Category Archives: architecture

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?

Postcards from Birmingham

The Bull Ring: unutterably hideous. The only suitable penalty for the architects, town-planners and city councillors of the Birmingham of the 1960s is death

The Rotunda: a horrible 1960s monument to British architects’ incessant search for originality in the absence of taste or imagination. It has been preserved by the kind of criminals who allowed it to be built in the first place, in the hope that by doing so their own lack of taste and imagination will be justified or overlooked

Central Library: a preternaturally ugly and uncleanable inverted step pyramid of concrete, which replaced the magnificent and thoughtlessly demolished Victorian library

The Digbeth Dalek: there isn’t anything else like it in the world, nor should there be: uniqueness in art or architecture is no guarantee of merit or virtue, and in the hands of British architects is a guarantee of their opposite. This wall is already dirty and looks shabby; the glass roof of much of the shopping centre is also already dirty. The wall and the glass roof will be cleaned infrequently, if at all, because cleaning means costs rather than profit, and the British population has made perfectly clear by its behaviour that it doesn’t mind squalor in the least

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.

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.

The modern architecture of Rotherham

It is, writes Dalrymple,

of almost comic hideousness.