Category Archives: modern architects

Larkin’s Coventry

Philip Larkin, Dalrymple points out,

was a bit odd. Could it be that the destruction of his home town, Coventry—its transformation from mediæval city firstly to rubble and then to modernist urban wasteland, not to mention hell—had something to do with the bleakness of his vision?

Dalrymple explains (from 8:17) that until the bombing in the Second World War, and the depredations after the war of the socialist planners (who regarded the bombing not as a tragedy but a heaven-sent opportunity), Coventry was one of the finest mediæval towns in Europe. He is reduced almost to tears by the destruction wrought both by the Luftwaffe and the post-war desecrators.

Much of Coventry could have been restored, and the very little that was restored is of outstanding beauty (though actually it was all everyday architecture at one time).

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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.

Postcards from Walsall

The art gallery was built at vast expense

The art gallery was built at vast expense

Ceaușescu’s Romania with fast food outlets

Walsall in the Black Country is, Dalrymple points out,

the ugliest town in the world.

To the hideousness of 19th-century industrialisation is added

the desolation of 20th-century obsolescence.

Secret police headquarters

Secret police headquarters

The town’s art gallery, built at enormous expense, strikes Dalrymple as

a hybrid of grain silo and secret police headquarters.

Of all Western European countries, England is

the most richly endowed with unutterably dismal towns and cities, in part the heritage of the Industrial Revolution and in part that of modern architects and town planners.

Grain silo

Grain silo

Yet France is not to be outdone. Dalrymple writes:

I was under the impression that nothing quite so awful was to be found in France. Imagine my patriotic joy (for though not a xenophobe, I am a patriot) when I stopped for the night in a French town at least as bad as any in England. I could scarcely believe my eyes; I felt such a relief. The incapacity of others to do better than we is a great, if not the greatest possible, consolation.

Bus station

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