Classical Talks – Interviews with members of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
This exclusive interview with Paul Gunther, President of the Institute for Classical Architecture & Classical America was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in New York during November 2010
Interview with Paul Gunther, President
As President of ICA &CA for those new to the institute can you please describe its mission?
To sustain the classical tradition in architecture, planning and associated fine arts and building crafts in type 21st century through academic courses, publications, and a broad diversity of public programs offered in New York and across the country via a network of regional chapters now numbering 14. Our web site at www.classicist.org tells the story best of all. It is our job whether volunteers or staff to stem the erosion of cultural memory in order the extend the resources available to all-- respecting always the marketplace of ideas and demand-- by providing lessons and experiences from the best as applicable assets in the present.
What are the great challenges the institute has faced? And still faces into the future?
Fund raising ! And clarity of message. We no longer exist in opposition to alternative points of view--that era happily is through-but in promulgating positive options within the realm that we know best . Like all organizations, it is finding the resources that match demand and potential. We hold our own thanks in generous part to our loyal and growing constituency of members and friends, but the demand for service always outstrips the capacity to respond. The advent we hope next fall of our first full-time classical design atelier--we're calling it the Beaux-Arts Atelier-- requires increased scholarship sport for example. We need donors especially at the direct service to prospective students who may not otherwise have the means especially as it involves a long stay in New York! Now that there's a thriving Florida Chapter let's hope that some there might look our way. That is always the biggest challenge to governance today.
People in the know view high quality traditional building and classical design (and the skills necessary for its execution) as having great value to society not only in terms of timeless beauty but also in terms of construction value in other words long-term sustainability, have you seen the recent environmental movement have a significant impact on the institute’s public profile and membership?
Goodness yes, Green is good for us as we're the traditional source. The greener the better. Density too is high on our list of priorities -- America whether in its cars or fighting its waistlines needs traditional town planning more than ever, for example we cannot continue to tear up the rural landscape, moreover the price of fuel holds the potential to inevitably rise inexorably as countries like China and India continue to emulate our unsustainable suburban sprawl example. Classicism is the original green! Its forms and contours and respect for place, positioning a building in the prevailing winds for example preceded air conditioning by 4,000 years. And yet it is imperative on our part that we seek out new technologies and materials in full-throttled embrace of modernity, as frankly the two are not mutually exclusive-- Woe to any on any polemical side that thinks otherwise. Again, we exit not to oppose or condemn but to set an example based on tradition -- which as others have said is innovation that has succeeded. The environmental is our friend.
Interest in educational programs for classical architecture has been expanding? And how does the institute participate in that evolution?
We are as they say the only game in town. Unique is often a dangerous adjective, but in our case it holds true. Notre Dame has a fine graduate degree program in classical architecture, and we're honored to work with them, but to a large extent we've maintained the academic possibilities even as the overall marketplace has sought traditional responses. In the absence of good training, we're left with the all too often hideous MacMansion-- No wonder when not produced properly so many denounce"classicism!" It is practiced all too often so very very poorly with the vulgar proportions and ignorant details. Size is no substitute for design excellence. We are trying to fill that void so that essential lessons obviate costly permanent scars on the built landscape.
You can visit one spot this week where would it be? And why?
Besides New York--I live here as I love it, and as it is so easy to love compared really to every other place I have known in North America --Life here is like a well-designed cruise ship despite all that goes wrong along the way - I suppose it would be Paris -- for all kinds of reasons but above its humanistic core revealing as it does what mankind is capable of achieving, even sometimes at the cost of individual license. Sometimes we all gain from sensible rules and an abiding vision.
The above interview with Paul Gunther 2010 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. -