Monday, June 26, 2006

How not to skewer modernism

Here's an example of bad writing: a rant on modernist architecture by a chap too dim to see that he hasn't a point to make. To celebrate British architecture week, his "contribution to this joyous occasion [is] a brief meditation on the links between modernist architecture and totalitarianism."
The great authoritarian regimes of the 20th century were all suckers for the cool, clean lines of modernist architecture... At first sight, [he says] this might seem grotesquely unfair.
In fact, even after finishing his piece -- in The Guardian no less -- it seems more than unfair. In fact, it's just it's wrong. The Nazis liked bad classicism. The Soviets liked bad classicism.

In fact, not only were the great authoritarian regimes of the 20th century NOT suckers for the "cool, clean lines of modernist architecture," they were almost completely opposed to it.

There were certainly modernist architects sympathetic to both regimes -- and much work that should have been right down their strasse, such as the Nazi Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe (above) -- but neither regime really gave a rats for what the modernists were offering architecturally.

Many of those rejected modernists ended up in America (for better or worse), spreading modernist architecture to willing capitalists rather than to uniformed dictators -- and irony Tom Wolfe makes much of in his hilarious From Bauhaus to Our House. ("Row after Mies van der Rohe of worker housing pitched up fifty stories high" in the downtown commercial capitals of America's greatest cities.)

So as a serious piece, this one fails at the very first hurdle. His point then? It seems he just wants attention. And he does manage to gratuitously smear Ayn Rand in there somehow, which no doubt earns him some points in the Guardian's lunch room,but it's not really awfully clear what his point is there either, except perhaps to link Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler and Ayn Rand together in the same article. What a moron.

If his point really is that some modernists' work was totalitarian, that has been done better elsewhere -- including by Ayn Rand herself, and also here, by me.

If his point is that some modernists such as Philip Johnson were fascists, then that point has also been better made elsewhere -- including here, by me.

If his point is that he's an ignorant blowhard who courts controversy without the evidence to back it up, then that's a point that he's made all too well.
LINKS: Why fascism is a glass house - Peter Franklin, The Grauniad
From Bauhaus to Our House -
Tom Wolfe's site
Modernism: How Bad Was It? - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Architect Philip Johnson dies at 98
- Not PC (Peter Cresswell

TAGS: Architecture, Politics, Politics-UK

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