Architect, historian, architecture critic and teacher Kenneth Frampton was awarded the Career Golden Lion in May 2018 during the exhibition Venice Biennale of Architecture, in recognition of his great cultural contribution and of the education given to several generations of architects throughout the years.
KENNETH FRAMPTON: BETWEEN ARCHITECTURE AND CRITIQUE
Born in 1930 in Woking, in Surrey, England, Kenneth Frampton studied to become an architect at Guildford School of Art and, after that, at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.
Once he had completed his education, he worked in Israel from 1961 to 1964, and afterwards he continued his work experience in London at the firm Douglas Stephen & Partners, where he designed the Corringham Building. This eight-storey residential apartment block located in Bayswater (London) is characterized by a typically modernist style architecture. It is precisely because of its architectural value that the Corringham is a listed building since 1998.
Simultaneously with the beginning of his career in architecture, Kenneth Frampton took up a teaching career by starting as a visiting tutor at the Architectural Association in London.
In the same period he also started working as a technical writer for the journal Architectural Design (AD), a collaboration that went on until 1965. So he started from the very beginning to pursue research, writing and architectural criticism in parallel with his professional practice, besides his teaching activity.
KENNETH FRAMPTON AND TEACHING
After the years spent in Great Britain, where he taught at Princeton University School of Architecture (from 1966 to 1971), he started his didactic career in the United States of America.
Since 1972 he was indeed a member of Columbia University and, that same year, he also became a member of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, a prestigious institute that boasts among its members personalities of the international scene such as Peter Eisenman, Manfredo Tafuri and Rem Koolhaas.
KENNETH FRAMPTON: BOOKS AND WRITTEN WORKS
Kenneth Frampton is especially known, besides for his teaching activity, also for his written works on 20th century architecture, in particular for his pivotal role in architectural phenomenology.
Some of his most famous books are certainly Modern Architecture: A Critical History, which was first written between 1980 and 1982, and Studies in Tectonic Culture, published in 1995.
The work that got the most attention and that, in a way, marked Kenneth Frampton’s career by gaining great importance and influence in architectural education is his essay Towards a Critical Regionalism, published in 1983.
As an architectural historian and architecture critic, Kenneth Frampton has published to this day numerous books and essays on architecture, which include a collection of all the works written in 35 years.
His vast production of written works also contains several biographies of world-famous architects, from modern movement exponents such as Le Corbusier, to other contemporaries such as Steven Holl and Alvaro Siza.
KENNETH FRAMPTON AND CRITICAL REGIONALISM
The British architect’s international reputation is also due to his theories on Critical regionalism.
Critical regionalism is an approach to architecture that counters the idea of lack of identity and sense of belonging of some modern architectures, by claiming that the geographical context in which the building at issue is erected is precisely what gives it its identity. This term was coined during the ‘80s in parallel with the birth of postmodern architecture, and it stands as a reaction to and a critique of modern architecture. Let’s get a better understanding of what it is.
In his book “Modern Architecture: A Critical History”, Kenneth Frampton states that critical regionalism must be intended as a fringe activity that on the one hand is critical towards modernization, but on the other hand refuses to abandon the emancipatory and progressive aspects of the legacy of modern architecture. Moreover, Critical regionalism promotes the creation of architecture as a tectonic event rather than reducing the built environment to a series of badly arranged scenographic events. Critical regionalism has got a local nature in so far as it inevitably emphasizes certain factors that are specific to a site, starting from topographics, which is considered a three-dimensional mould into which the structure is inserted in order to obtain the changing play of the light of the location through the very same structure.
KENNETH FRAMPTON AND THE MODERN ARCHITECTURE
According to Frampton’s theorizing, modernism and critical regionalism often intertwine, to the point of giving birth to a series of lessons held by Kenneth Frampton at the Academy of Mendrisio between 1998 and 2002.
A volume arises from this teaching experience. It includes a series of projects that move away from the established precepts of the modern movement, and it describes numerous works that, despite taking inspiration from certain modern movement dogmas, such as the flat roof, create a series of elements in a purely personal way, from the curtain wall to the reinforced concrete structure. It is no coincidence that the title of the volume, the other modern movement, implies a certain distance from the “stylistic doctrine” that was written during the CIAM (the International Congresses of Modern Architecture) from 1928 to 1959. Frampton himself defines his work in these words: “I have elaborated the topic of “another” modernity (…) because I wish that this collection, otherwise apparently arbitrary, would be read as the key to an unconventional approach that, instead of striving for universal abstraction, is on the contrary articulate and expressive (…)”.
THE CAREER GOLDEN LION
Thanks to his dedication to architecture criticism and the history of modern architecture, Kenneth Frampton has received several awards throughout his long career. He was given the Career Golden Lion, the latest award, during the 16th edition of the Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Among the reasons of the curator Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara who brought this important award to Kenneth Frampton’s career, it was stressed that his experience as a professional architect has promoted a profound understanding of the organizational and design process of buildings, thus also promoting criticism of the various forms of practice and architecture.
Bestowing the Career Golden Lion on Frampton is the proper way to pay tribute to a master, and at the same time it’s an important acknowledgement to the critical teaching of architecture. May it be a model and a guide for all of the new generations of professionals.
Photo description at the top of page:
Kenneth Frampton during a conference at the GSAPP (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation) Columbia University in New York City.