Christopher Long: Josef Frank and the Architecture of Accidentism

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In 1958, the Viennese architect Josef Frank, then living in Stockholm, published his manifesto “Accidentism,” a strident assault on modernism and its dogmas. Frank assailed the ideas of “planned” design and primacy of functionality, arguing that they led to creative sterility and boredom. His alternative was the notion that architecture was best when it appeared to be the product of happenstance, that the best architecture looked as if it had come about “by chance.” Frank was not alone in this idea. Others in the 1950s, most notably John Cage, were interested in aleatory processes of creation, but Frank’s suggestion of the possibilities of non-orthogonal and non-functional dwellings was among the most radical architectural visions of the era. This lecture will examine the roots and meanings of Frank’s “accidentist” aesthetic and its relevance for contemporary architecture.

Christopher Long is professor of architecture and design history at the University of Texas at Austin. The author of several works on Josef Frank, he is a leading expert on modern architecture in Central Europe and the United States. His books include Josef Frank: Life and Work (2001), Paul T. Frankl and Modern American Design (2007), The Looshaus (2011), and The New Space: Movement and Experience in Viennese Modern Architecture. His newest book, Adolf Loos on Trial, will appear in March 2017.

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