Paffard Keatings-Clay: Mastery Through Innovation, Innovation Through Mastery

Issues/themesModernism: there is more meat on that bone.Working within the disciplineThe canon, challenging it, contributing to itExcellence requires StandardsExcellence vs. novelty as a core valueArchitecture itself is interestingSubstance matters in an increasingly virtual worldArchitecture: not simply a reflection, but an exhortation Paffard Keatinge-Clay: the possibility of masteryThe dynamics of disciplined innovationThe sense of identity once embodied by the notion of a discipline seems superfluous in these interdisciplinary times. Such boundaries are barely noticed, their authority is weak and undemonstrative, their transgression hardly thrilling. Yet… for Architecture relinquishing its disciplinary nature would be tragic, forsaking what particularly distinguishes it from the consumer-oriented cultural production so prevalent today. Architecture\’s disciplinary identity is due to more than just a customary relationship to buildings, however, or its reflection of the society building them. It is thorough and consuming; it is also more obscure than the built examples or public testimony imply, emerging over millennia in the standards by which architecture judges itself and through the trail of examples upholding -and producing -those standards.It is primarily the problem of the new, so dear to the contemporary sense of what is good and proper and cool, that raises the anxiety level of the discipline. The overwhelming cultural privilege of the NEW! leads architecture to look exclusively outside itself for inspiration. Innovation and novelty are treated there as easy issues of simple difference or chronological priority, though, so the criterion of improvement and standard of progress customarily engaged by the discipline are relaxed. Architecture\’s interest in meaning has consequently diminished, since novelty\’s discursive potential is impoverished without a continuing context for its appreciation, in favor of more generally quantifiable performance criteria. All of which is an effect of the discipline\’s waning influence and potential portent of its ultimate fate.A striking alternative to this now typical \’external\’ route to novelty is offered by the example of the work of Paffard Keatinge-Clay, the mythical lost last architect of heroic modernism. Between 1947 and 1975 Clay either worked for or befriended most of the founders of modern architecture -son-in-law of Sigfried Gideon, favored employee of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, friend of Walter Gropius, Mies Van der Rohe, and acquaintance of just about every one else worth at least a footnote in the history of modern architecture. During this period he designed a half-dozen iconic buildings that demonstrate an unparalleled mastery of the tradition, but have largely been forgotten today. Though not a pivotal figure in the modern movement, Keatinge-Clay was emphatically its most talented pivotee: favorite son, design prodigy, clear heir of three of the gods and protege of their scribe. Most importantly for the purposes of this studio, though, each of the built projects is a demonstration of innovation by a process of refinement and invention within a school. Each embodies a critique of the idea of originality as unprecedented. Each shows that by working within the discipline, testing the new work against the canon, the architect may reach unsuspected heights, yet with the total control that signifies mastery.The oeuvre consists of relatively few projects, but each is distinctive and directly illustrative of either different influences or different approaches to the same influence. And each example could be argued to surpass the original in many ways, opening the door to a new avenue of expression within the trajectory defined by that influence. Such work is uniquely sui