Category Archives: architecture (modern)

An American in barbaric Paris

A breathless New York Times ninny on a visit to the French capital writes that the Centre national de la danse building (Jacques Kalisz, 1972), at which she

stared open-mouthed

for a long, long time,

radiates childlike exuberance.

Dalrymple remarks:

Anyone who can see childlike exuberance in such a building is capable of seeing the milk of human kindness in a Nuremberg Rally.

 

Repulsive, disfigured Paris

The approaches to the city are visually hideous, writes Dalrymple.

Practically everywhere beyond the confines of the centre, the eye is greeted by a modernist mess of gargantuan proportions, and every occasional building that is not a total eyesore was built before 1945.

He notes that there has been

an utter collapse of æsthetic ability, judgment, and appreciation in France.

Vicious trio of architectural desecrators

Dalrymple writes that the apostles of architectural modernism Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier were

so flawed that between them they were an encyclopædia of vice.

They

  • spoke of morality and behaved like whores
  • talked of the masses and were utter egotists
  • claimed to be principled and were without scruple, either moral, intellectual, æsthetic or financial

Their two undoubted talents were those of self-promotion and survival,

combined with an overweening thirst for power. Their intellectual dishonesty was startling and would have been laughable had it not been more destructive than the Luftwaffe.

Postcards from Melbourne

When Dalrymple first visited Melbourne in the late 1930s, it was, he says,

handsome, if not characterful.

Returning, he was

aghast at what had been done to the city. It was like a vast open-air museum of modern architectural pathology, waiting for Unesco to declare it a world heritage site.

Incompetence, malignity and destructiveness of modern British architects

Ruined: Imperial Square, Cheltenham

The authorities in charge of buildings preservation, writes Dalrymple,

often bully owners of listed houses in matters of tiny detail, at great cost to those owners, while simultaneously allowing for the desecration of whole townscapes.

Anyone who doubts this, he points out, should

take a look (just as one example among many) at Imperial Square in Cheltenham, where a criminally hideous tower office block has been permitted to ruin the outlook of a graceful Regency terrace.

Goldfinger Ernő: satanically bad and destructive work

He says that

the preservation order on the satanically bad and destructive work of Goldfinger Ernő, or on the preternaturally vile signal box at Birmingham New Street Station, are attempts to persuade us that there is something more to these buildings than scours the eye.

Preternaturally vile: signal box, Birmingham New Street Station

 

Corbusians versus the cockroaches

Dalrymple writes that Le Corbusier’s

casual but vicious totalitarianism, his inhumanity, his rage against humans, is evident. He felt the affection and concern for humans that most people feel for cockroaches.

Like Hitler, Le Corbusier

wanted to be an artist, and, as with Hitler, the world would have been a better place if he had achieved his ambition — one could have avoided his productions. The buildings that he and myriad acolytes have built scour the retina of the viewer.

The Corbusians are original in nothing but the new outrages they commit

A single Corbusian building

can devastate a landscape or destroy an ancient townscape, with a finality quite without appeal.

As for Le Corbusier’s city planning,

it was of a childish inhumanity and rank amateurism that would have been mildly amusing had it remained theoretical.

Dalrymple’s æsthetic detestation of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret

Le Corbusier, Dalrymple points out, was

  • personally unpleasant
  • a plagiarist
  • a liar
  • a cheat
  • a thief

His ideas were

gimcrack at best, and often far worse than merely bad.

A criminally bad architect

To commission a building from Le Corbusier

was to tie a ball and chain around one’s ankle, committing to Sisyphean bills for maintenance, as well as to a dishonest estimate of what the building would cost to build. He was technically ignorant and incompetent, laughably so. His roofs leaked, his materials deteriorated. He never grasped elementary principles of engineering.

A house by Le Corbusier

was not so much a machine for living in (one of his fatuous dicta) as a machine for generating costs and for moving out of. In the name of functionality, Le Corbusier built what did not work; in the name of mass production, everything he used had to be individually fashioned.

Having no human qualities himself,

and lacking all imagination, he did not even understand that shade in a hot climate was desirable, indeed essential.

Foulest of the fascist architects

Le Corbusier’s writing is

exhortatory and often ungrammatical, full of non-sequiturs and dubious assertions. He raves rather than argues; everything is written in an imperious take-it-or-leave-it mode.

Le Corbusier’s pronouncements, and the belief in them,

led to the construction of a thousand urban hells, worse in some ways than traditional slums because they were designed to eliminate spontaneous human contact. He hated the street, because it was messy, unofficial and unofficiated. He hated it as an obsessively houseproud woman hates dust.

Despite his horrible failings, Le Corbusier exerts

an unaccountable hold over architects and intellectuals. In France (but not only in France), to criticise him is to put oneself beyond the pale, and careers have been obstructed if not ruined by doing so. He seems to have a grip over minds, and those who are attracted to him are attracted also to totalitarian methods of keeping control over opinion. While hundreds of fawning books have been published about him, only a relative handful have taken a critical stance, and even those that provide ample evidence of his manifold defects and crimes refrain from drawing the obvious conclusion.

The Elena Ceaușescu Hotel, Worcester

This single building, writes Dalrymple,

managed to ruin an entire city; an 18th-century terrace of houses in the vicinity of the ancient cathedral was pulled down to make way for a large, grey, concrete rectangular slab that would not have been out of place in the suburbs of Moscow. (Someone I knew rescued the wainscoting of the demolished houses, which otherwise would have been thrown away.)

The Leftist desecrators

Selfridges, Birmingham: arguably the ugliest building in the English midlands

Dalrymple points out that people who have been brought up among beauty—natural and man-made—are more likely to value it, whereas Leftists are

likely to see in it only manifestations of past injustice. That is, perhaps, one reason why social democracy, so called, has so little valued the preservation of beauty in the past, or rather has worked so hard to destroy it, for if not everyone can live in beauty, no one shall.

Nothing that has been built under social democracy’s régime

has any æsthetic merit, rather the contrary. Our architecture breathes resentment and spite.

The world’s worst building

Dalrymple cannot positively assert that the Centre Georges Pompidou (1971-77, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini) is the worst building in the world, but

I should be surprised if anyone were able to point to a building that was very much worse.

If Jack the Ripper had been an architect,

the Centre Pompidou is what he would have built: for he preferred his entrails out rather than in. The savage, gory mess that is the Centre Pompidou would have pleased him no end; perhaps he would even have obtained a sexual thrill from contemplating all the eviscerated intestinal pipes that writhe so uselessly around the inelegant core of the building.

The Centre Pompidou

screams Look at me! at the passer-by, Look upon the originality of the architect who built me, and despair! He has done something that you, stuck upon your tramlines of conventional thought and judgment, could neither have thought nor dared to do.

Charles versus the monstrous carbuncles

Prince Charles has always been keen to speak out about the dreadful nature of so much modern British architecture, and in this, says Dalrymple (episode 29), he is absolutely right.