Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead



fountainhead1.jpg

I recently introduced the classic movie, the Fountainhead which was being screened as part of the London Festival of Architecture in the strangely appropriate setting of Canary Wharf.

The Fountainhead is the best Hollywood movie about architecture, but that's not saying much. Unlike lawyers and doctors, architects don't get much screen time. And if they do, it's just an incidental element to the plot or a quirk of characterisation rather than the narrative engine of the movie. There's the dad out of the Brady Bunch, Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal, the guy in Spike Lees She's Gotta Have It. We've never had an architectural version of Dr Kildare, Columbo, or a Quincy RIBA. Architecture and architects seem to be almost invisible in movieland. The Fountainhead shows that its not because architecture is inherently un-fictionalisable and that it can be used to dramatise universal human concerns.

fountainhead2.jpg

It's very much of its time - 1940s America, where idealistic pre-war European Modernism (concerned with making the world a better place) intersected with corporate, business-minded American modernism. It's a dramatic moment where Modernism became denuded of its radial politics. Though 'radicalness' is part of the Fountainheads plot mechanism, it's a commodified form of radical-ness concerned with aesthetics and personal expression rather than utopian politics.


The movie is populated by a series of characters which - while extreme - seem as though they could be with us today. Sixty odd years later we still see the same characters - the vacuously successful, the wild idealist, the washed up hero of a previous generation, the scheming power crazed journalist, the client whose got a few ideas about how to improve the design. The main protagonists are variously described as: 'the man who couldn't be, and doesn't know it'; 'the man who couldn't be, and knows it'; 'the man who could have been,' and 'man as man should be' - It's like a cross section of any London Festival of Architecture event.

fountainhead3.jpg

The dramas between these personalities are played out at the hubristic scale of architecture. The Fountainhead uses architecture to discuss ideas of integrity, beauty, love, and truth. It's a Hollywood spin on Modernisms morality, where the qualities of honesty to materials are replayed as romantic assets, construction sites become landscapes where individual integrity is played out.

fountainhead4.jpg

The film is full of brilliant quotes that resonate with any architect and superb situations that seem like they happen daily - certainly in our office - only not quite as sharply styled. You'll hear the same polarized arguments replayed in the architectural and popular press about contemporary architecture: "A building has integrity, just as a man and just as seldom! It must be true to its own idea, have its own form, and serve its own purpose!" Or "You can't hope to survive unless you learn how to compromise. Now, watch me! In just a few short years I'll shoot to the top of the architectural profession because I'm going to give the public what it wants."

fountianhead5.jpg

And, some superb career advice too: That telling your clients they are wrong is the best way to get ahead. That blowing up your projects that have gone wrong is the best thing to do. But perhaps, most of all, that all architecture is tragedy.

fountainhead6.jpg

The heart of the narratives conflict is the conflict between heroic singular genius and collective taste. And strangely, though the movie offers these as opposing polarities, it is this territory that was explored by the next generation of American architects and urbanists: from Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown to Peter Eisenmann. These are architects which deal with an idea of doubt, who struggle against both the heroic modern position the commercial. And finding in compromise - or at least the space in-between certainties - between ideas, between selling out, between building and disgust, between morality and money a new ground for making architecture. One might speculate that the Fountainhead was responsible for crystallising the drama of modernism and market led architecture and laid the ground for American avant guard responses.

fountainhead7.jpg

The last ten years have seen an unprecedented global building boom and we really need a Fountainhead sequel to dramatise 21st century positions. Perhaps we could transpose contemporary architectural characters into the film as you watch it. Or imagine the Fountainhead franchise played out over the cities from zero on the Gulf Coast with Anthony Hopkins playing Richard Rodgers, or Danny Devito as Danny Libeskind , Angelina Jolie as Zaha, or even budding architect Brad Pitt as himself.

fountainhead8.jpg



Posted by anothersam at July 17, 2008 10:38 PM.

9 Comments

adam said:

C'mon, architecture can be comedy, too. (Terrible movie, but at least the client/architect relationship is less adversarial)

suitaloon said:

And what about the Tower inferno? paul Newman as an architect, common!

eak said:

If only Roark had slapped the paladian facade onto his skyscraper we could have skipped the blight of modernism and jumped directly to post-modernism.

eak said:

If only Roark had slapped the paladian facade onto his skyscraper we could have skipped the blight of modernism and jumped directly to post-modernism.

GROG said:

The book was better. Much better.

marlen said:

I downloaded the movie on torrent search engine http://www.picktorrent.com and it left me speechless. I have never watched the movies about architecture and, to tell the truth, wasn't much interested in such a genre, but i don't regret that I watched it. There has always been a conflict between a single genius idea and collective mind. The film penetrates important realms and gives us food for thought.

One of my pick movies is "The Fountainhead" with City Artificer, .... The guy is ofttimes the bailiwick of few polemics (my analyse is that he is an ..... IME, we are not our thoughts, anymore than our thoughts are us

Mike said:

And what about the Tower inferno? paul Newman as an architect, common! mono symptoms

Karen said:

I'm not a huge film fan, however I can't say I've ever seen a movie about Architects. It's a shame because there could be such amazing stories to be told.

http://occhealthnews.com/

Leave a comment





Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

www.fat.co.uk

www.samjacob.com

twitter.com/anothersam

Flickr:


Links:

IconEye
Archinect
Flip Flop Flyin'
Arts & Letters
Bldg Blog
City of Sound
Design Observer
Limited Language
Mcsweeneys
Things
Dezeen
Kieran Long
Arts Monitor
Loud Paper
Dwell Blog
David Barrie
Super Colossal
sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy
The Sesquipedalist
Londonist
Architecture & Hygiene
Pruned
Infosthetics
Aggregat456
A456Tumblr
Kazys Varnelis
Infranet Lab
Life Without Buildings
Landscape & Urbanism
HTC Experiments
Deputy Dog
Subtopia
The Dirt
Mockitecutre
Art Fag City
Triple Canopy
Where
Actar
Mechanophilia
Shrapnel
NL Blog