May 22, 2014
Moore Ruble Yudell John Ruble Architecture was Charles Moore's life entire. He devoted himself to it completely through writing, teaching, practice, and travel. His colleagues and partners were his family, and all the various offices and associations are in some way related, like an extended family. Collaborating with Charles was something of a magic […]
Moore Ruble Yudell
Architecture was Charles Moore's life entire. He devoted himself to it completely through writing, teaching, practice, and travel. His colleagues and partners were his family, and all the various offices and associations are in some way related, like an extended family. Collaborating with Charles was something of a magic carpet ride. His extraordinary confidence, encyclopedic knowledge, and openness to the vision of others made even outlandish ideas seem plausible—at least long enough to reach the farther shore, and that was nearly always a wonderful place to land.
Given his extraordinary level of scholarship, and unbounded formal facility, it's interesting that Charles felt such a profound desire to connect with the popular imagination. His travels around the world kept him in constant contact with places that hold deep significance for people historically and culturally, and he understood the process of their creation as ongoing. As a writer he was equally adept at revealing the mysteries of Hadrian's Villa to the lay public and opening the eyes of students and professionals to the meaning of populist settings like Disneyland and Santa Barbara.
Charles's love of memorable places also found expression in delightful fantasy drawings- elaborate and improbable scenes of palaces and pavilions clinging to cliff sides, plunging into skies above and waters below. It's striking to see his visionary dreamscapes continue to resonate in the gaming world- a particularly fine example is the online computer game "Journey", which takes a spirit traveler on a world tour of mysterious ruins, from iridescent deserts through diaphanous seas to icy mountaintops.
When Charles Moore arrived in New Haven to become the youngest Dean in the school's history, it was like a fresh, invigorating breeze from the west. He had recently completed the Sea Ranch Condominiums with MLTW and Lawrence Halprin, as well as some extraordinarily inventive, yet modest houses.
Charles swept in with an array of initiatives that were avatars of progressive thinking and values. He focused on planning and building for the less enfranchised with an interest in affordable housing and the establishment of the First Year Building Project. The latter involved designing collaboratively for non-profit groups who otherwise would not be able to afford design services, much less a building. During the summer all first year students worked on site with real clients, real material and hands on construction. It has been a transformative experience for generations as well as the inspiration for other great programs such as the Rural Studio.
Charles constantly talked about the importance of "making things " with your own hands. He was complemented in this with the inspiration of Kent Bloomer, a sculptor, writer and great teacher.
He was an early supporter of environmentally based planning and design, an advocate of community involvement and had a healthy skepticism of the influence of those in power.
He was ahead of his time in numerous ways including his advocacy of cross disciplinary work, his belief in team based projects, his interest in literally all the cultures of the world. His great knowledge of the history of the art and architecture of the world and his openness to "high" and "low" art, combined with his irreverence and wit; encouraging all to break taboos, to use " cheap" materials, to experiment, to be inclusive. This is partly responsible for the facile stereotype of Charles as a sometimes promiscuous Post-modernist.
For those who worked closely with Charles, we know him as a disciplined, rigorous designer, wrapped in a puckish irreverent personality. He had an extraordinary spatial imagination, encyclopedic knowledge, lightning fast comprehension, and most importantly an unshakable belief in architecture as a celebration of the individual, the community and the place. He drew clients, friends, colleagues into a magic realm of collaboration, powered by a sense of wonder about the world and an unflagging optimism about the ways in which architecture can ennoble our lives. His commitment to architecture as an inclusive and humanist art was profound and irresistible.
Richard Whitaker (of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker)
I was Charles's TA at Berkeley and then began my architectural career with the founding of MLTW in 1962. Typically, we would be down at the office in the morning, teaching in the afternoon and back at the office in the evening until midnight. It was more like a big family than a business. We finally hired a secretary/manager after a year and she organized the office and pointed out that we were each making about 2.5 cents an hour. Not a particularly good business model. I don't think that UC realized that they were subsidizing our firm. I only mention all this because it was an incredible learning (and living) experience.
Charles was the most memorable person I have known—as a teacher, a colleague, and a friend, and there is little question in my mind that he was the single most important influence in my architectural and educational career.
Being a little more precise. Some of the Moore influences that have affected my thinking, particularly about houses: A house should be experiential not just an object. It should invite and even provoke the imagination as well as the physical experience: going from one space to another and feeling that you have actually gone somewhere (a bay window that allows you to be both inside and outside; a high window in a stair that takes you up far beyond the second floor into the treetops; a beam of light that plays with the shape of the room). There should be places to hide things as well as to display them. There should also be room for whimsy and a sense of humor—more Moore and less Mies.
Charles spoke often of the importance of great buildings providing a sense of being the center of the world for people. He cited buildings such as the Kimbell Art Museum or Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia as great examples. He believed those projects represented big ideas: democracy, humanitarianism, rigorous attention to the details of construction.This observation of Charles’s continues to be both challenging and uplifting. As can be seen at the Sea Ranch, it’s possible to create the center of the universe on a remote site in Northern California.
Centerbrook Architects and Planners
Jefferson B. Riley
Chuck (some chose to call him Charles) never, to my recollection, taught by instruction but rather by performing magic. Early on, I was like a kid watching this magician do the clever, the astounding, the beautiful, the funny, the surprising, the impossible trick. I would simply say to myself, “Gee, I gotta learn how to do that.” And I would practice and learn, mostly on my own but always conjuring Chuck. And the trick would end up different, maybe not as good, but mine. I learned to accept that and take pleasure in it. And I got the sense that he knew that would happen, although he never said so in words.
Charles Moore taught me too many lessons to list all of them now, but here are a few of the most important: Listen carefully to your client. Don’t assume that you know what they want. You can give a client just what they want and still make an interesting and beautiful building if you use their vision as your inspiration. There is no such thing as a perfect design. However, there is a substantial difference between good and bad. There can be multiple good solutions to the same problem. Your overall design idea for a building should be recognizable in a very small drawing (typically for Charles, a sketch on a cocktail napkin drawn in an airport lounge). This leads to design integrity (that can even withstand a client’s numerous changes). A good design has integrity (wholeness). Even a master has to discard many bad ideas before finding a good one. Promote yourself—nobody else is going to do it for you. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Share credit. Dress conservatively to sell a radical design.
Although Charles Moore was a brilliant and clever designer, an inspirational teacher, and a good friend, I probably learned more from his mistakes than from his successes. One doesn't often get to collaborate with a genius. Chuck surely was one.
Robert A.M. Stern
As an architecture student at Yale editing Perspecta 9/10, I first met Charles Moore by telephone and through correspondence. I had come across his amazing early projects in the Italian magazine Casabella, and was intrigued by what I read about him and his partners—especially in a provocative essay by Donlyn Lyndon. I got in touch with Charles and he volunteered that he was interested in writing about Disneyland for the journal, leading to the publication of his justifiably famous "You Have to Pay for the Public Life," as well as a portfolio of projects by his firm Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, Whitaker.
I liked Charles's work from the very start, in particular his house in Orinda, California, with its two aedicules that were like two of Kahn's Trenton bathhouses reinterpreted inside a larger third volume. But the Moore project that perhaps has had the most enduring impact on me was his unrealized design for a condominium in Coronado, California; instead of being either a point tower or a slab—such as virtually all high-density multifamily residential was in those days—it was a hybrid, with a wonderful domesticity about it: it didn't look like an office building with people sleeping in it; it looked like what it was—an apartment house.
I don't remember exactly when I first encountered Charles face-to-face, but it may have been when he came to New Haven to be interviewed for the chairmanship of the department of architecture. That would have been in Spring 1965, which was approximately the time that Perspecta 9/10 was released. Charles was one of three architects interviewed for the position; the others were Robert Venturi and Romaldo Giurgola. Of the three, Charles was certainly the least well known, at least on the East Coast.
Once Charles settled in at Yale, I got to know him better. As a recent graduate, I was invited to jury reviews, and to join a committee that was organizing a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the School of Fine Arts, which had become the School of Art and Architecture. (That celebration never happened because of the disastrous fire in the A&A Building and general unrest on the Yale campus.)
Oddly enough, when Charles left Yale for California, I saw more rather than less of him—because at that time California was a welcome destination for my lecturing and a fascinating new place for me to explore. I remember staying in Charles's house on Gayley Avenue while we were on an AIA jury. My recollection is of a ship's cabin-like guest room at the foot of a spectacular stair that led up to his sun-filled top-floor living room. On one trip, I got to spend a wonderful day with him and others at Disneyland. When he moved to Texas, on one or two occasions I visited him in his house in Austin with its amazing curved wall lined with shelves of toys.
My closest work with Charles was as part of a team of architects—Stanley Tigerman and Tom Beeby among them—led by Bruce Graham of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. We were tasked with the planning of what was to have been the 1992 World's Fair in Chicago. Charles created a plan for an area of what was then Meigs Field—he drew an astonishing latticed grid of long, curving streets that yielded spectacularly varied intersections. Charles produced a wonderful drawing of his plan; I can still see it in my mind's eye. During that time we out-of-town architects typically stayed in a great downtown club where we would gather for breakfast before embarking on our day's work in the Skidmore offices. I remember those breakfasts with him vividly: Charles was not a person who watched his figure, and he would seat himself in the cavernous dining hall and dive into an enormous breakfast, taking generous helpings of chipped beef on toast and all kinds of other calorie-laden goodies. Faced with the pleasures of the table, he just couldn't say no.
Charles had a great capacity for describing things he'd seen, to paint amazing word-pictures; that quality only partly comes through in his many books which, sadly, are not as widely read today as they should be. As Charles described a place, it was almost as good as being there—he would walk you through the streets, smell the smells, taste the food. Charles believed in travel, and he passed that love on to his Yale students, whom he charged up about the eccentric beauty of the American scene.