EDITOR'S NOTE: Minneapolis architect Ralph Rapson, among whose designs was the original Guthrie Theater, died March 29. In the 1950s, he wrote an essay titled "The New Architectural Disorder" for Perspective '57, published by the University of Manitoba. The following excerpt from that piece appeared in the March 2, 1958, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune.
In the headlong rush to conquer the unknown and to perfect scientific and industrial know-how, a world of unprecedented ugliness has grown up around us. All about us we see the sickening consequence of our great industrial and economic civilization. An angry environment full of discord and chaos confronts us at every turn.
Glaring lights, blaring noise, dust and dirt, distasteful advertising, speed and power, discordant lack of order and design, all assault our sensitiveness and pollute the city and countryside alike -- and environment seemingly dedicated to the mobile juke boxes, miles of asphalt and concrete and acre after acre of ranchburger delight.
Much of this is the product or by-product of the machine, but there can be no denial of the great advantages and potentialities supplied by technology, and certainly the fault does not lie with the machine. Our environment and the products about us are of our own doing; it is for us to decide whether the machine is leader or servant.
It is for us to build for pleasure and a full life rather than strangulation and slow death.
The know-how and the means have resulted in contemporary architecture, often fine, and occasionally exciting architecture. Today's building often reaches unprecedented heights in its solution of problems of shelter. The physical limitations and restrictions imposed by bygone period design have been all but rejected.
Public and private buildings alike, large and small, have in many instances reached levels of accomplishment that honestly rate the designation, contemporary architecture.
Yet it is difficult to reconcile the top-flight individual architectural accomplishment with the unbelievably low level of over-all environmental performance. For every bit of excellence there are countless examples of ugliness.
The angry sea of un-design has all too often practically engulfed these examples because the architect cares not or dares not look beyond his immediate isolated effort.
Meanwhile, chaos and blight have spread relentlessly over the land... Can we tolerate this constant spread of blight and disorder? Can we stand idle and watch the pollution of air and land all about us? The answer is obvious. The architect must become aware of these questions in terms of total environment... In a world of constant turmoil, in an age of science and technology where pressures are great and where the pace is rapid, the architect must accept the design challenge of total environment if our society is to realize its fullest potential.