October 31: fifty shades of Prof. Gray

2012/10/31 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1925 Charles Moore was born.

Few architects have practiced in such a variety of stylistic conventions as successfully as Moore.  Starting in the middle part of the twentieth century and up to his death in 1993 he exhibited a rare grasp of and delight in architectural diversity, and consideration for its application in specific regional settings.  This approach grew from his unusually thoughtful academic training–Moore did not just pass through a professional program in architecture: he really pursued university education, an unfortunate rarity in twentieth-century and contemporary practice.  Educated at the University of Michigan and Princeton (where he served as Louis Kahn’s TA and earned a Ph.D.), he wrote a master’s thesis on historic adobe dwellings and a dissertation on the role of water in architectural design.  He was a professor at Berkeley and dean at Yale.  He got around, he looked a lot, rejected nothing outright, assimilated everything that was inspiring and delightful.

Moore brought this broad experience and inquisitive mind to bear on diverse projects completed through a forty-year career.  Part of the Modernist reformation group known as the “Grays” who attacked the Orthodox Modernist “Whites,” his early buildings looked to local idioms to create meaningful contemporary buildings that were more relevant than the mute modernism.  Like others of that generation, especially and famously Venturi, who embraced shades of gray in architectural design and meaning, Moore both wrote and built in support of an environment that would be interesting and humane.  This impulse influenced one of his first great projects, the rustic and woody wind-swept  Sea Ranch (1963).  Later projects likewise sought historical and regional influences, so that wherever he built, the landscape and its past directed his pen, from the brilliantly jazzy (if mildly, but forgivably, gauche) Piazza d’Italia (1978) in New Orleans to the poshly elegant and retro Beverly Hills Civic Center (1992).

Image: Moore (at center) at the Sea Ranch (from this source)

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