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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEW

With the Alvar Aalto exhibition at London's Barbican Centre (AJ 01.03.97) proving very popular, it's a good moment for Colin St John Wilson's The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture:

The Uncompleted Project (Black Dog Publishing, £19.95) to reappear. Aalto's RIBA discourse in 1957 was, says Wilson, 'the inspiration for a critical stance maintained ever since'.

And fundamental to this book, which was first published a decade ago (AJ 02.11.95), is Aalto's comment that what matters with a building is not how it looks on the day it's opened but how it functions 30 years on.

For Wilson, the Modern Movement took a wrong turn at the very first Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne in 1928, where potentially diverse views were swept aside by Le Corbusier at his most dogmatic, and a reductive version of Modernism triumphed. Wilson identifies some 20 or more architects - among them Scharoun, Häring, Asplund, Loos - who took a more supple, responsive, humane approach to design and constitute 'the other tradition' of his book's title.

They still point a way to the future.

'The fiOpen Handfl was always ready to become a closed first, ' says Wilson of Corb, in one of the turns of phrase which make the book not just pertinent but a pleasure to read. Selected case studies push the points home, as Wilson contrasts Mies' National Gallery in Berlin with Aalto's Aalborg Art Museum and examines the competition entries for Marl Town Hall, where Miesian orthogonality was the norm which only Aalto and Scharoun resisted. He cites Häring: 'We must examine things and allow them to unfold their own forms' - so different from the post-Bilbao pursuit of form for form's sake, which can just seem gratuitous and irrational. That tendency is still very much alive, as Future Systems' success in the Prague library competition confirms (AJ 08.03.07), but Wilson forcefully counters it.

Back at the Barbican, there's a full programme of events alongside the Aalto exhibition, including the show's curator Tomoko Sato talking about Aalto and Japan on 25 April, and Alvar Aalto and the UK - a study day on 28 April led by Juhani Pallasmaa ( www. barbican. org. uk).

For forthcoming events visit www. ajplus. co. uk/diary

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