Italians vs. Britons: Manuel Lopez (PhD 18) publishes on architectural postwar polemics

Manuel Lopez (PhD ’18) recently published “Neoliberty & Co. The Architectural Review against 1950s Italian Historicism” in the fourth issue of Cuadernos de Proyectos Arquitectónicos (CPA), the peer-reviewed journal of the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura (ETSAM), Madrid.

Revolving around the Neoliberty controversy, the article reexamines the wide debate on the historicity of architecture that opposed distinguished Italian and British intellectual circles in the second half of the 1950s. While the Italians’ contribution has been analyzed at length, the existing literature has not focused on the reasons leading their adversaries to refuse all operative recoveries of history, a gap this article intends to fill.

The causes of the clash lay on the different urban cultures prevailing in one country and the other, as well as on the specific positions defended by each of the men in charge at Architectural Review. Though Reyner Banham’s combative attitude has customarily been associated to his support of an architecture in tune with his beloved Futurism, the article shows how a calm reading of his writings casts doubt on his allegedly inveterate anti-historicism. Nikolaus Pevsner’s historiographical project differed from the one the Italians fostered, regarding interpretative keys and methods; the Italian research followed the steps of Benedetto Croce, a position hardly compatible with the rigorism the Anglo-German historian professed. Finally, the role played by editor J. M. Richards is more problematic: despite sharing many concerns with his Italian counterparts, he did not appease the virulence of the campaign his journal headed.

This early episode announced two major paths the architecture of the following decades would follow: postmodern historicism and high-tech. The article concludes with a critical note on the consequences the choice the British made has had on a substantial part of that country’s architectural culture up to the present.

The essay is also available to read, with accompanying images, in Spanish.