By David Brussat
Thursday, September 1, 2011
The New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art will host a lecture on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in Boston, by Malcolm Millais, the British structural engineer whose most recent book is Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture. The event, entitled “From Master to Servant: The Rise and Fall of the Structural Engineer,” will begin at 6:30, followed by a book signing. Tickets cost $35 ($25 for members of the ICAA and the Boston Society of Architects) for the evening at the Algonquin Club, 217 Commonwealth Ave. Reservations can be made here.
Mr. Millais will discuss how the practice of architecture and the practice of engineering have switched their relationship to each other over the past century or so. Architecture historically relied upon engineering to set the parameters within which buildings could be designed. Today, all has changed. Architects imagine the most far-fetched structures, bringing to that task little awareness, or care, that buildings must obey the laws of physics. Engineers, who long told architects how far they could push the envelope, are now expected to twist the laws of physics so that architects who push beyond the envelope will not be embarrassed by a building collapse. For performing what amount to miracles, engineers are expected to be satisified with the sloppy seconds of architects’ fame and fortune.
Mr. Millais rightly feels aggrieved by this turnabout in the relations of engineer and architect. He will entertain his audience at the Algonquin Club with chapter and verse about how the relationship often fails to result in successful buildings. That we do not often hear of buildings falling down for structural reasons testifies to the talent engineers bring to their profession. That we do not often hear of every other type of failure so common among “modern masterpieces” testifies to the sophisticated PR machine that architecture has set up to protect itself from its own inadequacy.
Listeners will emerge from the evening with a renewed appreciation for why contemporary classicism’s revival must continue if architecture is ever again to create a built environment that contributes to the physical, aesthetic and spiritual progress of mankind in this world.
Mr. Millais will show many images illustrating the good, the bad and the ugly of engineering and architecture yesterday and today. He speaks with an English accent, and with a sharp wit. Expect to be as entertained as you are enlightened. The author will be signing books, but not selling them. You may read it by purchasing it here (byob to have it famously inscribed!) You may read a review of it written in 2009 by the author of this post here.