The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

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The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Gavin » 06 Feb 2012, 09:28

In this great essay Dalrymple demolishes the architect Le Corbusier, sadly leaving his buildings still standing. In my opinion Corbusier did untold damage to the United Kingdom with his ugly constructions, but even more responsible are those "revisionists" who commissioned him in the first place.

He is the one who designed, or at least inspired, the hideous grey tenement blocks now covering our cities which seem intended to optimise opportunities for crime and maximise potential for existential despair. There is surely no more apt label for this horrible architectural movement than the one it has: brutalism. It is ugly to the eye, brutal to the senses. It's the opposite of the grand, detailed and beautiful architecture of previous ages. I'll let Dalrymple say the rest. Have a read!
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Jeremiah » 24 Oct 2012, 05:05

I agree. Although it's worthwhile considering that Le Corbusier is perhaps only the most well known of architectural offenders. I look at pictures of buildings in order to enjoy their appearance; I skip the architect's description of a particular work because it is so pretentious.

At some point, presumably to add lustre to a relatively mundane profession, architecture had to be "about" something. It had to "fit the site" or "refer" to it in some way. It needed to have "spaces" that "changed the way people lived and interacted".

I've found that if someone has to explain a building to me, they haven't done their job properly.
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Elliott » 07 Dec 2012, 00:19

Here is an obituary for Oscar Niemeyer, a Brutalist architect who has just died.

TD has written his own eulogy here, having previously written about his work here.
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Charlie » 24 Jul 2013, 18:53

I sometimes wish Dalrymple would write a bit more about architecture. He's really good at it, as the above articles show.

I just thought of these pieces again after seeing some pictures taken by a friend of mine. He's an architect and he's studying at some prestigious academy in Spain at the moment. The photos, taken by my friend of his fellow students' creations, show the most horrible modernist mock-ups. Nowhere was there was any trace of warmth, or indeed anything which one could describe as aesthetically pleasing. All of their efforts seemed like ersatz versions of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. I'm sure these young architects will all go on to get jobs in places like Rotterdam or Valencia, but if this is the vision of the future and if this is what all modern architects are dreaming up, I demand that we all have a rethink.

As for Brasília, experience has taught me that if you ask a Brazilian what he thinks of his "capital", the answer will always be rather unfavourable. They can all thank their brutalist specialist for that.

The interesting thing is that political beliefs don't even come into it - left or right, the response is unanimous.
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Charlie » 14 Aug 2013, 17:13

Have any of you ever seen these "Crap Town" books?

I have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand a lot of Britain's bleak urban landscape deserves scorn, derision and humour. Everything which bears Le Corbusier's influence and virtually everything which one could describe as modernist, and therefore difficult to warm to, deserves some harshly critical attention in my view. On the other hand, I have the feeling that for all the chortling at hellish car parks, burnt out cars and communist style tower blocks, anyone who thinks that Bath is a "crap town", hasn't thought things through enough. Indeed, had certain planners had their way in the past, much of that city would now look a bit like a version of Brasília in Somerset. That really would have made Bath into a "crap town".

I also get the impression that behind the authors' despair lurks a kind of disgust and nihilism. I feel that the authors hate their country, and furthermore, that they're rather estranged from the notion that the UK could ever have been (or indeed still is in parts) a good place to live. In short, I think that the authors like the fact that they dislike their country. When Dalrymple despairs against the UK, it's because he knows deep down how much better things could be, and it's obvious to all but the (willfully) stupid or ideologically obstinate that he cares a lot about others. These authors, however, don't come across like that. It's as if Britain's history was one big stain to be ashamed of and mocked nihilistically. It's as if they're saying: "Let's all take the p*** out of the UK as she goes down!", "And good riddance!" Perhaps that's just me being oversensitive of course - I could be wrong.

But I mention all of this because, apparently, the authors of "Crap Towns Returns" are now looking "to find the dullest town in the UK".

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that in the authors' eyes, "dull" is now a synonym for "aesthetically pleasing". That's if the pictures in the link of Leamington Spa, Chipping Norton et al. are anything to go by. Those places are "dull"? I think I'd live there gladly, thank you very much! Perhaps "dull" to these people is the same thing which makes British people remark that Belgium is "dull". Is it really? For me, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp are three of the most attractive cities in Europe. Belgium has some of the best food and drink around, some of the best culture, lovely people, and, to top it off, the three aforementioned cities have some of the most pleasing architecture too. Ok, it rains a lot and the skies are often grey, but what do you expect in this part of Europe? It's not the Med.

All this talk of things which are supposedly "dull" and "boring" reminds me of the speech Dalrymple gave in Amsterdam (btw. would anyone define all of the Dutch capital's beautiful architecture as "dull"?): My idea for The Netherlands/Mijn idee voor Nederland. As we know, Dalrymple is eminently quotable, but one phrase in particular of his - made during this speech - has stuck with me for some reason:

"To take everything for granted is the sovereign way to be bored."


It just makes me wonder then why such people are so happy to denigrate their own country so gleefully. Surely they're taking so much for granted. Furthermore, it would be interesting to see just what kind of place these people would like to live in. I doubt that they'd sell many books by doing that though.
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Elliott » 17 Aug 2013, 01:18

I have little to add, Charlie. I'll just say that, though the "Crap" books have given me some amusement in the odd WH Smith's, they have never really appealed to me and I think perhaps the reason is what you state above: that they are premised on a nihilistic contempt or boredom with Great Britain and find the ugliness a pretty accurate reflection of the country itself. I think you're probably right. This new "Dull" book they're doing seems to confirm it. If a town like Chipping Norton is dull, I don't know what would please them!
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Nathan » 26 Aug 2013, 20:35

I agree with Elliott and Charlie in wishing people in this country weren't so negative about the places they live in. I know it's one of our national traits to be self-deprecating, but the amount of civic pride on show in municipal buildings from the Victorian era suggests the same negativity wasn't a factor then, despite urban environments of the time largely being much less pleasant.

I once spent 20 hours on a coach in Mexico going from the capital city to a place called Tapachula, and I was sat next to a young woman from Tapachula who was going back home after some time working away, who spent a large chunk of the journey telling me about how wonderful the place was. By the time I got there I thought I'd be seeing some beautiful undiscovered gem of a city, only to find it dusty, dirty and with unattractive grey houses everywhere which looked unfinished - it obviously didn't look that way through my fellow passenger's eyes though!
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Charlie » 16 Sep 2013, 21:48

With a bit of luck, they'll all lose (with the possible exception of Astley Castle).
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Re: The Architect as Totalitarian (2009)

Postby Charlie » 11 Jan 2014, 18:31

Here's a great article.

And he's as spot on as ever, of course.

What an awful building - what on Earth were they thinking!

As for other European capitals, I always wondered who commissioned the Amoreiras buildings overlooking Lisbon; they have a similar effect.

I tell you, when I'm in charge... :-)
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