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Old September 11th, 2011 #1
Alex Linder
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 45,705
Blog Entries: 34
Alex Linder
Default Architecture - Frozen Music or Ideological Statement

[hat tip Kalb's blog ]

This email from an internet list helps explain why NYU might be getting the design it's getting (in the post above), despite the public process it's gone through. The email was in response to a post on the list with this question: "All other people have to produce what the customers want. That's called "the market". Why are architects relieved from it? Or aren't they? Do they have to obey some other strange market we don't even know of?"

My friend said,

My attempt at an answer is this, after working for 11 years to promote traditional architecture and urbanism, and coming from a very different profession, law:

Many modernist architects believe they are the representatives of the March of History, that modernism is a successful revolution of the 20th century, and that it is their obligation to defend this revolution, especially against any counter-revolutionary, reactionary attempts to reintroduce the defeated, deplorable architectural styles and urban design principles from before the functionalist / modernist inventions of the 1920s and 30s.

Architects can be experts at psychologically manipulating clients and the public to feel ashamed of their secret, personal preferences for traditional architecture. In an interview, the Norwegian architect and Pritzger Prize winner, Sverre Fehn said: "You have to smash the dreams of your client". The architectural establishment will laugh at any suggestions for a traditional design, or if that does not help, attack aggressively or even use the legal system to ban traditional architecture (large new urban developments in Oslo have regulation plans requiring modernist architecture).

These control mechanisms are supported by an internal organisation of the architectural establishment that has been compared by Nikos Salingaros to pseudo-religious cult movements. The techniques used include the initiation of young devotees in architecture schools, via ideological teaching programs (some would call them brainwashing), and the shaming and expulsion of traitors who question the hegemony of modernism (as many traditional architects have experienced - they are often victims of Berufsverbot).

The message from opinion polls, referendums and the housing market across Europe is that 70 - 90 % of the population prefer traditional architecture, if they are given a choice. In Norway, where modernism is totally dominant for larger commercial, cultural or residential buildings, at least 80 % of new single family homes, summer houses and cottages are traditional.

You will find the domination of modernism in sectors where decisions on design are made by bureaucracies, experts and committees (including private sector boards). People in these positions are more likely to abandon their personal aesthetic preferences in favour of what is "accepted", "required" or "normal", and design that will give them praise from the architectural profession and the cultural media. Developers are told that a mixed-use block structure is not "modern" and "of our time", but monofunctional concrete slabs in a "park" setting are.

There is a lot of sociology a work here: People are given a clear message that acceptance of modernism will give you access to the cultural establishment; you could even get an award for being "bold" and "innovative". Honesty regarding your true preference for traditional design will only result in ridicule and embarrassment.

A good example is the treatment of Prince Charles by architects and cultural journalists. As an unquestionable member of the elite, his opposition to modernism was of course dangerous. To prevent his message from infecting people high and low in society, it was regarded necessary to depict him as a ridiculous, reactionary figure, and a threat to social progress. Ten years ago there were signs that he had been "advised" to tone down his engagement in the architectural debate. But the last years he has returned, stronger than ever, with sustainability and public participation as new and very good arguments for traditional building and urban design, and his ideas now shared by organisations like INTBAU, CNU and CEU.

For some reason, even after a sustained modernist campaign the majority is still true to their aesthetic preferences in the private sphere (homes and summer houses). But within the financial elite we see clear signs of a tendency to prefer architectural design that will give you recognition form the cultural elite. Luckily, most people still care more about their personal well-being than the opinions of architects and critics in the cultural sections of newspapers.

But modernist ideologists are far from giving in: In Norway, the architectural establishment has recently started a campaign against the traditional design preferred by most people when they are in charge (building a house for yourself and even paying for it). We now have government-funded programs to educate the population in the blessings of "innovative" architecture, combined with the labeling of traditional design as pastiche, nostalgic, not of our time, copies of a society that no longer exists, etc.

Modernism is replacing Lutheranism as the Norwegian State Ideology.

The domination of modernist architecture in construction based on expert, government and corporate decision-making processes can be compared to the domination of "communist" ideology in Eastern Europe before 1989. Very few believed in the ideology, but people knew that acceptance of the "official story" was absolutely necessary to have a career and avoid serious problems. When the system collapsed, it turned out that even after 50 years of communist and atheist indoctrination, only a minority actually believed in the dogma they had passively accepted, and it even turned out that more people were religious than in Western Europe. This gives some hope for people struggling with the current modernist domination in architecture and urbanism all over Europe.

In 1997, when we opened the "Urban Renaissance" exhibition from A Vision of Europe, Bologna in the City Hall of Oslo, the curator, Gabriele Tagliaventi, shocked people by saying in his speech that the 20th century had been plagued by three totalitarian, Utopian ideologies; fascism, communism and modernism, and that it was about time to expose and dethrone the only one still in power, modernism. Even some traditional architects thought Tagliaventi went to far. But he was right. To repair the catastrophic destruction of the European urban and cultural landscape in the 20th century, by war and modernism, and build all the new sustainable urban settlements needed, we will have to expose the responsibility of modernist ideology, especially in urban planning, reintroduce education in well proven design skills, and empower local communities and the end users of architecture. Modernism should be reduced to the position it deserves: A failed ideology, but also an architectural style that should compete on equal terms with other styles on the market place.

This is not an issue of personal stylistic preferences (believe it or not, but I can very well appreciate good modernist architectural design!), but relieving society of the undemocratic, unjustified and destructive domination of an ideology over one of the most crucial sectors for the building of a humane, sustainable society.

Audun Engh
Old September 11th, 2011 #2
Maxfield Parrish
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 265

What's a visual example of so-called 'traditional architecture'?
Old September 11th, 2011 #3
Rick Ronsavelle
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Rick Ronsavelle
Default "You have to smash the dreams of your client"

Old September 11th, 2011 #4
Alex Linder
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 45,705
Blog Entries: 34
Alex Linder

Citizens protested, and conservation societies fought throughout Europe for the old idea of what a city should look like, but the modernists won the battle of ideas. They took over the architecture schools and set out to ensure that the classical discipline of architecture would never again be learned, since it would never again be taught. The vandalization of the curriculum was successful: European architecture schools no longer taught students the grammar of the classical Orders; they no longer taught how to understand moldings, or how to draw existing monuments, urban streets, the human figure, or such vital aesthetic phenomena as the fall of light on a Corinthian capital or the shadow of a campanile on a sloping roof; they no longer taught appreciation for facades, cornices, doorways, or anything else that one could glean from a study of Serlio or Palladio. The purpose of the new curriculum was to produce ideologically driven engineers, whose representational skills went no further than ground plans and isometric drawings, and who could undertake the gargantuan “projects” of the socialist state: shoveling people into housing estates, laying out industrial areas and business parks, driving highways through ancient city centers, and generally reminding the middle classes that Big Brother was supervising them.

But a later generation rebelled against the totalitarian mind-set of the modernists, rejecting socialist planning, and with it the collectivist approach to urban renewal. They associated the alienating architecture of the postwar period with the statist politics of socialism, and for good reasons.

It symbolized the approach to human life of people who believed that they alone had the answers and that they alone could dictate those answers to the rest of us. The mood of rebellion against this attitude was especially evident in Britain, where postwar planners had brought the work of the Luftwaffe near to completion in many cities. Architects like Quinlan Terry, Liam O’Connor, Demetri Porphyrios, and John Simpson, who grew up amid the advancing chaos, burst the chains forged by their obligatory modernist education and began designing buildings and urban projects in a classical style. At the same time, working in comparative obscurity as an assistant to the eclectic James Stirling was a graduate of the University of Stuttgart’s modernist school of architecture: Léon Krier, born in Luxembourg in 1946, who was beginning to publish the laconic monographs and satirical drawings that were later to form the basis of an antimodernist manifesto.


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