• Untimely Moderns: How Twentieth-Century Architecture Reimagined the Past
    Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen
    Yale University Press, 2023
    Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen

James Gamble Rogers, Sterling Memorial Library Under Construction, ca. 1928. Courtesy of Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Untimely Moderns revisits various temporal markers and narratives that populate accounts of twentieth century architecture by grounding them in  broader discussions about modernity. Speculations about architecture’s ability to act as a temporal medium, that is, to mediate our experience of time is the main focus of this inquiry. This inquiry is centered around a group of fellow travelers collectively referred to as “untimely moderns” due to their deeply felt belief that heightening individual’s awareness of time and history would benefit humanity on the whole. This group includes both household names and lesser-known, yet equally noteworthy figures in twentieth century art and architecture culture: artists Anni and Josef Albers; architects Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, James Gamble Rogers, Eero Saarinen, and Robert Venturi; art historians Henri Focillon, George Kubler, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, and Vincent Scully; philosopher Paul Weiss; and architect-educator Everett V. Meeks, all of whom came at one point in their wide-ranging careers in contact with Yale University and with each other during the fifty-year period between the early 1920s and early 1970s. The book explores their individual and collective contributions to a multi-generational and interdisciplinary conversation that produced several strange temporal concepts and coordinates in its wake, including the one alluded to in the subtitle: “the future of the past” coined by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy in 1961. In addition to the above-mentioned “in-house” figures, the story includes cameo appearances by several twentieth century notables: philosopher Susanne Langer, architectural historians Sigfried Giedion and Henry-Russell Hitchcock; architects Ralph Adams Cram, Le Corbusier, Eliel Saarinen, and Frank Lloyd Wright; as well as art critic Clement Greenberg, who made it clear in their lectures delivered on campus that as far as they were concerned, the past was never out-of-date.

Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen is an associate professor at Yale School of Architecture, where she teaches design, history, and theory of architecture. She is the author of three books: Achtung Architektur! Image and Phantasm in Contemporary Austrian Architecture (MIT Press/Graham Foundation, 1996), Alvar Aalto: Architecture, Modernity and Geopolitics (Yale University Press, 2009), and Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment (Yale University Press, 2011). She is also coeditor with Donald Albrecht of Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future (Yale University Press, 2006). Her next book, an anthology of twentieth century architectural exhibitions entitled Exhibit A: Exhibitions that Transformed Architecture, published by Phaidon, will be released in June 2018. Pelkonen received an MArch from the Tampere University of Technology, Finland, an MED from Yale University, and a PhD from Columbia University. Her scholarly work has been supported by Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, Finnish Academy of Science, Getty, and the Graham Foundation.