Category Archives: architectural criticism

Meta-elements and integrated morphologies

The dreadful Maria Fedorchenko: impenetrable drivel unworthy of the faculty of speech

Dalrymple says that it has to be given in full if the reader is to gauge the full monstrous absurdity:

The unit will continue its disciplinary project on the city, engaging with the interdependencies between disparate domains – imagination and reality, concept and form, text and image. We assert the urgency of the evolved visionary project that is rooted in a deep knowledge of the contemporary European city and architectural history. This year we will conflate several scales and levels of work on new models for ‘dis-continuity and coherence’, tackling urban ‘meta-elements’ as architectural diagrams and morphologies. Building upon our previous cities of multiplied utopias and artefacts, ruptured transfers, systems and frameworks and, ultimately, conceptual and spatial playgrounds in space-time, we will allow our pursuit of emerging urban models to inform new phases in the breakdown and re-integration of an architectural object itself. Our search will go beyond straightforward augmentation – of Hyper-Buildings, Super-Blocks and Meta-Streets – as we try to circumscribe and categorise architectural segments of the city. And we will also question previous shortcuts in scale and complexity – from containing diffused fields of architectural particles within mega-frameworks or variations on Arks, Babels and Arcologies, to enforcing and indexing systemic models of accumulation and growth – seeking internally coherent objects-devices that can also tackle fraught issues of monumentality and identity, agency and resilience. To do so, we will need to short-circuit current contextual demands with long-standing disciplinary pursuits – utopias and ideal plans, figure/ground and typology, diagrammatic system and formal assemblage – by exploring unlikely ‘friendships’ and mediations within the streams of precedents (from Filarete to Soleri and Koolhaas; from Boullée to Ungers and Krier). Combining creative methods and processes, we will ‘cycle’ between analysis and synthesis, creative withdrawal and critical re-engagement with the exchange platforms of the unit and the architectural culture beyond it. Emphasising aesthetic achievement and theoretical coherence (as seen in trademark ‘meta-drawings’ and final books), these catalogues of architectural ‘morphs and monsters’ will be embedded within robust Projects on the City – works that reaffirm architecture’s unique capacity to evolve and grow from within, and to effect profound change in the cities and the minds of the future.

Maria Fedorchenko: a mediocrity, a megalomaniac, a corrupter of youth, a spewer of contemptible humbug

Dalrymple comments:

Where there is no meaning, there can be no refutation; and if one asked the author of this verbiage what, for example, ‘coherent objects-devices that can also tackle fraught issues of monumentality and identity, agency and resilience’ meant (how would I recognise such an object-device that can tackle agency and resilience if it came walking down the street towards me?) one would provoke a torrent of polysyllabic gobbledygook that would make ‘Jabberwocky’ read like a witness statement. The author’s mind is like a food mixer, and she creates from pseudo-erudite words a verbal minestrone.

Despite its meaninglessness, it conveys something: the megalomania of the author and her dreadful ilk. She and they claim the right to design the physical world in which we live (because they know best, which is proved by the failure of others to understand what they write), and to mould the minds of the future. She and they are not just architects, but architects of the soul—as Stalin called writers ‘engineers of the soul’. Not satisfied with the supposedly humble calling of designing buildings that are graceful, beautiful, pleasing, harmonious, functioning, etc., they want to be philosopher-queens.

People of good intelligence might laugh at the nonsense, and in a properly ordered world they would be right to do so. It is worthy of nothing other than contempt. Unfortunately, we do not live in a properly ordered world: the lunatics are in charge of the asylum. Despite the most patent evidence of the writer’s terrible combination of mediocrity of mind and overweening ambition, she is a significant figure, a potential corrupter of youth.

An eyesore in Lima

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-08-36-22Dalrymple writes of the æsthetic shambles that is the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología:

The building is awkward, angular, without overall unity; its spaces are mean, narrow, and oppressive and its proportions a mess. And this is all before the concrete, for the moment pristine, begins to deteriorate.

One of the architects, an Irishwoman, says of the atrocity she has perpetrated:

We’re interested in weight. For us, the enjoyment of architecture is the sense of weight being borne down or supported, the feeling of moving with the forces of gravity. It’s a very primal need.

Architect Shelley McNamara: interested in weight

Architect Shelley McNamara: weight problem

Dalrymple comments:

I have noticed that when an artist or architect begins by saying ‘I’m interested in…’ bilge is sure to follow, as the night the day. What does it mean, that the enjoyment of architecture is the sense of weight being borne down or supported? Does anyone see the Taj Mahal for the first time and say, ‘Oh, what a wonderful sense of weight being borne down or supported’?

The problem, he says, is that

the pseudo-cerebrations of architects now take precedence over taste.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-00-23screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-02-28screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-03-54

Against this I raise my sword-spraycan

Heygate Estate, Walworth. Tim Tinker, 1974

Heygate Estate, Walworth, London. Tim Tinker, 1974

Enemies of Corbusian profanation do not hesitate to act

Whole acres, writes Dalrymple, of man-made surfaces are disfigured in Europe by graffiti,

in which some people, ever on the lookout for something counter-intuitive to say, claim to have found art. This is the tribute money pays to poverty without having to part with anything.

The need to assert (rather than express) oneself in some way, no matter how pointless, becomes imperative in a society in which

  • we are all called upon to be unique individuals
  • celebrity has an exaggerated importance in the mental economy of so many
  • employment is often precarious and is felt to be without dignity
  • powerlessness is obvious (powerlessness in a democracy is more humiliating than powerlessness in a tyranny)
Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Taggers tend to deface

ugly surfaces, often of inhuman size, in which modern urban spaces are so richly, or impoverishingly, supplied. It is true that tagging never improves those surfaces, but they are often in themselves of degrading hideousness.

The epidemiology of graffiti

suggests a subliminal aesthetic criticism. It is a commentary on the kind of building and concrete surface that the fascist modernist architect, Le Corbusier, extolled and desired, with the enthusiasm of a revivalist evangelical, to spread throughout the whole world. In a sense, taggers in England and France are endowed with taste.

Having said that, in Italy or Portugal,

18th-century buildings are not exempted from the attentions of bruised and inflamed young egos.

Kimmelman makes Buridan’s ass seem positively decisive

Silly ass: Michael Kimmelman

Silly ass: Michael Kimmelman cannot, or more likely dare not, decide

How fear of appearing reactionary can lead to absurd extremes of critical pusillanimity

Dalrymple comes across an article by Michael Kimmelman, architecture correspondent of the New York Times, about the new Whitney Museum. Dalrymple writes:

At no point did Kimmelman offer a clear indication of whether he considered the building good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Instead, he used locutions such as the following, compatible with any value judgment whatever:

It ratifies Chelsea.

The museum becomes . . . an outdoor perch to see and be seen.

Mr Piano’s galleries borrow from the old downtown loft aesthetic.

The new Whitney Museum: simultaneously a 'headache' and a 'signal contribution'

The new Whitney Museum: simultaneously a ‘headache’ and a ‘signal contribution’

They’re nonprescriptive places . . . that may prove to be the ticket.

They may end up a headache.

It is a deft, serious achievement, a signal contribution to downtown and the city’s changing cultural landscape.

The new museum isn’t a masterpiece.

It’s an eager neighbor.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 09.03.42It exudes a genteel eccentricity that plays off the rationalism of Mr Piano, and of Manhattan’s street grid.

Dalrymple’s comment:

I have seldom read a piece of criticism in which the fundamental question was avoided in so pusillanimous a fashion, and in which the writer so delicately refrained from passing aesthetic judgment.

Why does Kimmelman not pass any judgment whatever on the building? Dalrymple suggests that it is a matter of

fear of disagreement or appearing reactionary.