CCA Library. The elimination of ornament has often seemed almost axiomatic of modern architecture. But the rejection of ornament characteristic of European modernist reformers such as Hermann Muthesius, Adolf Loos, and Le Corbusier had only a limited impact in the United States prior to the s. American architects committed to social reform during the first third of the 20th century more often sought to invest ornament with new meanings so it could help them negotiate the social tensions caused by immigration, industrialization, and increasing class stratification.
As an example, I will present the alternative modernism of Claude Bragdon , an architect and critic active in Rochester and New York from the s into the s. In , Bragdon set out to modernize architectural ornament by developing a system for generating geometric patterns abstracted from nature. In commissions for progressive reform organizations, Bragdon substituted projective ornament for the historical and national styles so often used to articulate differences of class, culture, gender, nationality, and religion.
As the designer of a series of community singing festivals held during World War I, he used projective ornament to form a mass counter-public out of linguistically, culturally, and socially mixed urban populations. Jonathan Massey is Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, where he teaches courses in the history of American architecture. Prior to completing his Ph. D at Princeton University, he received the M.
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