Famous Architecture Expert from USA Gave Lecture at VMU


On February 4, 2 p.m., at the VMU art gallery "101" (Laisvės al. 53, Room 101), a distinguished American architecture critic and expert Aaron Betsky gave a lecture about professional challenges and visions of modern architecture.

The architecture critic’s visit at VMU has received a lot of attention, as the location of the lecture was crowded with audience.

The whole lecture was based around Betsky’s personal experiences related to architecture. He recalled not wanting to stay in the Netherlands, but later became fascinated with the country and the fact that most of it, including landscape, has been created by people and not by natural conditions: "How to use that land, how to build is always a question of re-use; reorganization of existing artificial territory". The expert emphasized that coordination of different elements of work is important in building something, and drew parallels between architecture and a country, calling the latter "a three dimensional artefact at a fairly large scale". Betsky said that architects should have a central role in trying to make the country better, because it is a spatial issue. 


Aaron Betsky’s video lecture (filmed and edited by Kristijonas Jakubsonas, k.jakubsonas@vkt.vdu.lt).

The critic also mentioned the lecture’s informal nature, sharing quite a few personal stories and not relying heavily on theories. He traced his inspiration for becoming an architect to a time when he rode a bike around the Schroder House and became fascinated with its modernist structure, noting that interior and exterior do not separate the private and the public area, but instead help them come together; for example, window allows person from the outside to talk with someone inside.

Associations between architecture and politics were drawn, as Betsky remembered listening to the lecture by Yale University Professor Vincent Scully, who showed photographs of Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral procession passing through historical, monumental buildings in Washington D.C.: "That architecture spoke of a sheer belief in a system that was built on old values, that was meant to be open to all those who came to America, and that should be abstract and grand enough that we could all believe in it". Betsky claimed that this was a very emotional moment, which was repeated when President Obama, the first African American President of the USA, was inaugurated and changed the symbolic meaning of government buildings from something strongly hated by most people to something bringing a sense of hope and optimism: "There is something about that kind of architecture that has that particular power".

The architecture critic also recalled the success story of James Gamble Rogers, who failed as a university student, but made a lot of friends and eventually became a famous architect. As an advice to the students in the audience, Betsky said, jokingly: "If you want to be a sucessful architect, don’t study; go out drinking with everyone. Don’t go drinking with fellow architects, go with students who are studying law".

Another notable subject touched upon in the lecture was the often unseen central part of America, which Betsky called "the fly over zone", because many people simply fly over that area when travelling by plane, e.g. from New York to LA. Betsky praised the decision by President Jefferson to choose a grid structure for the country, defining the whole landscape in Middle America. He thought it was amazing "that you can create a democratic space, a space in which everyone can have their place and go out and make a world for themselves. This is the American Dream." In other words, Betsky admired the democratic nature of architectural structure in America.

Aaron Betsky, the current director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, has collected a wealth of experience in curating and managing, educating and writing about architecture, analyzing history and working as a critic. Having received undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture at Yale, he has published books on art, architecture and design, read lectures around the world and wrote treatises on subjects as varying as aesthetics, psychology and sexuality, showing that these themes have links and associations with architecture. Betsky has also worked as the Director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) in Rotterdam, boasting one of the world’s largest collections of architecture, and has been chosen to be the director of the 11th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2008.

Aaron Betsky is hailed as one of the most influential experts of 21st century architecture in the world. Some of his ideas include looking for ways to solve the problems of urban sprawl and encouragement to "liberate architecture from buildings", look for more experimental ways to shape our environment.

Betsky’s visit was sponsored by the Embassy of the USA in Vilnius. The expert has also recently participated in an architecture discussion forum at the National Gallery of Art (Konstitucijos pr. 22) in Vilnius, where he read a lecture on demonstrative architecture.

More information:

Aaron Betsky’s Blog on Architect Magazine
Audio recording of Aaron Betsky’s, Aaron Levy’s and William Menking’s discussion ‘On the Difficulty of Showing Architecture’

You are welcome to view the photo reports by Jonas Petronis (j.petronis@vkt.vdu.lt) and Erika Vyšniauskaitė (erika.vysniauskaite@fc.vdu.lt).

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