Picks and Pans Review: From Bauhaus to Our House

UPDATED 11/16/1981 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/16/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

by Tom Wolfe

Boxes with no trim or decoration were conceived in Germany after World War I by Walter Gropius and his associates as a way to provide cheap housing for workers. It is Wolfe's thesis that these architects brought this design idea to this country and, with the help of the Museum of Modern Art, put giant corporations all over America into this "worker housing." Wolfe points out that earlier in history, architects built whatever their wealthy clients wanted. With the Bauhaus crowd, the architects got the upper hand, and native talent like Frank Lloyd Wright was pushed aside. The big jobs went to Mies van der Rohe, his imitators and other steel-frame, glass-wall designers. Wolfe's book of sweeping generalizations goes much too far. But he is jokey, punny, full of insights and often marvelously right. He describes Manhattan's Avenue of the Americas as "row after Mies van der row of glass boxes. Worker housing pitched up fifty stories high." With architects now completely in control, Wolfe theorizes, they have begun to try all sorts of other stunts, solely for the amusement of their fellow architects. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $10.95)

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