Markets and the Good   /   Fall 2023   /    Essays

The Historian’s Revenge

The rise and fall of the Shingle Style ideal.

Witold Rybczynski

The Trubek and Wislocki Houses, 1970, Nantucket, Massachusetts, by Denise Scott-Brown and Robert Venturi; Venturi, Scott Brown Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania. Photograph by Steven Izenour.

Architectural historians can easily stray into advocacy. Consider Sigfried Giedion, the Swiss author of Space, Time and Architecture and a self-appointed propagandist of early Modernism, or Henry-Russell Hitchcock, who with Philip Johnson curated the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that launched the International Style in the United States. The late Vincent Scully, a Hitchcock student and longtime Yale professor of architectural history, was an advocate too, one of his early forays into advocacy being a book provocatively titled The Shingle Style Today: Or the Historian’s Revenge.

Scully’s book was based on a lecture he had given at Columbia University, and any reader who ever attended a Scully talk will hear his bardic tones in the lively text. Published by George Braziller in 1974 and still in print, the slim paperback—barely more than a hundred pages—is well worth revisiting. Scully captured a particular moment, when American architects, chomping impatiently at the bit, were feeling constrained by the straitjacket of the International Style and the heavy influence of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Postmodernism had not yet made its appearance—not quite—and it was unclear what the future held. It was in that charged atmosphere, pregnant with possibilities, that a number of younger architects turned to the nineteenth-century Shingle Style for inspiration—or at least that’s Scully’s story.

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