Category Archives: totalitarian 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?)

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.

Architectural totalitarianism

Modernist architecture, writes Dalrymple,

is inherently totalitarian: it brooks no other, and indeed delights to overwhelm and humiliate what went before it by size and prepotency, or by garishness and the preposterousness which it takes for originality, and which turns every townscape into the architectural equivalent of a Mickey Finn.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 08.21.16Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 08.27.23Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 08.28.15

 

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