Category Archives: fascist architecture

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?)

Postcards from Poissy

Banksys of the world! This 'villa' is an ideal canvas. Please visit and tell your friends!

Banksys of the world! This ‘villa’ is an ideal canvas. Please visit and tell all your nice friends

A broken-down ‘machine for living in’

Dalrymple travels to the commuter town outside Paris to view the fascist architect Le Corbusier’s villa Savoye (1928-31). The absurd edifice, Dalrymple points out, is

the acme of incompetence.

Such a blot is, needless to say,

uninhabitable.

It was abandoned by its owners, who found they could not stand, among many other things, the leaks from the roof that were a direct result of the gimcrack design. The structure resembles, Dalrymple says,

a laboratory

or a lavatory.

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Calling all graffiti practitioners: whatever you do to this ‘villa’ will improve it. You are always welcome here

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Get that spray-can out!

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Micturate at your leisure. Thank you

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Yes, you may defecate here

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Fly-tippers will not be prosecuted

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Drug dealer? Operate here, please

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Prostitute? You are welcome to inject heroin into yourself and/or service your clients here. It will improve the ambiance

 

Tourette syndrome

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 08.17.24Dalrymple visits Éveux, outside Lyons. He views the Sainte-Marie de La Tourette priory (Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis, 1953-60). It is, he says, very simply

hideous.

It is a building that

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 08.18.29might just as well serve as the torture facility of an all-powerful secret police.

For totalitarian architects like Le Corbusier, writes Dalrymple, Man is nothing more than

a machine for inhabiting a unité d’habitation. Everything is to be standardised, from space itself to teacups, with no individuality allowed or possible.

For Le Corbusier, who was no architect but who like all successful fascists grew to master propaganda and self-promotion, life was

a technical problem to be solved by a single correct solution. Concrete, right-angles, highways, steel, glass.

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The world’s ugliest building

Centre Georges Pompidou. 1971-77, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini

French fascism HQ: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1971-77, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini

Keep your enmities in good repair

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 07.25.25Dalrymple does so by visiting a Le Corbusier exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou. He writes:

I can hardly think of a figure worthier of hatred than Le Corbusier, still hero-worshipped in French architectural schools.

A few of the French, he notes, have — too late — woken up to the fact that

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 07.36.09Corbusier was a fascist, not in the debased 1968 sense of the word, but in the boot-in-the-face 1938 sense of it. A page of his writing, or a glance at his plans for the Ville Radieuse, should have been sufficient to convince anybody of it.

Radiant

It radiates totalitarianism

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.

Postcards from Brussels

A bourgeois city gone to seed

A Sint-Jans-Molenbeek street, Brussels:

The Sint-Jans-Molenbeek district: Brussels, the ‘sepulchral city’, as Conrad called it in Heart of Darkness, is, says Dalrymple, ‘dirty and unswept’; the houses, once all ‘bourgeois pride and prosperity’, are neglected

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The degeneration Brussels: 'Despite the fact that the public sector accounts for 50 per cent of GDP, it remains dirty and uncared for, and is architecturally ever more a hideous mish-mash. Many of the buildings were defaced by graffiti, the architectural equivalent of tattoos and just as idiotically egotistic'

Degeneration: ‘despite the fact that the public sector accounts for 50% of GDP, Brussels remains dirty and uncared for’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cretinism: 'Many of the buildings were defaced by graffiti, the architectural equivalent of tattoos and just as idiotically egotistic'

Cretinism: ‘many of the buildings were defaced by graffiti, the architectural equivalent of tattoos and as idiotically egotistic’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An architectural 'mishmash', says Dalrymple, but he would surely acknowledge that this is part of the city's charm

An architectural ‘mishmash’, says Dalrymple, but he would surely acknowledge that this is part of the charm of Brussels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palais des Beaux-Arts (Paleis voor Schone Kunsten), Victor Horta, 1928: the ugliest of all the major art galleries of the world, a building in the fascist style but without the courage of its megalomania, designed as if by a pocket Albert Speer

Palais des Beaux-Arts (Paleis voor Schone Kunsten), Victor Horta, 1928: ‘the ugliest of all the world’s major art galleries, a building in the fascist style but without the courage of its megalomania, designed as if by a pocket Albert Speer’