Category Archives: architecture

Dalrymple schools a brute and a barbarian

Debate on the propaganda campaign to persuade people that the brutalist strain was a glorious episode in architectural history

Detail of Balfron Tower (Ernő Goldfinger, 1965-67)

DALRYMPLE: It has the ring of guilty people who protest their innocence too much, who know that they have been complicit in many crimes but hope that by noisy protestation they can drown out their conscience and befuddle the judgment of others. The architects who practised brutalism were brutes. No invading barbarians could have done more damage to towns and cities. Of course, there is no accounting for taste. As James Curl pointed out in debate with an apologist for brutalism, if you do not apprehend the horrors of brutalism at once, there is little that anyone can say. It is like trying to persuade someone that genocide is wrong who does not apprehend it at once. The great mass of the population rightly detests brutalism.

BRUTE: The newly-gained attractivity is growing by the day. In troubled times where societal divides are stronger than ever around the globe and in a world where instantaneous rhymes with tenuous, brutalism offers a grounded style. It’s a simple, massive and timeless base upon which one can feel safe, it’s reassuring.

DALRYMPLE: The idea that brute concrete could create any kind of security other than unease or fear is laughable. When defenders of brutalism illustrate their articles with supposed masterpieces, it is hardly a coincidence that they do so with pictures of buildings devoid of human beings. A human being would be as out of place in such a picture, and a fortiori in such a building, as he would be in a textbook of Euclidean geometry, and would be as welcome as a termite in a wooden floor. For such apologists for brutalism, architecture is a matter of the application of an abstract principle alone, and they see the results through the lenses of their abstraction, which they cherish as others cherish their pet.

BARBARIAN: Unrefined concrete was an honest expression of intentions, while plain forms and exposed structures were similarly sincere.

Le Corbusier: evil

DALRYMPLE: This is like saying that the Gulag was an honest expression of Stalin’s intentions. Sincerity of intentions is not a virtue irrespective of what those intentions are, and those of the inspirer and founder of brutalism were evil, as the slightest acquaintance with his writings will convince anyone of minimal decency.

BARBARIAN: Beyond their architectural function, brutalist buildings serve other uses. Skateboarders, graffiti artists and parkour practitioners have all used Brutalism’s concrete surfaces in innovative ways.

DALRYMPLE: To regard the urban fabric as properly an extended playground is to infantilise the population. Extension of graffiti artists’ canvas to large public buildings is a surrender to vandalism. No one would say of a wall, ‘And in addition it would make an excellent place for a firing squad.’

BARBARIAN: Brutalism evokes an era of optimism and belief in the permanence of public institutions—government as well as public housing, educational and health facilities. While demolishing Brutalist buildings often proves politically popular, they are typically replaced by private development.

DALRYMPLE: Many brutalist buildings, especially those devoted to public housing, have been demolished within a few decades at most because they have been so hated, not to mention dysfunctional and impossible to maintain. They evoke not permanence but the wish that they be pulled down as soon as they are erected. If many survive, it is because they are too expensive to pull down and reconstruct. Private development as architecture can be good or bad, but whether it is one or the other does not depend upon its being private. Much private development is as hideous as anything the government has managed, but that is because architects are terrible and patrons have no taste.

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.

 

Handmaiden to the wholesale collapse of æsthetic judgement

A silly woman from the Times newspaper of New York gushes on a visit to Paris as she ‘gazes in awe‘ at the ‘ugly-beautiful’ modern buildings. Dalrymple comments:

They are not ugly-beautiful; they are ugly, without any æsthetic qualification, and grossly dysfunctional to boot.

From fear of making an unequivocal judgment that might cause her to be branded conservative, backward-looking, or naïve, this New York Times nincompoop acts, says Dalrymple,

as a praise-singer to the collapse of æsthetic ability and appreciation.

 

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.

Bullies to the poor and toadies to the rich

Dalrymple writes that

the great figures of architectural modernism—great in the scope and degree of their baleful influence, not in æsthetic merit—were from the first totalitarian in spirit.

They were

toadies to the rich and bullies to the poor; and they were communists and fascists (not in the merely metaphorical sense, either).

He explains that by a mixture of

ardent self-promotion, bureaucratic scheming, and intellectual terrorism

these totalitarians

managed to gain virtual control of the world’s schools of architecture. (How, incidentally, were the world’s most beautiful cities and buildings erected without the aid of architectural schools?)

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.

Odious eyesores in the City of Light

Paris has the distinction, writes Dalrymple, of having constructed three of the worst buildings in the world:

  • the Centre Georges Pompidou
  • the Musée du quai Branly Jacques Chirac
  • the Philharmonie de Paris

 

A damp overcrowded cut-price Dubai

The City of London today, writes Dalrymple, is largely composed of

Brobdingnagian dildoes and early mobile telephones.

 

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.

Decaying, degenerate London

Made in China

Dalrymple writes of a visit to the English capital:

I stayed on the border between a rich and a poor part: on one side houses costing millions, on the other social housing for the drawers of social security.

Dalrymple’s hotel

faced the poor quarter. Two huge liquid crystal screens, one of them relaying a trailer for the latest violent film, ensured that no one had to rely on the resources of his own mind for stimulation.

The paving stones were

mottled with trodden-in chewing-gum. A guitar-strumming beggar, probably a drug addict, sought the attention of hurrying pedestrians.

The hotel was noisy. In England, Dalrymple points out,

the sound of people enjoying themselves is indistinguishable from the sound of someone being kicked to death (the two are often the same), and this noise filtered into our bedroom. From time to time, including at 4am, police cars with a variety of ear-splitting sirens passed by, giving notice from afar to malefactors of their approach.

The architecture

was as appalling as that in the rich area was graceful, appalling as only British, French, and Soviet modernism (which are of the same lack of inspiration) can be.

The number of fast-food outlets was very high, and on the border between the two areas was a vast shopping mall catering to both

the hamburger-eating classes

and

the organic-gluten-free-bread-eating classes, worried about the state of their bowels in 30 years’ time.

The mall attracted the typical British shopper, i.e.

the insolvent in pursuit of the unnecessary.

Nearby was

a market in which the really hard-pressed searched for bargains, from their carrots to their niqabs, the latter manufactured in China. What better symbolises modern globalisation than a cheap niqab made in China and sold in London?