Thursday, January 8, 2015

Andrew Shanken's "Into the Void Pacific"

Andrew Shanken is Associate Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley. His first book 194X, is a cultural history of American architecture, planning, and consumer culture in this formative and strained moment for the architectural profession. He also publishes widely on architecture and memory.

Shanken applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Into the Void Pacific: Building the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Into the Void Pacific has three photographs, which in fact do tell much about the central idea of the book and the fair. Arthur Brown's Tower of the Sun and Louis Hobart's triumphal arch were "Latin interlopers" in a fantasy of Pacific unity that morphed Asian, Latin American, and modern architecture. They represent the architectural conflict of the fair between an entrenched Paris-trained old guard desperate to reprise the grand manner of early 20th-century fairs and younger progressive architects who hoped to establish a free manner that reflected California and modern realities. Both, however, were working through related concepts of regionalism.

The Tower of Sun is a telling building because it comes from the hand of one of the most important--and now neglected--architects of the early 20th century. The tallest building, it was to be both the vertical axis and the icon of the fair, intended to be comparable to the Trylon and Perisphere of the New York World's Fair. Brown had designed most of the major Bay Area towers, including Coit Tower, and this was to be part of what he considered his skyline and legacy. But as he designed the tower, Brown experienced a crisis of confidence. He tried every imaginable "style" from Gothic to Art Deco and nothing seemed to work. His crisis is, in microcosm, the crisis of the architectural profession as the waning tradition of the Beaux-Arts gave way to modernism.
Learn more about Into the Void Pacific at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue