There cannot be many architects who have refused a job on moral grounds. I can only think of one, and whenever an architect accepts a commission that is in some way odious or objectionable, I find myself thinking of him. In 1832, Julius Eugen Ruhl, the municipal architect to the provincial German town of Hanau, refused to design a scaffold for the public execution of a notorious mass murderer. This was in direct contravention of his professional duty to design whatever structure the town needed, and even though a willing substitute was eventually found, Ruhl was duly and severely fined.

But very few architects have the fortitude to be a Ruhl, and the most we can ask of them is to design, as it were, the best scaffold possible, not to question its fundamental rightness. And so if one has moral qualms about the new Barnes Foundation, which opened in Philadelphia on May 18, one’s real quarrel must be with the clients—and, in...


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