The Work of Schweikher and Elting
“A man can never be a great artist without great industry. The real artist will find something to do for every hour. Inspiration will come oftener and with greater power, when the artist works without waiting for it. As soon as the architect gives up the T-square and triangle and only directs others, he no longer advances, but retrogrades.”
These words, taken from the beginning of a lecture delivered by Thomas Hastings at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915 announce principles which one feels are central to the architectural works complete or in process shown in this exhibition. The two ideas they express, one of concentration and continuity of effort, the other of personal service, are closely connected. Together they provide the corner and keystones of a professional honesty and competence which is the inescapable common denominator of these exhibits. By these words, “honest and competence,” is meant no mere jog-trot virtue but ability and perceptive intelligence of a high order used without let or stint toward the realization of a considered, deeply felt and firmly held ideal.
The indications of this lie principally in the notable absence of those clichés which have become the bane of so much building in the contemporary mode. These clichés are formal devices, derived originally from the direct use of new materials or methods which have come into vogue as hallmarks of progressive design, and used as such regardless of their particular necessity or function. Too often these are used as a cover for failure to meet squarely the problems encountered in the struggle towards a direct solution.
In Paul Schweikher’s work, both before and after his association with Winston Elting, it is possible that some reason may be legitimately found wrestling with the basic problems for poverty of imagination, such criticisms are beside the point. The essential quality of their works as demonstrated here is its direct approach to the particular task and its use of the simplest materials to that end. One feels himself in the presence of a disciplined and sensitive intelligence developing its own ideas and methods as mood arises, but always guarded by a sound, if at times somewhat puritanical, conception of the architectural function. Present achievement is thus the firmest assurance of a creative future.
Attention should, for instance, be called to the firm’s use of wood, particularly in its houses. Here traditional methods of sheathing and framing are used as frankly for structural and decorative ends as in the seventeenth century, but with a freshness and freedom that reflect the spirit rather than the form of ancient tradition. The color and the weather resistance qualities of redwood are used with telling effect against simple brickwork to secure an ample variety of textural play. Glass is employed with freedom, but with due regard to climatic and maintenance conditions, and never forced for purely dramatic ends.
Such picturesqueness as is obtained is the result of careful massing and planning, and a straightforward, sympathetic use of materials rather than the outcome of a romantic urge. In this sense the work is essentially classic in its balance of intent.
The work itself will, however, speak more surely than words. To those weary of formulas, old and new, and of vacuous pretensions, it will offer much of satisfaction and inspiration.