Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

On view from July 4 to September 30, 2007, this exhibition on architect, designer and critic Bernard Rudofsky is organized by the Architekturzentrum Wien in collaboration with the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, and in association with the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

This is the first retrospective to examine the life and work of the controversial architect, designer and critic whose groundbreaking buildings, exhibitions, and fashion designs challenged the Western worlds perceptions of comfort and culture. A collaboration between the Architekturzentrum Wien and the Getty Research Institute in association with the CCA, Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky highlights the diverse contributions of a unique and underappreciated pioneer of modernism, and brings to light the relevance of Rudofskys principles today.

The exhibition spans the entire career of Bernard Rudofsky (1905-1988), including his roots in the early years of European modernism; his world travels, which shaped his views as a designer and critic; and his influence as a curator and writer on international discourse on architecture, fashion, and design. The underlying motivation that unified Rudofskys work was what he saw as a loss of sensual awareness in all aspects of modern life. Rudofsky is perhaps best known for the exhibitions and publications that he conceived in the second half of the 20th century. The most famous of these is Architecture Without Architects, the landmark book and exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (1964), which toured for 11 years and was presented in more than 80 venues around the world. Carefully researched and visually engaging, Architecture Without Architects challenged conventional notions of architecture and dwelling through its study of vernacular building technologies and alternative ways of living. Rudofskys openness to different social and architectural traditions and his recognition of the sensory dimensions of the environment continue to be of great relevance for architecture and urbanism today.

As an architect, Rudofsky employed a modernist vocabulary with its characteristic white, undecorated, cubic shapes in concrete and glass yet at the same time he was an outspoken critic of modern architecture. He rejected the notion of universal or standardized concepts of dwelling and instead promoted the idea that an individuals built environment should reflect the history, culture and climate of his or her immediate surroundings. Architecture, for Rudofsky, was not just a matter of technology and aesthetics but the frame for a way of life and with luck, an intelligent way of life.

The exhibition offers a comprehensive view of Rudofskys work and the life he shared with his wife and collaborator, Berta Rudofsky (1910-2006). Over 200 works are on view, including original drawings, watercolours, photographs, and densely filled notebooks from Rudofskys travels. The exhibition is organized in six thematic sections, beginning with Life as Voyage, Travels as a Lifestyle. Sensuous Austerity: The Mediterranean and Japan maps the combined traditions that formed the basis of Rudofskys concept of an ideal home and his attitude toward life. His architectural work and his ideas of dwelling are explored in The House, an Instrument for Living and Casa Procida, a Manifesto, on his designs for a house on the Italian island of Procida. The Unfashionable Human Body, related to his book of the same name and the MoMA exhibition Are Clothes Modern? (1944), includes studies for clothing and samples of his textile designs and Bernardo Sandals (1946-64). Finally, A Natural History of Architecture addresses Rudofskys interest and study of vernacular architecture, and offers a rare view of the original photographic panels created for Architecture Without Architect at the MoMA.

Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky also features a reading area where original editions of his publications are available for viewers to consult, alongside influential books on architecture, cities, and dwelling from the same period. Audio and video excerpts provide views of his architectural projects as well as rare radio interviews with Rudofsky himself.

The objects featured in Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky derive mainly from the Rudofsky archive at the Getty Research Institute as well as the Bernard Rudofsky Estate in Vienna. On view from the CCA Collection are original editions of Rudofskys publications such as Behind the Picture Window (1955), Streets for People: An American Primer (1969), and The Prodigious Builders (1977), as well as a selection of his articles published in Domus (1937-38), of which he served as editor. The exhibition is designed by Margot Frtsch and Siegfried Loos of architecture firm Polar, with graphic design by Gabriele Lenz.