23 March 2014

book is just a dirty four-letter word

Way back in 1972, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote an essay in the New York Times about the library at Phillips Exeter Academy, designed by Louis Kahn. I'm reading her collected essays entitled On architecture, published by Walker in 2008. The Exeter library essay first appeared in October 1972. Her closing words about the library sound as though they could have been written quite recently.

"Mr. [Rodney] Armstrong [Exeter librarian] will be leaving Exeter to become the librarian of the Boston Atheneum on Walter Muir Whitehill's retirement next year, and a suitable parting gift would be completion of the still-unfinished terraces and planting. His parting gift to Exeter is one of permanent grace, in the pre-McLuhan tradition, although electronic resources are duly included.

'Book,' says Mr. Armstrong, obviously not believing it, 'has become a dirty four-letter word.'

'No one ever really paid the price of a book,' Kahn says, 'only the price of printing it.'

Together, they have made a beautiful box that celebrates books."

I haven't made it to Exeter, New Hampshire, to see this Kahn building but I've seen quite a few other Kahn buildings, including eating lunch many times on the porch of the Kimbell Art Museum. By the way, the Huxtable essays in On architecture are proving very enjoyable, especially since she is talking about buildings and architects that informed my appreciation of architecture way back then. And the historical distance is also intriguing.

(Photograph 2009 by Pablo Sanchez, Prague, from Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking of historical distance, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has moved from a beaux-arts building on Massachusetts Avenue to the mid-century modernism of Watergate.

P.S. I'm still stunned that we were saying "electronic resources" 42 years ago, or at least Huxtable was.

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