Category Archives: modern architecture

We can rebuild it — more beautiful than before

In central Paris, modern architecture is vandalism; in the suburbs, it is hell

Dalrymple writes that the French president’s speech about the Notre-Dame fire

contained a terrible threat: he said that the cathedral would be rebuilt to be even more beautiful than before.

And the French prime minister announced that a competition would be held to design ‘a spire suited to the techniques and challenges of our time’. This, says Dalrymple,

should send a chill down the spine of anyone familiar with the efforts of modern architects in Paris, the effects of which can be seen all around the city.

The monumental public buildings constructed using techniques to meet the challenges of our time include

  • the Centre Pompidou
  • the Tour Montparnasse
  • the Opéra Bastille
  • the Musée du quai Branly
  • the new Philharmonie

Each one of these structures would, says Dalrymple,

gain at least an honorable mention in a competition for ugliest building in the world.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France, too, was largely rehoused using the techniques of our time, which

included failure to notice that the damp caused by a low water table and sun shining directly through walls of glass were not very good for 15th-century books.

Dalrymple notes that the post-Second-World-War vernacular, with its curtain walls and ribbon windows, is

universally depressing, a single one of its buildings being able to ruin the harmony of an entire street.

In view of

the narcissism of modern architects, particularly of the star variety, when called upon to make additions to older buildings,

a strict restoration of Notre-Dame would be safer.

There should be no competition, except among craftsmen and those who can suggest new ways to make old appearances.

Macron said that he wanted the cathedral restored within five years—in time for the opening of the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Dalrymple comments:

It would be hard to think of a more kitsch idea in the Soviet tradition than this.

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.

 

A psychopathic structure

The Philharmonie de Paris, Dalrymple points out, was built

at pharaonic cost.

As monstrous as it is incompetent, it exemplifies

modern architectural psychopathy.

He likens it to

a vulgar Brobdingnagian silver lamé dress crumpled on the floor after a night of debauchery.

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.

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.

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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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

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.

Psychopathic æsthetic arrogance

Repulsive and barbaric

Repulsive and barbaric

The Shard (2012), writes Dalrymple, is

grossly incompetent.

It

unbalances an already much damaged skyline

and is an example of

the devastation wrought by barbaric architects.

The egotist Renzo Piano imagines that

his adolescent rebellion is something to be proud of.

Technical advancement,

for which gigantism is often a metonym, is mistaken for improvement.

The Shard would, says Dalrymple,

be perfect for Dubai: its glassy vulgarity would hardly attract notice there. But London is not Dubai even if its prosperity is built, metaphorically, on sand.

Modernity

is the most fleeting of qualities, and useless for assessing the worth of anything. Fascism and nylon shirts were once modern, but no one would now call them the finest flower of the human mind or spirit.