Category Archives: aesthetic incompetence

Postcards from Brasília

'Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer were both admiring followers of Le Corbusier and communists, hence their inhuman aesthetic. Niemeyer is by all accounts a financially disinterested man, though no one ever suggested that Lenin, Stalin, or even Hitler were in it for the money—they were disinterested monsters. One pronouncement of Niemeyer captures not only this egotism, but encapsulates much of the egotistical sickness of many modern artists and architects: “Whoever goes to Brasilia may like its palaces or not, but he cannot say that he has seen anything like it before.” The same would be true, of course, if Brasilia had been built of refrigerated butter, but the originality of Brasilia is not the question.'

‘Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer were both admiring followers of Le Corbusier and communists, hence their inhuman æsthetic. Niemeyer is by all accounts a financially disinterested man, though no one ever suggested that Lenin, Stalin, or even Hitler were in it for the money—they were disinterested monsters. One pronouncement of Niemeyer captures not only this egotism, but encapsulates much of the egotistical sickness of many modern artists and architects: “Whoever goes to Brasília may like its palaces or not, but he cannot say that he has seen anything like it before.” The same would be true, of course, if Brasília had been built of refrigerated butter, but the originality of Brasília is not the question.’

Lúcio Costa laid out a city according to the conceptions of Le Corbusier: embassies here, hotels there, entertainment facilities yet somewhere else—every quarter functionalised, disconnected by large open spaces, and not one within reach of the others except by motorised transport. Nor was shade provided for such eccentrics as might nevertheless like to walk or cycle: they were to be discouraged by the prospect of sunstroke and heat exhaustion. The few concrete seats available should be such as to give potential loiterers backache within five minutes or sores on the buttocks, and one cannot help but recall Custine’s remark about the open spaces of St Petersburg, that a crowd that gathered in them would be a revolution. Brasilia is a city for coups rather than for revolutions. Perhaps this was one of the underlying reasons for its design. Man in Brasilia is essentially an insect, a kind of ant, or perhaps a noxious bacterium.'

‘Costa laid out a city according to the conceptions of Le Corbusier: embassies here, hotels there, entertainment facilities yet somewhere else—every quarter functionalised, disconnected by large open spaces, and not one within reach of the others except by motorised transport. Nor was shade provided for such eccentrics as might nevertheless like to walk or cycle: they were to be discouraged by the prospect of sunstroke and heat exhaustion. The few concrete seats available should be such as to give potential loiterers backache within five minutes or sores on the buttocks, and one cannot help but recall Custine’s remark about the open spaces of St Petersburg, that a crowd that gathered in them would be a revolution. Brasília is a city for coups rather than for revolutions. Perhaps this was one of the underlying reasons for its design. Man in Brasília is essentially an insect, a kind of ant, or perhaps a noxious bacterium.’

'The sheer incompetence of Lúcio Costa as a city planner, at least from the point of view of all previously existent urbanized humanity, staggers belief. But of course, one’s assessment of a man’s competence depends upon what one believes him to be trying to do. I learned this hard lesson in Tanzania, where the president, Julius Nyerere (currently undergoing preparations for canonisation) had reduced the country by his policies to unprecedented levels of beggary, while speaking continually of the need for economic development. From this, I naïvely concluded that he was grossly incompetent, but once I assumed that his goal was to remain in supreme power for 25 years without much in the way of opposition, the scales fell from my eyes. He was, indeed, supremely competent.'

‘The sheer incompetence of Costa as a city planner, at least from the point of view of all previously existent urbanised humanity, staggers belief. But of course, one’s assessment of a man’s competence depends upon what one believes him to be trying to do. I learned this hard lesson in Tanzania, where the president, Julius Nyerere (currently undergoing preparations for canonisation) had reduced the country by his policies to unprecedented levels of beggary, while speaking continually of the need for economic development. From this, I naïvely concluded that he was grossly incompetent, but once I assumed that his goal was to remain in supreme power for 25 years without much in the way of opposition, the scales fell from my eyes. He was, indeed, supremely competent.’

One of New York’s premier diving spots

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The diving boards

The new Whitney Museum, writes Dalrymple, is the

perfect place from which to commit suicide, with what look like large diving boards emerging from the top of the building, leading straight to the ground far below. Looking up at them, one can almost hear in one’s mind’s ear the terrible sound of the bodies as they land on the ground below.

There are also, he notes,

The industrial chimneys

The industrial chimneys

some — for now — silvery industrial chimneys, leading presumably from the incinerators so necessary for the disposal of rubbishy art.

He points out that the structure (cost: $422m) illustrates on the one hand the egotism and cack-handedness of the architect Renzo Piano and his kind, and on the other the

complete loss of judgment and taste

The façade, as charming as it is elegant

The torture chambers

of modern patrons.

The façade, which is practically without windows,

looks as if it could be the central torture chambers of the secret police, from which one half expects the screams of the tortured to emerge. Certainly, it is a façade for those with something to hide: perhaps appropriately so, given the state of so much modern art.

HQ of the secret police

Headquarters of the secret police

A monument to the vanity and aesthetic incompetence of celebrity architects

If the building were not

a tragic lost opportunity (how often do architects have the chance to build an art gallery at such cost?), it would be comic. It is as if struck already by an earthquake and in a half-collapsed state. It is a tribute to the imagination of the architect that something so expensive should be made to look so cheap.

A building that would truly have gladdened their hearts

New York at last has a building that would truly have gladdened their hearts

 

Postcards from Coventry

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 08.38.12Dalrymple explains (from 8:17) that until the bombing in the Second World War, and the depredations after the war of the socialist planners (who regarded the bombing not as a tragedy but a ‘heaven-sent opportunity’), Coventry was one of the finest mediæval towns in Europe.

Dalrymple is, he says, ‘reduced almost to tears’ by the destruction wrought both by the Luftwaffe and the post-war desecrators.

Much of Coventry could have been restored, and the very little that was restored is of outstanding beauty (though actually it was all everyday architecture at one time).

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Postcards from Exeter

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 15.14.15Dalrymple points out (from 7:35) that Exeter

was one of the most beautiful cities in England. It was badly damaged in the Second World War. One is moved almost to tears when one sees what it was before the war, and what has been done since.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 15.13.59Much of Exeter

could have been restored. But the will to do so was not only not there, the opposite will was there. It was as if the bombing of Exeter were not a catastrophe or a tragedy but a heaven-sent opportunity.

1 to 11, Sidwell Street

1 to 11, Sidwell Street. 1964

Paris Street bus station

Paris Street bus station

Rennes House

Rennes House

Council offices

Council offices

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Renslade House. 1971, G.W. Mills & Associates, Eric Levy & Partners,Stephenson Gills & Partners

Renslade House. 1971, G.W. Mills & Associates, Eric Levy & Partners, Stephenson Gills & Partners

Gloucester’s architectural cleansing

'Gloucester is a small cathedral city of about 100,000, where the city council has conclusively demonstrated that with the right combination of 1960s urban planning and an undiscriminating welfare policy, the degraded inner city conditions of much larger conurbations may be successfully reproduced in small country towns. The ancient but decayed medieval city centre has been replaced almost in its entirety by concrete buildings that would have gladdened the hearts of the Ceaușescus

‘Gloucester is a small cathedral city of about 100,000, where the council has conclusively demonstrated that with the right combination of 1960s urban planning and an undiscriminating welfare policy, the degraded inner-city conditions of much larger conurbations may be successfully reproduced in small country towns. The ancient but decayed mediæval city centre has been replaced almost in its entirety by concrete buildings that would have gladdened the hearts of the Ceaușescus.’

Postcards from Gloucester

Harris did it to Dresden, modernist architects to Gloucester

Bomber Harris did it to the Florence of the Elbe, modernist architect-desecrators have done it, and are still doing it, to the great cathedral city by the Severn

The destruction of a once charming old city

A glorious cathedral now surrounded by a modernist slum

How cack-handed, philistine, bogus architects of the last 60-odd years have spat upon their ancestors for being so much better and more talented than they

Gloucester, writes Dalrymple,

has been destroyed.

The one or two old buildings that remain

serve only to emphasise the dispiriting slumminess of all that was built in the second half of the twentieth century. In a way, the survivals make everything worse by the starkness of the contrast.

The workhouse in 1961 prior to demolition

The workhouse in 1961 prior to demolition

The revenge of mediocrity upon talent and taste

The destruction of old Gloucester

was not the consequence of German bombing during the Second World War: Gloucester was little bombed. Indeed, the German bombing of Britain was much used by modernist architects and town planners as an excuse for doing what they wanted to do in any case: spit upon their ancestors for being so much better and more talented than they.

It was

the revenge of mediocrity upon talent and taste, and it continues to this day. After the war, much could have been rebuilt: but neither the people nor their governors cared enough for their aesthetic heritage to do so.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.21.55The modern hatred not of the injustice but of the achievements of the past

The architects and planners in Gloucester

made no distinction between a squalid slum tenement (which in the event they replaced by something just as bad, if bad in a different way) and a mediaeval priory or Georgian pump room. It was the latter, not the former, that they aimed at.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.22.10It wasn’t that they wanted to raise people up.

They wanted to level them down. They wanted to create the New Man, that is to say the type who could not judge aesthetically of his own surroundings and therefore could aspire aesthetically to nothing.

The aesthetic terror

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.23.48They succeeded.

I doubt that one person in a hundred in Gloucester notices just how terrible his city is.

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Irrecoverable

Postcards from Cheltenham

'Civilisations are not destroyed from without; they collapse from within. That collapse may be in slow motion, it may take decades, but it is collapse nonetheless. Cheltenham is as good a place as any to witness, if you really want to do so, barbarians inhabiting graceful ruins'

‘Civilisations are not destroyed from without; they collapse from within. That collapse may be in slow motion, it may take decades, but it is collapse nonetheless. Cheltenham is as good a place as any to witness, if you really want to do so, barbarians inhabiting graceful ruins.’

'Devoid of talent, ideas, or taste, but too arrogant to learn from past ages or to accommodate what he built to what was already there, the architect had only prepotency as the means by which to distinguish himself, as the bully has fear, and of that he made the maximum use. It was enough: once this single building had been erected, nothing mattered any more, for nothing anyone could do as an individual would be more destructive or aesthetically offensive'

‘Devoid of talent, ideas, or taste, but too arrogant to learn from past ages or to accommodate what he built to what was already there, the architect had only prepotency as the means by which to distinguish himself, as the bully has fear, and of that he made the maximum use. It was enough: once this single building had been erected, nothing mattered any more, for nothing anyone could do as an individual would be more destructive or aesthetically offensive.’

'An insurance company, no doubt having successfully bribed the local council for permission to do so, erected a gray concrete tower designed by an architect who, if there had been any justice in the world, would have had his eyes put out so that he never built anything as ugly again'

‘An insurance company, no doubt having successfully bribed the local council for permission to do so, erected a grey concrete tower designed by an architect who, if there had been any justice in the world, would have had his eyes put out so that he never built anything as ugly again.’

'There is no better vantage point to see the destruction of a civilisation by barbarian architects than Imperial Square in Cheltenham. This was, until the 1960s or early 1970s, a most elegant urban space, completely harmonious, a call to refinement'

‘There is no better vantage point to see the destruction of a civilisation by barbarian architects than Imperial Square in Cheltenham. This was, until the 1960s or early 1970s, a most elegant urban space, completely harmonious, a call to refinement.’

‘Why are the British now barbarians living in the ruins of a former civilization of which they are either wilfully ignorant or which they actively detest? Perhaps it is, at least in part, an effect of the architecture that for the last sixty years has been imposed upon them'

‘Why are the British now barbarians living in the ruins of a former civilisation of which they are either wilfully ignorant or which they actively detest? Perhaps it is, at least in part, an effect of the architecture that for the last sixty years has been imposed upon them.’

Eagle Tower (offices of Eagle Star insurance company), Cheltenham. 1968, Stone Thomas & Partners

Eagle Tower (offices of Eagle Star insurance company). 1968, Stone Thomas & Partners.

Postcards from Bobigny

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 22.17.35The aesthetic criminal Candilis

Dalrymple visits Bobigny on the outskirts of Paris to view the cité de l’Etoile by the architect Georges Candilis (erected 1962). He writes:

These ugly, soulless, prefabricated concrete blocks have been declared by the authorities to be part of the ‘patrimony of the 20th century’ and therefore as being too culturally important to demolish or replace.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 22.16.57The people

who have been trapped into living in these concrete ant-heaps have protested vigorously at the designation: they know in their own persons what it is to live out the social-cum-futuristic fantasies of nth-rate French architects like Candilis, and they are demanding demolition. The only thing to do with such architecture, as far as they are concerned, is to grind it into the dust and try to forget that it ever existed.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 22.15.27Dalrymple believes that

one or two such buildings ought to be deliberately preserved, to remind us of the aesthetic incompetence, lack of imagination or even criminality, of such as Candilis.

But

there is a question that haunts me: if the cité de l’Etoile were pulled down as it deserves, would it be replaced by anything better? If what is built nowadays (that is to say half a century later) is anything to go by, the answer must be equivocal. I don’t think anything quite as bad would be built, but almost certainly it would not be much better; almost certainly it would look gimcrack and not as if anyone really intended it to last longer than thirty years.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 22.42.36The French

have lost altogether the knack of building something that someone in the future might look upon with pleasure. They are not the only European nation to have done so; but their architects are definitely among the worst and most incompetent in the world.

(2012)

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