special art that only few manage to master.
Quite a few years ago after I came to Milwaukee, I became the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's first university planner. I wanted the president of the university to name our institution the “University of Milwaukee.” Obviously that did not happen. Many universities in Europe are named after the city in which they're located. In some cases the city was named after the university.
President Harrington did promise me for sure, that before he left his position that he'd locate the School of Architecture in Milwaukee rather than in Madison. I chaired the committee that selected the first dean of the School and I became the school's first faculty member.
I had come to Milwaukee after a number of years in London working as what was described as an “architect-planner” for the London County and doing my Ph.D.work as a Fulbright Scholar. An architect-planner in the U.S. is referred to as Urban Designer. But few people practice this profession here. Perhaps it should be re-established for those architects who would become city planners.
With the planning department within the School of Architecture, it made it possible for many architecture students to take my courses. I was able to encourage those interested in cities to study the principles of urban design in my urban design courses so that they could apply their architectural talents to this broader field.
Most of the interest however came from foreign students who had experienced the architectural emphasis in the planning of their cities. One of the reasons that we visit cities of the world today is because of their architectural quality, not only in the individual buildings but in the relationship of buildings with one another and the total tableau that they create.
Architectural attributes are not what communities in the U.S seek in a planner unfortunately. Many who become architects occupy themselves in architectural firms but only a few, from all over the world succeed as outstanding artists in the field of architecture.. A few more, in each country are able to create quality structures, with the majority occupied in producing the mundane, the common and everyday elemental ornaments.
I believe that art in architecture is something special that only a few manage to capture. However, in the U.S., few are willing to support these artistic characteristics and the art that these artists create on a regular basis. We are more willing to accept and establish various cliches and hackneyed forms and facades. One of the popular styles today is referred to as “eclectic” which to me, comes down to meaning unimaginative copies of past styles, style mixes and the trite use of materials and forms. .
Shorewood is launching a series of developments on Oakland and Capitol. Too bad, that the developers are not architect-planners so that we could create unique settings for our suburb. However, Village Hall, first of all prefers eclecticism in its approaches to many things, even to its tax base, with only secondary interest in creating settings and in the appearance of buildings themselves. The result is stereotypical and unattractive buildings.
The Design Review Board is the only agency that can demand higher quality design but its authority is limited. I congratuate the efforts of this group. Let's support the opportunity that Shorewood has for creating quality settings and good architecture. Let's cease glorifying the mundane.
(An addendum on suggested type architecture on the riversite where Sunrise development is proposed, ( "No Plunk-Down Architecture") to follow.