American postmodern architect and educator Charles Willard Moore (1925-1993) is noted for his eclectic range of historicist buildings, each of which represents a unique response to the context of its site and culture—whether in the form of vernacular shed-roof wooden houses, Palladian-inspired stuccoed villas, or Federal-style college buildings. All are done as serious comments on current architectural theory and at the same time evoking a sense of gaiety or irony.
Charles Willard Moore was born in 1925 in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Throughout much of his grade school and high school years his parents traveled during the winter months from their home in Michigan either to Florida or California, spending several weeks in such cities as St. Petersburg and Hollywood. As a result of these extensive cross-country travels, Moore gained an inherent understanding of the American city and a rich knowledge of the history of American architecture.
Moore's university training was divided between his undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, where he entered at 16 and received a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1947; and Princeton University, where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1956 and a Ph.D. in architecture in 1957. At Princeton he studied with Ecoletrained Jean Labatut, the Milanese architect Enrico Peressutti, and American architect Louis Kahn. Throughout this period of Moore's education and early professional career he shunned the purity of the prevailing International Style and focused instead on an architecture that was both historicist and contextual. Likewise, he did not subscribe to the Modernist approach to urban redevelopment which called for wholesale clearance, but rather sought to work within the existing context or urban fabric and to enhance its essential character. His doctoral dissertation, "Water in Architecture," represented another of his consuming interests, the role of fountains and water in public space, an all-encompassing study that traced the history of fountains from Europe and the United States to China and Japan.
After two years of teaching at Princeton in the late 1950s, Moore moved to California to take a teaching position at the University of California at Berkeley. He became chair of the program in 1962. Shortly afterward he designed for himself a house in Orinda, California, which brought him early acclaim because of its evocation of a vernacular tradition and its unique articulation of interior space. In 1963 he formed a partnership with Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, and Richard Whitaker. Their wooden shed-roof designs for the Sea Ranch Condominiums on the coast north of San Francisco brought recognition and feature stories in the leading architectural magazines. A vacation resort built along a ten-mile stretch of the Pacific coast, Sea Ranch garnered acclaim for its pitched-roof, redwood-clad houses set into dramatic cliffsides. The development became a prototype for many suburban communities across the country. Other significant buildings produced by the Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker partnership include Kresge College of the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Faculty Club of the University of California at Santa Barbara, both of which are informal stucco-clad compositions with irregular plans and picturesque profiles.
In 1965 Moore was appointed chair of the Department of Architecture at Yale University, a position he held until 1969. Upon moving to the East Coast he established a new partnership in Essex, Connecticut, with William Grover and Robert Harper. Projects of the firm include an addition to the Williams College Art Museum and the Hood Museum at Dartmouth University. The Williams College project, completed in 1983, required an addition to a significant 1840s octagonal Federal-style building that once served as the college library. Located on a steeply sloping angular site at the back of the original building, the new structure is built around a triangular court with a cascading stairway that provides a new entrance to the museum and a link to the new galleries. In a similar manner, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth presented Moore with the problem of joining new gallery space to already existing buildings, one Modern, the other Romanesque. Here he linked the two buildings with a connecting corridor and a concrete and brick gateway that gives access to an entrance courtyard. Inside, the building features a polygonal vestibule and a high main gallery with an exaggerated overhead bridge truss and clerestory windows.
Other buildings from this period include Whitman Village in Huntington, New York, and the Jones Laboratory and Sammis Hall at Cold Spring Harbor, New York. As with all of Moore's buildings, they do not represent any single style or dogma, but rather are the result of Moore's response to their setting, their cultural context, and their individual clients. They tend to be playful, full of drama and surprise, expressing cultural aspirations and translating architectural precedents into something new and relevant to the present age.
During the 1970s, Moore and his staff became noted for their "Take Part" design workshops which brought together the architects and their clients, especially when the client was a committee or a church congregation, to discuss and argue over the details of the building program. Significant projects that were done in this method include the Dayton, Ohio, Riverfront and St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades, California.
After 1974 Moore worked mostly in Los Angeles with the Urban Innovations Group of the University of California at Los Angeles' School of Architecture and Perez Associates, with whom he designed his best-known project, the Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans, Louisiana. An urban square dedicated to the city's Italian community, it provides a place to play in the water in the setting of a theatrical spectacle akin to Rome's Trevi Fountain. He did it by creating a map of Italy out of marble and concrete paving stones, framed with a backdrop of playful curved walls in the form of abstracted colonnades and triumphal arches, all made of metal panels, stucco, and neon lights. It creates a magical sense of place, the goal being to provide a dream of Italy. Like much of his architecture, including his design for the Wonderwall of the New Orleans Worlds Fair, it combines references to ancient architecture with modern-day kitsch and expresses interest in the contrast between seriousness and functionality and the gayer possibilities of parody and irony.
Moore's numerous houses of the 1980s are characterized by similar concerns, particularly the Frederick Rudolph House in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is a Palladian derivative with a pyramidal roof, corner pavilions, and a curved entrance colonnade. Other houses from this period include the Kwee House in Singapore and the Hoffman House in Dallas, Texas.
One of Moore's most challenging commissions was the Beverly Hills Civic Center, in which he linked a series of new and existing buildings with a sequence of elliptical and round spaces lined upon a diagonal axis through the middle of the complex. These geometrically composed spaces are ingeniously defined by a mixture of wall surfaces, pavement patterns, fountains, and screens of palm trees. Stylistically the new buildings of the complex are derived in a typical Moore fashion from the Art Deco style of the existing structures on the site. TIME magazine called it one of the best designs of 1990.
In the late 1980s Moore accepted a professorship at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was supported in his wide-ranging travel through numerous field trips with students and had ample opportunity to continue with his selected commissions, which included the Tegel Harbor Library and Housing development in Berlin, West Germany, a project he began in 1980 in partnership with John Ruble and Robert Yudell. Wherever Moore's teaching profession led him, he set up small architectural offices that grew into substantial firms even after Moore moved on. Part of his legacy includes Centerbrook Architects in Essex, Connecticut; Moore Ruble Yudell in Santa Monica, California; and Moore Andersson Architects in Austin, Texas. In 1991 Moore received the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for his "outstanding contributions to the profession," an award which is known to be the profesion's highest honor. He also won four honor awards from the AIA.
Known for his teaching style, which Architectural Record said had an immense influence on students and other architects, Moore was also a provocative, fairly prolific writer. He wrote or co-authored eleven books, in which he emphasized his opinion that buildings should reflect the particular circumstances of place and use. His projects exhibited his sense of pop, historical, and modern motifs. In a 1965 essay, "You Have to Pay for the Public Life," Moore penned one of the first academic papers that dealt with the social and architectural aspects of theme parks.
Charles Willard Moore died on December 16, 1993 as a result of a heart attack in Austin, Texas. At the time of his death, he was the O'Neil Ford Chair in Architecture at the University of Texas. Vincent Scully said that Moore's technique as an architect was "not of individual invention but of humane community, and of context rather than style, of healing rather than spectacular oppression."
Further Reading on Charles Willard Moore
The most comprehensive monograph on Charles Moore is Eugene Johnson's Charles Moore: Buildings and Projects: 1949-1986 (1986), which was prepared in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Williams College Art Museum, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Also useful are David Littlejohn's Architect: The Life and Work of Charles W. Moore (1984), Donlyn Lyndon's Houses by MLTW, Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker, vol. I, 1959-75 (1975), Gerald Allen's Charles Moore (1980), Special Issue: Charles Moore and Company: Global Architecture (1980), and The Work of Charles W. Moore; A + U Architecture and Urbanism (1984). Moore's theoretical ideas are best expressed in his own books, The Place of Houses (1974), written with Gerald Allen and Donlyn Lyndon; Dimensions: Space, Shape and Scale in Architecture (1976) with Gerald Allen; Body, Memory and Architecture (1977) with Kent Bloomer; and The City Observed, Los Angeles: A Guide to its Architecture and Landscapes (1984). Information on Moore's death obtained from the New York Times (December 17, 1993); Architectural Record (January, 1994); and Art in America (August 1994).