Category Archives: barbarians

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.

Everywhere degeneration

We are barbarians camped out in the ruins of an older, superior civilisation that we don’t understand.

A short walk down Dalrymple Drive

Dalrymple lives

in a wasteland.

In the slums, known in England as ‘council estates’,

the glass of many of the windows has been replaced by plywood; such gardens as there are have reverted to grey-green scrub, with empty beer and soft drink cans, used condoms and loose sheets of tabloid newspaper in place of flowers; and the people trudge through the desolation as disconsolately as in any communist land.

Everything is

disorientatingly arbitrary, just as bureaucrats like it: compared with the average British public housing estate, the Cretan Labyrinth was a model of classical regularity.

Here, says Dalrymple,

is where the rioting underclass lives and takes its being.

  • Women shuffle along in jumble-sale clothes and fly-paper curlers, prematurely undergoing the physical shrinkage of old age, a cigarette attached by dried saliva to their lower lip.
  • Young men, bodily mature but with the mind and inclinations of juvenile barbarians, eye the world with sullen hostility, which the tattoos on their knuckles, necks and forearms not infrequently express in words. They are unemployed and profoundly unemployable: they are intolerant of any external restraint on their behaviour, and cannot fix their minds upon anything for more than a few moments.

This is a world

in which schools not merely fail to educate, but are anti-educational establishments.

Dalrymple asks his young patients about their experiences at school, and they are depressingly uniform:

  • violence
  • boredom
  • indiscipline
  • insolence
  • intimidation
  • truancy
  • a determination to bring everyone down to the same abysmal level

Any effort to achieve

is treated as treachery, and if persisted in leads to violence. Teachers soon come to have the same outlook as prison governors: to survive a day without serious incident is a success or even a triumph. There is no question of imparting knowledge: schooling is a form of remand in custody.

A teacher tells Dalrymple of a circular from the headmaster of his school reminding staff that physical force is not to be used on pupils, except in self-defence. The same teacher tells him about a recent parent-teacher meeting at his school:

The parents of five out of 110 pupils found time away from their videos to attend. He telephoned the father of one of his pupils whose progress had been particularly poor (or whose regression to barbarity was particularly marked).

‘I’m your son’s class teacher,’ he said.

‘Are you?’ came the reply. ‘Well you can fuck off.’ And the father slammed the receiver down.

Putrid self-importance of the Moslem terrorists

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 22.46.08Dalrymple says that looking down from an aëroplane at Paris,

that vast and wealthy city, its millions of citizens going about their business, I thought how stupid it was of a handful of miserable ferret-faced terrorists, the incarnation of Lombroso’s theories, to imagine that they could bring about the downfall of such an imposing edifice by their putrid, self-important acts.

Yet the barbarians are said to have

made up only 5% of the population of the Roman Empire at the moment of its supposed collapse.

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 22.47.56Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 23.04.06

Postcard from Scarborough

The Grand Hotel as it was. Dalrymple writes: 'The building is far from my favourite in the town, but it undoubtedly has  magnificence . Now the marble pillars of the portico are used mainly to support bronchitics, exiled from indoors, as they puff desperately at their fags. Criminally vulgar posters, advertising cheap meals and rooms, are posted on the dirty windows, surrounded by finely crafted architectural detail. Everywhere there are small, as well as large, signs of degeneration.  No greatness, no vastness of enterprise, no magnificence of appearance. We are barbarians living in the ruins of a civilisation.'

The Grand Hotel (1867) as it was. Dalrymple writes of the building today: ‘The marble pillars of the portico are used mainly to support bronchitics, exiled from indoors, as they puff desperately at their fags. Criminally vulgar posters, advertising cheap meals and rooms, are posted on the dirty windows, surrounded by finely crafted architectural detail. Everywhere there are small, as well as large, signs of degeneration. No greatness, no vastness of enterprise. We are barbarians living in the ruins of a civilisation.’

England, foul England

Discobolus, copy of fifth-century Greek original, Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead. It was in private ownership and stood at Amersfoot Hall, Potten End, until acquired by the development corporation in 1960

Discobolus, copy of fifth-century Greek original. Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead. The statue was in the possession of a private collector and stood at Amersfoot Hall, Potten End, until acquired at auction by the town’s development corporation in 1960

The British townscape has been coarsened to a degree unequalled in Europe

Dalrymple writes that the destruction of Britain’s urban patrimony,

and its replacement by modernist multi-story parking garages and office buildings, represent a lowering of every Briton’s quality of life.

The unremitting tastelessness of British modernity

Britain’s townscape,

once civilised and gracious, has fallen prey to an ideological pincer movement:

  1. The rawest and shortest-sighted commercial interests demanded and won freedom to do whatever they wished with the inherited townscape, in the cheapest and most profitable way, so that harmonious assemblages of buildings centuries old suffered the most philistine and incongruous redevelopment that ruined them beyond hope of restoration.
  2. Birmingham

    Birmingham

    Radical reformers fanatically hated the architectural symbols of the past, merely because they were symbols of the past, whose despised élitist culture supposedly rested solely on exploitation, racism, slavery, and so forth. The official architect and town planner of the city in which I live wanted to pull down every single local building that dated from before the second half of the twentieth century, including entire Georgian streets and many masterpieces of the Victorian gothic revival. Fortunately, he retired when perhaps a tenth of the old buildings remained, the rest having been replaced by Le Corbusian leviathans so horrible and inhuman that many are scheduled for demolition less than 30 years after their erection. The Georgian spa city of Bath offers an even more startling example: in the 1950s, the city council wanted to raze it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 09.23.10The utter destruction of the aesthetic quality of British life

The British are

barbarians camped out in the relics of an older and superior civilisation to whose beauties they are oblivious.

Irredeemable ugliness

Britain’s city centres are the site of

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 09.26.02

Civic Centre, Plymouth

depressingly uniform chain stores without character or individuality, plate-glassed emporia hacked into the ground floors of historic buildings without regard to the original architecture.

This has deep social and economic consequences.

Where all is ugliness and indifference to aesthetic considerations, it is easy for behaviour to become ugly and crude and for collective municipal pride to evaporate. It seems not to matter how people conduct themselves: there is nothing to spoil. Attention to detail attenuates in an environment of generalised ugliness. What is the point of wiping a table, if the world around it is hideous?

Britons who hate and repudiate civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 13.58.15British incivility has a militant or ideological edge

Increasingly, writes Dalrymple, the English

are a people who know neither inner nor outer restraint. They turn to aggression, if not to violence, the moment they are thwarted, even in trifles.

And with an increasingly corrupt police force and judiciary, those who are neither aggressive nor violent

are by no means sure that the law will take their side in the event of a fracas.

Surveys have shown that half of the population wants to leave the country,

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 13.57.29to flee the other half.

The British are not only violent. They are filthy.

The British are by far the dirtiest people in the Western world, a sign of their unsocial mindset.

The paralysis of the public administration

induces a state of despair in the more civilised half of the population. Practically no behaviour is beyond the pale for the British state.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 14.17.03The freedom to behave badly

is almost the only freedom valued by, or left to, young Britons.

Is it any surprise that so many are desperate to emigrate? The people who want to flee Britain

The flight from barbarism The flight from barbarism

are not economic migrants. It is not high taxes that they object to (many want to move to France, where taxes are not low), but barbarism.

The emigrants

are cultural refugees in search of a more civilised homeland, where fewer people are uncouth or militantly vulgar.

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.

The barbarians

Piano lesson

I’m going to do this to your pleasant little market town. It’s my vision, you see

They want to turn the whole world into Dubai

Renzo Piano (pictured) is a barbarian.

Jean Nouvel is a barbarian.

The greatest barbarian-desecrator of them all is Lord Foster. The buildings Foster foists on us are of course modern — grotesquely, charmlessly, incongruously, inhumanly so. But he is broadminded where his own person is concerned, for he also likes ancient stuff, such as his title. He is Baron Foster of Thames Bank. (The rank was introduced in England by William I.)

These architects, writes Dalrymple, like the ISIS iconoclasts or the Chinese Cultural Revolutionists,

are barbarians, albeit using a slightly subtler method of destruction, namely that of entire townscapes in order to impose their so-called vision, which is indeed visually inescapable, on what already exists, thereby in effect destroying it, turning the whole world into Dubai.