Classical continuum The Other Modern At Centro S Giorgio in Poggiale, Bologna, until 14 May, and then touring internationally
'The Other Modern' is the provocative title given to an extensive exhibition of Classical architecture and traditional urban design that has opened in Bologna. The show sets out to demonstrate that Classical and traditional design has been practiced alongside Modernism throughout the twentieth century - a fact too often neglected.
The exhibition is divided into two parts. One is an overview of the work of important historical figures, whose expansion and adaptation of the Classical vocabulary in response to technological advance and changing social needs, has often been overlooked. 'The Other Modern' only scratches the surface of this large subject and, while some worthy practitioners have been plucked from obscurity, others, such as Lutyens and Asplund, are already well known. A thorough presentation would require a dedicated exhibition.
The second part of the show is the work from a new generation of practitioners determined to rekindle the flame of traditional design. Predictably, many of the projects fall into distinct categories. Post-Modern Classicists are well represented, but, all too often, they are let down by their failure to understand the grammar and syntax of the Classical language.
Similarly there are abundant schemes from the camp followers of Leon Krier and Demetri Porphyrios. Slavish copies of their idiosyncratic style share the weakness in the work of those early Modernists who thought, erroneously, that it was sufficient merely to copy Le Corbusier. In addition, there are the 'born again' Classicists. Their rabid rejection of Modernism, and indeed more or less everything that has happened since 1830, gives their work a safe, Neo-Georgian character, albeit often overly garnished with the full fruit and nuts of the Classical Orders.
More interestingly, there is a group of practitioners who are clearly determined to extend the tradition and to take their place in the mainstream with their Modernist contemporaries. Among them are Robert Stern, Manuel Iniguez, Alberto Ustarroz and Rudiger Patzschke. Their work does provide evidence that the Classical tradition is capable of being adapted to tackle the needs of the twenty-first century.
'The Other Modern' has been organised by the Vision of Europe association. The curious choice of a rather dull new Post-Modern Classical building in Washington dc for the exhibition poster, however, provided an unwitting portent of the cultural colonialism in evidence during the conference that coincided with the launch of the exhibition.
Academics dominated the platform and, for many of them, the temptation to impress their peers with their latest theoretical essay was irresistible. It was disappointing that the list of distinguished international delegates was not properly reflected in this line-up of speakers. For example, Rob Krier did not present his pioneering work in Potsdam and Berlin, nor was Semion Mikhailovsky from the St Petersburg Academy of Art given time to explain the extraordinary challenges facing his own remarkable Classical city in the post-communist era. Perhaps the next event in Oslo in the autumn will include a broader, more representative range of speakers.
With some 200 exhibitors drawn from across the globe, and 400 delegates at the conference, it is clear that there is indeed a broad-based revival of interest in traditional design as a means for creating a more humane environment - despite the mixed quality of the projects on show.
To date, the activities of the Vision of Europe have been initiated by the voluntary efforts of the dynamic young Italian, Gabrielle Tagliaventi, and Michael Lykoudis from the University of Notre Dame. At the end of the conference, however, the suggestion that a secretariat, funded by subscription, should be established was met with warm approval.
Its role would be to co-ordinate future events and to develop a substantial website dedicated to traditional design. Such a global network would facilitate debate and show the possibilities of a more progressive approach to traditional architecture and urban design. It might also help to dispel the image of tweed suits and fogeyism with which those interested in Classical architecture are often tarred.
Hugh Petter is a director of Robert Adam Architects in London