FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions / 2


















 Critics have called you Post-Modern. Then they all go on to say that you are not Post-Modern. What is your style. Has any Critic ever 'named' your Style?


There are only two conditions on which a 'creative artist' can accept being named as part of some 'Style-Grouping'. One is when he has given his own name to the style. The other is when he has already left it and moved on to do something else. Fortunately I do not count myself a creative artist, preferring to think of myself as an engineer. Secondly I count myself fortunate in remaining 'stylistically nameless'.

This 'namelessness' seems to please the Critics. It is necessary, in any taxonomy, to have some specimens that refuse classification. It goes with the suspicion that 'evolution' is associated with these 'sports'. Nothing is as constant as changes in Fashion. Ours is not the first economy to have induced fashion- obsolescence to compensate for the fact that things last a long time. Fashion is also powered by the 'Oedipal Drive'. One way to open a space for a new generation is to displace the older generation by a radical change of fashion. I, personally, have passed through more than one 'fashion-cycle'. Today, with the revival of everything 'Fifties', I make Rip van Winkle look like a fashion victim. Being nameless could be a recipe for survival.

My take on 'style' is that it is a word we get from the Greek 'stylion', meaning column. The original meaning of "What is your style" was merely what kind of 'Order' do you prefer? Every kind of Architecture, from Egypt to India has its characteristic kind of 'Order'. The Renaissance in Europe eventually established, in the 1600,s the five 'canonic' orders of Greek Architecture, the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite.

One can be forgiven for not knowing what an 'Order' is. No self-consciously Modern architect has ever used one except as a Post-Modern joke, a celebration of his 'stylish failure' to synthesize History and Modernity into a novel unity. To have done so would have meant losing his or her 'Modernity'.

The alternative to this, which is to invent a new, or even a 'personal' Order, is so inconcievably arrogant that no one even half serious would ever try - would they?. Why nothing like that has been done, successfully, for 2,500 years. I mean the idea is completely 'hors concours' and invites automatic disqualification and removal from the Register. "The man who invented his own Unversal Architectural Order"! Who does he think he is?

Quinlan Terry, the man who sits in Raymond Erith's chair, considers that the Canonic Orders were given by God Himself. But then if we had been meant to fly God would have given us wings whereas we know it was the Wright Brothers. Thinking God gave Man something is easier to argue when we have all forgotten which man (or woman) really thought it up.

So, lets face it, the great thing about Modernity is that it is open season on everything, including Architectural Orders. Novely rules -OK. Its up to us to do better than the Ancients - that is if we value our self-respect. Noblesse, in this case, n'obligez pas.


An 'Order' has three parts. The lowest, the hypostylion , or Base, is, like an iceberg, mostly underground. The Hypostylion is largely invisible. This is what makes it so important in architecture. On this sits the stylion, the Column. The Column carries the Entablature, or epistylion. In-tablatum is a Latin word, meaning 'table'. The point about the 'entablature' is that it is all of the big, heavy, superstructure, including statues with wings, urns, rearing horses and so on, that the slender column carries.There is more to it than this, as I relate in the 20,000 words of "Raft of Fire - Mountain of Water", but the basic physical facts are these.

Today the question "What style are you?" means do you favour Modern, Postmodern, Deconstructivist, Minimalist, Bio-technicist, Pro-Green Sustainabilist, or whatever? Or are you against 'Modernism' altogether and in favour of a 'Period' style, like Neo-Classicism? I find myself in a 'no-man's land between 'modernity' and 'anti-modernity'. Modernity has abolished the Orders. It forbids the the use of big columns with capitals and big beams 'carrying' entablature superstructures. On the other hand, the army drawn up in opposition to Modernity is absolutely opposed to the use of any 'Order' that was not invented by the Greeks.

I began, like most students of my generation,with an uncritical admiration of everything Modern. Old things made me feel bad. The first thing I ever designed, back in 1954, was a building like a flying saucer (or the Millenium Dome). Then, over the space of the six years of my academic education, I slowly formed the opinion that the use to which I wanted to put Architecture, namely City-building, or at least large-scale Site design, required the use of something like one of the old 'Orders'. I found myself, back in the early 1960's, exploring the idea of 'inventing' an order that could justify its existence within the contemporary building industry . Gradually, over the subsequent 30 years, I succeeded in creating one and proving it in large projects.

If I have a 'style', then it is because I have invented my own 'Order', my own Stylion and Epistylion, my own column and entablature. I am the only Modern Architect working today whose architectural project revolves, comprehensively and totally, all the way up to a theory of City-Planning, around the use of an Order that he has invented. I call this Order the "Working Order". So one might call my 'style' the 'Working' style. But this is too 'general' to be an effective name, I suppose someone else will have to 'name' my 'Order'.

In the end, maybe, the 'Outram' style may have to do. This will mean, to those with an adequate architectural literacy, the 'Outram Order'. We can hope that my invention leads to many other variants of the Working Order, for its main quality, which I see as benign, is that, lacking the Authority of an unchallengeable, rock-faced, Antiquity, it lends itself to further invention and variation.

A last point is that the main purpose of any Architectural Order is to ensure that the whole of an Architectural Composition, at any scale from a single room to a whole Campus or City quarter, is greater than its parts. Some people, accustomed to the thin gruel of contemporary building technique, may think that the 'parts' of an Order, any Order, appear unduly sculpted and powerful. The reader must place into the mind's eye the size of a real building. Think of the endlessly dull, huge, illiterate, buildings, that compose the typical architectural 'view' today (not that any tourist would turn aside to look at them). An Order that will automatically and effortlessly bring such huge structures into a unity greater than any individual one of them is going to be large and powerfully sculpted?

Or it will fail and be just another individual 'statement', lost in the Tower of Babel that is the contemporary lifespace.


End of FAQ No. 2: "Style",

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* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at anthony@johnoutram.com , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.




John Outram