Study Guide

The Fountainhead Architecture

By Ayn Rand

Architecture

This is the big capital-S Symbol in The Fountainhead. We will never look at buildings in the same way, ever again.

High-Rise Symbol

Everyone in this novel seems to either be a construction worker, an architect, or inordinately fascinated with architects. Architects in The Fountainhead have a bizarre celebrity status.

This obsession with architects might seem truly bizarre, but it was actually very much of the time. The 1920s are famous for launching the 20th century into the modern age with short skirts and jazz and cars becoming household items, but it was also a super hot time for architecture. And, in the out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new spirit of the 1920s, architecture got weird.

From Victorian mansions came Art Deco. From Gothic came Bauhaus. The times, they were a-changing.

The Future Is Here

Architecture actually was a  big deal back then. It coupled art (always exciting, right?) with new exciting technologies and signaled The Future. It signaled Progress. It signaled all sorts of words that are easily capitalized to be made more impressive: Logic, Efficiency, Daring.

Skyscrapers, guys. Skyscrapers are unbelievably cool. And Rand is not above drooling over their majesty, like in this passage:

She rose above the broad panes of shop windows. The channels of streets grew deeper, sinking. She rose above the marquees of movie theaters, black mats held by spirals of color. Office windows steamed past her, long belts of glass running down. (4.20.15)

Architecture in the post WWII-era already symbolized a lot of the tenants of Objectivism. Rand only needed to add a super-individualistic architect into the mix and—ka-pow!—architecture became an Objectivist parable.

History Shmistory

There's only one wrinkle: in the book, Roark is a persecuted character, derided for his ultra-Modernist approach. This is totally historically inaccurate: modern architecture was on fire in the 20s and 30s. The public at large liked it. Check out any movie set in the 1930s and it looks like Art Deco Digest paid a house call and spruced the joint up. The hot new skyscrapers built in the 20s and 30s (like the famous Chrysler Building, finished in 1930) are poster children for modernist architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright himself was considered a genius by the 1930s, and his designs were a hot commodity.

This brings us to our friendly lit nerd PSA: The Fountainhead is a work of revisionist history.

For the purposes of her philosophical argument and her plot line, Rand opted to make Roark a persecuted character. To accomplish that, she had to fudge her timelines and her architectural history. The type of architecture practiced by people like Keating is known as Beaux-Arts, and it was popular in the 1880s. In the real world, Roark would have been a successful and respected architect with plenty of commissions and a comfortable lifestyle.

But the real world wouldn't have allowed Rand to use the historical symbolism of modern architecture (new exciting progress!) to augment her literary symbolism of modern architecture (persecuted individual triumphs over stupid old fashioned architecture!).