by James Way
Event: Checkerboard Films Presents: Vincent Scully, An Art Historian Among Architects
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.17.11
Speakers: Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record; Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA — Architecture Critic, The New Yorker
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; Center for Architecture
Courtesy Center for Architecture
The abundant interviews in Tom Piper’s film Vincent Scully: An Art Historian Among Architects (2010) reveal that Scully, often considered the historian’s historian, championed questioning, and was himself anything but definitive. A recurring touchstone was his insistence on subjective interpretation — how a work of art or architecture makes one feel, as long as knowledge supports that intuition.
The film begins with Scully guiding viewers through Yale University, his alma mater and where he taught for more than 50 years, where he discusses his appreciation of James Gamble Rogers, Louis Kahn, and Paul Rudolph. Revealing how generations influence and regard each other culminates with his lecture, complete with choreographed slides, on Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery and trip to Giza that informed the gallery ceiling. Such comparisons and explorations infuse Scully’s teachings — and the film.
However, controversy seemed to follow Scully. His book, The Earth, the Temple and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture, riled some classicists and archaeologists because he was entirely an outsider, said former student and archaeologist John Hale. Decades later Scully similarly upset many architects when he famously abandoned his allegiance to Modernism.
Long before interdisciplinary collaborations and integration became the buzz Scully was championing the larger picture. He traveled on foot throughout Greece to better understand buildings’ relations to their sites and to each other. He studied architecture as part of a greater context whether, as Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, stated, as spatial, tectonic, or political, or, as Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, relayed in the post-film discussion, as a radical combination of building, landscape, and culture.
As much as this film searches to reveal Scully’s history, it’s also about Scully’s search for architecture.
James Way is marketing manager at Dattner Architects and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Architect’s Newspaper and Tokyo Art Beat.