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Interview with Kenneth Frampton, Golden Lion Recipient

by Cynthia Davidson | May 30, 2018

Architect, historian, critic, and educator Kenneth Frampton is this year’s recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, awarded at the May opening of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. His well-known essays and books include Modern Architecture: A Critical History (1980), now in its fourth edition, with a fifth under way. Born in the UK in 1930, he studied at the Architectural Association in London, then worked in the city as an architect for Douglas Stephen & Partners in the early 1960s. In 1962, Frampton also became the technical editor of the journal Architectural Design, a move that foretold his later commitment to writing. In 1965, he began teaching at the Princeton University School of Architecture and in 1972 joined the faculty of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York. Critic Cynthia Davidson spoke with Frampton in his Columbia office about his life’s work.

The Golden Lion typically goes to a practicing architect. But Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara, curators of this year’s Biennale, praised you for arguing for a “humanistic” component “throughout all of the various ‘movements’ and trends often misguided in architecture.” Have you been prevailing against the misguided?

I’ve approached my work through the question of the Modern movement, which from 1918 to 1938 had a certain vitality bound up with modernization—with the idea of the redistribution of wealth and of the welfare state as integral parts of the Modern project. Most of the discussion today is not about that. It’s very complex, of course, because of the talk about feminism and racism and, quite rightly, about the misdistribution of wealth in the United States, but criticism of capitalism is less common. The very aggressive phase of global capitalism that we have entered is a very ruthless landscape, and the techno-sciences, our pride and joy, are the one thing we seem to have lost all control over.

Why is writing important in architecture?

What’s important is critical discourse. Once the culture of architecture is no longer a discourse, it has no continuity—it just becomes a technical provision of built form; there’s no other meaning or significance that you can attribute to it. I have certain regrets about not continuing as an architect, but I got a lot out of being involved with the discourse about the history of the Modern movement.

Read full interview here

Kenneth Frampton is a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians was the plenary speaker at the SAH 71st Annual International Conference in Saint Paul, MN.   Read a transcript of his 2019 Plenary Talk here.


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