Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415
From Bauhaus to Our House is a nonfiction book by journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe. The book is a critique on the aesthetics, philosophy, and practice of modern architecture, specifically in the United States during the twentieth century.
O Beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?
Tom Wolfe openes the book with his own tongue-in-cheek rendition of "America the Beautiful" to highlight the drastic changes that have occurred in the American landscape. During and after the Industrial Revolution in the United States, major cities such as New York and Chicago began to develop more buildings. The shift in the architectural trend of these cities marked the end of the predominantly agrarian economy of the United States and the beginning of corporate culture and an increase in wealth for the elites of society.
The main criticism Wolfe articulates in the book is that the dull, uninspired skyscrapers are simply gigantic trophies of the wealthy and powerful that do not contribute to society or to the progression of the field of architecture. Wolfe opines that the regular citizens who walk underneath the towering skyscrapers everyday detest their domineering presence and ugly aesthetics. In the book, Wolfe also posits that the occupants of the buildings do not truly enjoy their design, but are simply compartmentalized into offices and cubicles settled within the skyscrapers.
Painters, Architects, Sculptors, you whom the bourgeoisie pays with high rewards for your work—out of vanity, snobbery, and boredom—Hear! To this money there clings the sweat and blood and nervous energy of thousands of poor.
In this excerpt, Wolfe again uses a "preacher's tone" to humorously articulate his point; that the art world and the architecture field are funded solely by the wealthy. Even middle-class citizens wouldn't usually buy an expensive painting or hire an architecture firm to build their houses. The art and architecture mediums have become industries, and those industries usually benefit the already-wealthy who have money to spend on art collections or skyscrapers—which are permanent souvenirs for the ego.
In this passage, Wolfe tries to highlight the contrasts in a capitalistic economy: in which one side of the socioeconomic scale toils to make a living whilst the opposite side is able to spend enormous amount of money on leisure.