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Bernard Rudofksy - A Humane Designer
Andrea Bocco Guarneri
Springer Wien NewYork 2003
320 pages

Guarneris' book is an excellent comprehensive overview of the life and work of Bernard Rudofsky with individual chapters describing each of his books. It also includes a number of previously unpublished essays and articles. He introduces two worldmaps, one with the places Rudofsky travelled to interconnected by lines, and another map with places and people where one can see where he met whom. I was surprised that he knew Christopher Alexander, Max Bill and Tomas Maldonado. Many of the illustrations are not to be seen anywhere else and seem to come from the archive of Rudofsky.

Excerpt:
"Rudofsky works in the intermediate region of the full life. A terrain situated between the two extremes of materialistic oversimplification on the one hand and the exaltation of spiritual values alone, to the detriment or negation of physical values on the other. He repeats that "[w]e have lost the art of living, the most important science of all." His constant appeal is for us to develop "a taste for dignified living". With reference to the United States he declares: "We are a utilitarian society... We are not interested in living a graceful life... We want shortcuts. We are not accustomed to the good life - we don't know what to do with leisure. The machine plays a big part in our lives - we even use it for killing time. For example we listen to a machine instead of making music. There is a general passivity in this country."

Like the physician Asclepiades of Bithynia Rudofsky is more interested in identifying ways of living a healthy life than studying pathological cases. His mission is "education for a happy life," in order to "affirm the [immemorial] charm of existence and to reintegrate the 'natural stimuli essential for many functions of ... body and ... mind of which modern man is deprived. Disorientation and dispersion in the world can be combated by restoring a meaning, almost a certain sacredness, to everyday gestures. Rudofksy invites his public to evaluate attentively the consequences of the replacement of (manual) utensils with (electric) appliances: the difference lies not in the source of energy, but in the existential appropriation of work and its products. The iteration of gestures confers dignity upon them, and this has nothing to do with economic wealth. The modest price of tea has not prevented certain cultures from developing highly refined rituals regarding its preparation and consumption. However it is not necessary to follow local tradition uncritically. The modern world makes available a vast repertory of opportunities among which it is possible to make conscious choices inn accordance with individual preferences. Formulating the concrete problems of living of ourselves, critically and without prejudices, can help us to preserve, and even to enhance, our personal dignity, beyond social conventions and the conditioning of advertising. The important thing is simplification: getting rid of everything which is not essential, which has no existential meaning, which does not really enhance the quality of life. It is also important that we shed our thoroughly Judaeo-Christian sense of guilt every time that we enact gestures of attention on our own behalf; we must not fear to confer a sensual value upon material life, nor to take advantage of the rites of the household and the body as occasions for conviviality with our intimates. Rudofsky devotes a lot of energy to fighting the equation "moral=uncomfortable". He strives to affirm the value of pleasure of food, of a relaxing bath, of whatever seems sinful because it goes beyond what is necessary. He challenges the association between the "seriousness" and the "moral" rigidity of clothing and chairs; he uses the term sartorias, coined by friend Serge Chermayeff, and defined as "the enjoyment of discomfort."

He also shows how behaviour and comfort are often in irreconcilable conflict, leading to absurd situations that interfere with the pleasantness of everyday life. Rudofsky is convinced that our judgements of food, bedroom fixtures, ways of sitting, or the clothing we wear are enslaved to ethnocentric prejudice. The unease produced by the perception that something is not entirely satisfactory is far outstripped by the feeling that we are doing thing right, that our "way of life" is superior to all others. The cultural battle for the art of living was not an extravagance. Rudofsky proposed to museums and universities that they institute a chair or a department dedicated to it; the suggestion met with a chilly reception. Not even the underlying assumptions of his investigations were always shared: "When I proposed my exhibition "Are clothes modern?" at New York's Museum of Modern Art, its Director [Alfred H. Barr, Jr.] confessed that he was completely oblivious of the clothes he wore. He saw no connection between art and everyday life; The curator of design at the same museum [Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.], who was dignified pots and pans by showing them in his memorable Good Design exhibition, assured me that he could not care less what he was eating. To his mind a kitchen pot was an objet d'art; its use for preparing feed was purely incidental."
Andrea Bocco Guarneri in "Bernard Rudofsky A Human Designer" p. 69-71

Rudofsky's writing is pretty repetitive. So if you don't own any of Rudofskys' books yet, get this one. All his main books are described and reviewed in individual chapters. Additionally there are reprints of many unpublished essays and papers. Guarneri choose mostly significant and important subjects so this might be an excellent selection of Rudofskys work. Reproductions of images generally are of very good quality and also the books size is quite large. One gets the Truffles of Rudofsky so to speak. Unfortunately it is prohibitively expensive - but nevertheless worth the investment as it is a very well designed book.

(The 'Kimono Mind' is a little disappointing. One would expect that Rudofsky understands and admires Japanese architecture and the relation to its distinct culture and lifestyle. Unfortunately the book doesn't express such an understanding. Instead it is quite critical and often sarcastic.)

A view into the book:
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You can order the book here: A humane designer and I may get a small commission from Amazon.
last update: 8/18/02013 18:29

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