October 03: architecture at the end of the rainbow

2012/10/03 § 2 Comments

On this day in 1957 Bernard Maybeck died.

Architect, designer, and probable lepruchan Maybeck (1862-1957) has no niche. He was king of the casserole–not the kind with frozen vegetable mixed with cans of soup, more like what Julia Child would do with whatever she found around the kitchen.  Trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he was an accomplished craftsman with an apparently universal interest in architectural tradition and innovation: elements from Nordic, Celtic, Japanese and Gothic traditions, oftentimes on strictly academic and axial plans, built of everything from hewn lumber and stone to asbestos panels and prefab factory windows.  The plans tend toward a clarity that would have made John Russell Pope proud (see this expo building and this church); what rises above is a delicious stew of carefully selected ingredients (here again: the [concrete!] expo building and the church). Knitting all the disparate stylistic, material and structural notions together is Maybeck’s humanity, hope, and aspiration.

When asked what his Palace of Fine Arts would say if it could speak (actually a question that would be interesting for more architects to answer), he responded:

There is something bigger and better and more worthwhile than the things we see about us, the things we live by and strive for. There is an Undiscovered Beauty, a Divine Excellence just beyond us. Let us stand on tiptoe, forgetting the meaner things, and grasp of it what we may. If the Palace of Fine Arts is any kind of a success, it must say something like that to the people who see it. 

Even in his nineties Maybeck was still active and probably could have pressed out a few more buildings of astonishing beauty and wit.  But it’s really amazing that the 1950s did not kill him earlier; the deathblow was probably this thing.

Image: Bernard Maybeck (from this source)

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