Bernard Rudofsky is international known by his book Architecture Without Architects, but he was also a pioneer working as artist, exhibition curator and designer, critic, and fashion designer. Born in 1905, he lived until 1988. Rudofsky earned a doctorate in architecture in Austria before working in Germany, Italy, and a dozen other countries. In the 1930s, he temporarily settled in Brazil and opened an architectural practice there.
Rudofsky’s entire oeuvre was influenced by his lifelong interest in people and culture. He is best remembered today for a number of urbane books that still provide relevant design insight that is concealed in entertaining, subversive sarcasm. His interests ranged from vernacular architecture to Japanese toilets and sandal design. Taken together, his written work constitutes a sustained argument for humane and sensible design. Following years of global travel, Rudofsky concluded that people in Western society had lost their spontaneity and innate ability to design houses, clothing, and shoes that liberated, rather than restricted, the body. He wrote in 1964:
Architectural history, as written and taught in the Western world, has never been concerned with more than a few select cultures. In terms of space it comprises but a small part of the globe -Europe, stretches of Egypt and Anatolia- or little more than was known in the second century AD. Moreover, the evolution of architecture is usually dealt with only in its late phases.
Rudofsky understood that he could reach a broader audience through exhibitions than through books. His provocative displays attracted a significant amount of attention and controversy during his lifetime. Andres Sevtsuk from the MIT writes the story with these words: “In 1963, Bernard Rudofsky was invited to curate an exhibition at the MoMA in New York. The show, titled “Architecture without Architects (A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture)” displayed large format black and white photographs from the Mediterranean and South American regions that captured ‘spontaneous’, self-built dwellings, villages and towns. The photographs displayed rudimentary forms of earth-bound architecture that had grown in the course of time without any involvement of administrating architects or planners, yet contained obviously complex and high quality forms of design. It was ironic to encounter such a show at an institution dedicated to the achievement of Modern art and architecture.”
Architecture, unlike chemistry, biology and other sciences, tolerates free and creative thinking; these characteristic are really present in Rudofskys ideals. He believed this cultural inertia had profoundly negative sociological and physical consequences, against modern forms of architectural education, Rudofsky advocated a return to spontaneity, play, and instinct. As a result, he devoted his life to exposing the West to foreign architectural paradigms, unfamiliar customs, and evolving attitudes about the body and fashion.
Travel was always an important part of Rudofsky’s life and work, as he once said “Life as a voyage, travel as a lifestyle”. He explored Europe and Asia Minor as a student from 1925 to 1929, moved to South America in the late 1930s, and settled in New York in 1941. Rudofsky’s experience in new countries shaped his anthropological view of his surroundings. He made a large number of drawings, watercolors, and photographs during his journeys:
We can finish quoting Rudofsky, when he said: “It is pointless for experts to discuss the finer points of residential architecture as long as we do not consider how its occupants sit, sleep, eat, bathe, wash themselves and want to dress […] The house has to become again what it was in the past: an instrument for living rather than a machine for living.”