The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism: Ugly Buildings, Ugly Paintings, Ugly Words, Ugly Life

Title before the colon taken from by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros’s piece at New English Review. No real post today, just quotes from an article which is mandatory reading.

We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism. The modernist aesthetic, which dominates our age, takes a variety of forms in the respective arts — in architecture, a lack of scale and ornamentation combined with the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete; in the plastic arts, a rejection of natural forms mixed with an unmistakable tendency towards the repulsive or meretricious; in literature, non-linear narrative, esoteric imagery, and an almost perfect lack of poetic form and diction.

Yet common now to the practice of all these arts are certain primal impulses which may be said to form the core of the modernist aesthetic — a hostility and defiance towards all traditional standards of excellence, discovered over millennia of craftsmanship and reflection; a notion of the artist’s freedom as absolute, and entirely divorced from the ends of his art; and, as Roger Scruton has so clearly demonstrated, a refusal to apply the category of beauty to either the creation or the estimation of artwork.

the dominant impetus behind the advent of modernism was the rejection of tradition.

We see, for example, that contemporary prize-winning architects slavishly copy the same industrial aesthetic originally approved by the Bauhaus, whose members were working for the German industry to sell the industrial products of that time: steel, plate glass, and concrete.

Those buildings perform terribly in all climates and are dysfunctional for most human activities inside and in their immediate external vicinity, yet so-called “starchitects” continue to emulate the rules embodied in those failed examples.

Amen, amen, amen.

[m]odern art attempts to “nauseate” or “brutalize” an audience…

{W]ill I respect and celebrate the life-affirming aspects of human nature (as traditional artists do), or will I reject and condemn human nature, and celebrate its most destructive traits (as modernists and their derivatives do)?

The constant pursuit of beauty in classical art evinces the similarly profound conviction that the human soul is a thing capable of edification, of being drawn more constantly and more thoroughly towards harmony, and that the making of art is unrivaled in its capacity to further such edification.

The level of stylistic violence implicit in modernist architecture is extraordinary: overhangs without obvious supports, leaning buildings, extremely sharp edges sticking out to threaten us, glass floors over heights leading to vertigo, tilted interior walls also leading to vertigo and nausea.

[A] violence against the tactile environment, often falsely excused as being “honest” rather than a sadistic architectural expression.

And behind it all is nothing but despair, betrayed by the total absence of beauty, which signifies these artists’ complete inability to imagine any reality transcending the calamitous ugliness of the modern world.

But enough! We have only reached the half-way point to this most depressing, and entirely accurate, damnation of modernism. Go and read.

Update Just one more!

This is how the farce of modernism ends, with the anti-bourgeois rebel revealed to be a money-grubbing little fraud.

53 Comments

  1. I have yet to read the full review, but if these quotes are a good representation, then I just have to laugh at the utter ignorance of what modernism is all about. Curmudgeonism should never be confused for “criticism”. Pretty much every quote here is an abomination of the usage of its own terms. I wouldn’t trust the critic’s “taste” in a million years.

  2. any architect convinced he can design according to the principles underlying the work of both Palladio and Le Corbusier, is in the grips of a delusion, because the work of the latter artists came into the world to be a rejection and negation of the work of the former.

    Oh. No. He didn’t.

    Oh my. It’s not even wrong. Someone get this lunatic a basic book of architectural history!

  3. Technically, it isn’t even Modern, but Post-Modern, which can be dated approximately to the time when “artist” and “artisan” began to mean two different things (i.e., during the 19th century).
    The Modern Ages began in the 1500s and were marked by Representationism in the arts, starting with the key invention of perspective. The ceiling murals at Melk Abbey, when viewed from a particular location on the floor, are three-dimensional. That’s craftsmanship.

  4. He will discover that the prevalence of complex forms among pre-modern artworks bespeaks a conception of liberty bound to a conception of essence — a deep, even unconscious, belief that the limits and strictures of artistic form do not constitute a deprivation of the artist’s freedom, but rather the preconditions for any creative activity at all.

    Why am I still reading an utter fool who completely ignores history and tries to stampede his own taste into other people’s ideas? Yes, I think I get it. The modernist movement is filled with “Atheists” and the author is completely “Christian”, therefore the formers are deluded nihilist freaks who are destroying the world and the latters have unfortunately been defeated.

    What crackludditepottery. The modernist movement in architecture born out of the technical breakthroughs of the industrial revolution, which made the previous “complex forms” unjustifiable (other than pleasing some luddite’s passion for the past). Archictecture that was unable to “modernize” soon became kitch.

    The author completely dismisses the creative crisis that was falling over the styles of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, and the technical revolutions that exposed neoclassical and neogothic designs as fake kitch. The author utterly ignores the variety of the modernist movement that includes the art nouveau, the organic movements, and a whole swath of different ideas of the future.

    It is so easy to know when someone simply ignores history. The only thing you have to do is to admire the absoluteness, the bipolar judgement between two extremely hand-waved and vague definitions, as if the world was divided between GOOD and EVIL, and how the author is amongst the very few who recognize the work of satan in the mainstream. Or something. When you read such a snark diatribe, you know you are confronting the nightmare of ignorance-ridden arrogance.

  5. Technically, it isn’t even Modern, but Post-Modern, which can be dated approximately to the time when “artist” and “artisan” began to mean two different things (i.e., during the 19th century).

    Let’s stick to the usual english language and not speak about modernism as if we are talking about the Rennaiscance, despite the connections between the Rennaiscance, the Enlightenment and the Modern movement.

  6. Luis,

    You are still reading because you realize the inherent truth in what the authors say.

    Let’s have fun. Defend this:

    By Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, finished 2010. 150 Myrtle Avenue at Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn.

  7. We can see then that modern art embodies and manifests all the worst features of modern thought — the despair, the irrationality, the hostility to tradition

    This moron is not even aware of the distinction between modernism and post-modernism! To paint Le Corbusier’s works as works of “despair”, “irrationality” and so on brings the word “stupid” to a new level.

    And what now drives the construction of such anti-art and anti-architecture more than anything else is simply the lust for financial gain.

    Oh my. Has the author figured out that architects are paid artists! NO IT CANT BE!

    When the authentic nature of artistic modernism is thus laid bare, we have no doubt that young artists of good intentions will readily reject it in favor of the natural and timeless traditions of artistic creation.

    Keep dreaming, old curmudgeon. I’ve witnessed exactly this confrontation in my architectural school. I didn’t see any young architect “craving” for the “delights” of the classical columns or the “beauties” of the gothic cathedrals.

    he stakes could not be higher. This is not about aesthetics but civilization itself.

    Yet, if it is Al Gore speaking like this, he’ll be completely torned apart. And this guy is given a pass? Utter fool.

    Every true artist should come to his work now with something of the spirit of a liberator fighting an entrenched tyranny.

    And here the paradox is revealed. In order to destroy modernity, the author must embrace the revolution and break with the modernistic tradition… oh wait? What? WHAT.

  8. Let’s have fun. Defend this:

    Do you consider that a modern building?

    Please, expose your ignorance even further.

    BTW, ugly buildings have *always* existed. You can’t decree good taste.

    By the gods, you should be aware of this!

  9. Luis,

    No defense. Good man. Here’s another.

    Cetra Ruddy Architects, finished 2009. 20 East 23rd Street at Madison Square.

  10. Do you prefer gothic skyscrappers?

    Oh wait, you mean there aren’t Romanesque skyscrappers! Oh my, they would have been fabulous!

  11. Luis,

    Hmm. I don’t see it in the code, either. Perhaps you had a typo? Email me and I’ll stick it in.

  12. Well, nevermind.

    Look, you can always find black sheep in such a gargantuan number of buildings being erected. It proves nothing. Are there architects without taste, without philosophy, without humanity? Come on, it’s like asking if there is bad taste in the world.

    Come on.

    That’s not what is at stake here. If your idea is that there’s not only ugliness in the world, but that there’s a wide conspiracy to uglify the world, then you have to do much more than that.

  13. in architecture … the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete

    “brutalist”? Isn’t that a style of use and not an attribute? Odd word to find in a list of materials. Is concrete OK when not “brutalist”? Speaking of materials, I wonder what the author would prefer in their place. Shouldn’t the primary requirement for a building be a low propensity for falling down? Steel and concrete tend to fulfill that requirement.

    I doubt the materials listed wouldn’t have been selected if they weren’t cost-effective. What the author is asking is an increase in building cost. OPM and all that.

    So the common tends toward the mediocre. Fancy that.

    Of course, the solution might be for the author to sell his own designs and make his own art though something tells me he’s not up to it.

    Yep. The examples are ugly. So what?

  14. DAV,

    “So what?” Well, the enormous, never-ceasing number of them. That’s what.

    I’m just going building by building on a list of newly built NYC structures. Almost all ugly, even painfully so.

  15. “This is how the farce of modernism ends, with the anti-bourgeois rebel revealed to be a money-grubbing little fraud.”

    Indeed. A young acquaintance of mine, very intelligent and impressively credentialed in the study of art, and a stalwart employee of a noted (if not notorious) Manhattan “modern art” gallery, graciously took me for a tour of MoMA several years back. She was personally acquainted with many of the artists whose works were on display.

    Mindful of what I assumed may be her sensibilities, I nonetheless, as tactfully as possible, ventured to ask if she thought that some of the displays weren’t a little on the self-indulgent side.

    She burst out laughing at my naivete, as though I had just noticed that night might perhaps be characterized as a generalized lack of sunshine. She then explained how “big art” works. Without going into detail, her very plausible and evidence-rich description lent great support to the quote above. Reduced to its essence, the concept was: “Association with greatness is a necessary and sufficient condition for greatness.”

    The phenomenon is embedded in a human tendency that certainly must be universally acknowledged: people who are fundamentally afraid that they are bereft of some desirable attribute seek affirmation through their identification with those whom they perceive to be widely admired for their possession of the attribute in question. Such lost souls are usually easily recognized by their supercilious attitude and their haughty dismissal of a point of view with which their idol, and thus they, as proxy, may not agree. It can be a particularly pathos-inducing spectacle when you know that, behind the scenes, the “cognoscenti” are, in fact, laughing at their acolytes and epigones who “trust their (idol’s) taste” (a telling phrase in itself: what’s to trust? That, in substituting their taste for your own, you won’t be led into deviating from the main flock of fashion followers?).

    The art that, to me, is the most compelling is that which skillfully unifies contrasts. The respect shown to the observer through painstaking craftsmanship conveys the sincerity of the interpretation, in paint, through sound, or via the written word, of a tiny sliver of a greater truth. The vile, disgusting or deliberately ugly smacks of puerile self-indulgence, and, at least for me, is worthy of but scant attention. That such is the current fashion is indeed unfortunate, and I suspect future anthropologists will map the crescendo of ugliness to the nadir, and perhaps demise, of this phase of civilization.

  16. “So what?” Well, the enormous, never-ceasing number of them. That’s what.

    That’s called wealthiness. The world is getting wealthier and building more.

  17. Briggs,

    If you were to ask me, from that angle, it has potential. From a photography stand point, anyway. I like the way the light hits it and the way the lines flow. I would have photoshopped out the light pole in the bottom right though. Your source must not think it ugly, but then, they do seem more interested in height and floor space.

    I’m with Luis on this one. Buildings have a non-subjective functionality to fulfill and all else has to take a backseat. Innovation in design is going to be rare — just like it is for everything else. If it were commonplace, it would be taken for granted and tend to lose its appeal. Think of it this way, if all bridges looked like the Brooklyn Bridge it would be seen as a ho-hum design.

  18. If you were to ask me, from that angle, it has potential

    LOL, I wouldn’t ever defend an “architectural building aesthetics” with Briggs as if it were something objective about it, as if we had any similar tastes to which we could speak the same language. I’ve seen previously buildings which he said were very beautiful and I couldn’t watch them without vomiting. To each their own I guess.

  19. Luis,

    I was thinking more of the specific image. There’s a juxtaposition of the very old (the tree), not so old (old building) and the new with each growing out of the previous — all reaching for the sky along an escalating curve. Hopefully, who ever took this saw the same thing into the bright sunlight of a new day.

    From any other angle, the building might not look so spectacular.

  20. I was thinking more of the specific image. There’s a juxtaposition of the very old (the tree), not so old (old building) and the new with each growing out of the previous — all reaching for the sky along an escalating curve. Hopefully, who ever took this saw the same thing into the bright sunlight of a new day.

    I am not especially fond of the 2D layout of the façade, as if it is some kind of a toddler’s insight of what a composition looks like. It very much looks like the architect who drew that got his degree in the eighties. People used to design (and still do) that way quite a lot.

    Now, they draw more in 3D, and that is, of course, the consequence of technological design improvements.

  21. As a (big) caveat, I am a big fan of Christopher Alexander’s ideas (which are anathema to the modernist mainstream).

  22. “Buildings have a non-subjective functionality to fulfill and all else has to take a backseat.”

    Which gets us to the real archetechtural failures — e.g. The Federal Building in San Francisco.

    It’s not just ugly, it is dysfunctional. It has been described as “the building that hates us.” And “San Francico’s green building nigtmare.”

    It also won the Pritzker award for architecture.

  23. Ye old satistician,

    1500? Let’s stick with a more conventional 1918 as the beginging of the modern era in art and archeticture.

    In broad sweeps, some if it is good and some if it is bad. But, that is always the case. The bad will eventually be destroyed and forgotten.

  24. Hello everyone.

    My co-author Mark Signorelli pointed me to the discussion on this blog. I thank William M. Briggs for referring to our essay, and for saying positive things about it.

    I am left wondering, however, at the comments by Luis Dias. He claims to be a big fan of Christopher Alexander. At the same time, he says rather unkind things about me (and I assume about Mark as well), perhaps not knowing that I’m one of Alexander’s long-time friends and collaborators. Contradiction somewhere?

    Best wishes,
    Nikos

  25. Dear mr Nikos,

    I am sorry if I offended you, I was wrong to consider you wouldn’t read my rants about what I considered was one big rant against

    architecture as a whole (and I take back any personal insult I might have said. One gets lost in the rethoric).

    I judge by the words spoken, and I admit to be quite selective with mr Alexander’s teachings. The way of thinking about patterns

    and his work on pattern languages, the way of dealing with scales at their appropriate manner, the links between the very

    different problems, have indeed informed my own graduation and mentality. I always took his lessons in a very constructive

    manner, always skimming the more “rantic” parts if I found them.

    However, I never appreciated this anti-modernity stance that you espoused here in this essay. I mean, what nihilism are you talking

    about? Derridá is dead, and most architects have moved on from the most disturbed portions of post-modernity. There’s a whole

    amazing experimentation going on in every single part of the world, both technically and aesthetically, but I could never call it nihilistic! What is the problem about concrete, for heaven’s sake! Paint it in red like Souto de Moura if you don’t like grey! Are you saying that Tadao Ando’s works are ugly? And what about windows? Come on.

    I mean, ok, you don’t like all of these. Tastes are a dozen, I respect that wholeheartedly. But to have the conceit to state that our taste is the measure not only of the world’s beauty but also its metaphysical worth!

    And then the final words of the essay. You say, let’s have a revolution. Let’s dump this modernist tradition. Let’s dump an entire century’s worth of experimentation, criticism, novelty, everything. Let’s start all over again, but now with tradition in mind. Aren’t you being just a little contradictory here, mr. Nikos? Because from my point of view, Niemeyer is not someone that I should refrain from studying and being inspired from. Pawson is a hell of an inspiration. I could make here an entire list of amazing authors. Should we just dump them on the trash? Dump an entire tradition in the name of Tradition?

    Come on, when I got these lessons from pr. Abreu even I got to see the paradox in the very first lesson there.

  26. I have visited New York city. Didn’t like it. Will not go back unless absolutely have to. But I will go to Amsterdam any day.

  27. The Modern Ages began ca. 1500, when the word “modern” came to its present meaning, “artist” and “artisan” were cognate, as were “urban” and “urbane.” The label “modern art” is simply a misnomer, although one that we are sadly stuck with. If not, then what sort of art was being produced during the bulk of the Modern Ages?
    “Modern” art is thus a term to shame Moderns, because Moderns desire above all else to be thought of as “up to date.” As Péguy commented already in 1910, “It will never be known what acts of [artistic] cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.” Hence, the Triumph of the Trendy.
    Representative art, in anticipation/imitation of the objective descriptions of natural science, was the characteristic art of the Modern Ages. This perception is blurred by the Modernist anxiety embodied in the phrase, “That is so yesterday.” Hence, the peculiarly short-term scope of the term “modern.”
    In the 1860s, subjective impressions began to replace “scientific,” objective descriptions in art. No one could ever do representation as well as the masters, and so they sought to do something different. Backgrounds faded out [again]. Details were suggested, not shown. It was really a return to certain medieval sensibilities in art.
    Impressionism held that objects of observation were not independent of the observer, a revolution in consciousness that would appear in the sciences as well. The new art abstracted form from substance. Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 is not a painting of a nude or a staircase, which would be objective; but it is a painting of “descent,” a subjective impression. As such, it is stunningly successful.
    The impressionists were profoundly revolutionary. Compare Cézanne or Ravel to Delacroix or Brahms. Their epigones were merely revolting – but with diminishing returns. Revolution and defiance had become standardized, which of course is death to revolution and defiance. (Later, the rebellious music of the 1960s would become the elevator music of the 1990s.) In the fifty years from 1863 to 1913, art was overturned. In the fifty years from 1913 to 1963, little changed. At the Armory Show of 1913, Lukacs writes, the modern art was all inside while the philistines were outside protesting. At the 50th Anniversary Show, the philistines were all inside.
    This was to be expected. James Chastek observes:
    The death of the noble makes high art: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Ionesco, Beckett, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Sartre, James Joyce, Picasso, and any number of other artists in the first six or seven decades of the twentieth century got to depict the meteoric death and collapse of a culture, and their art is wonderful. … Eliot had fragments he could shore against his ruin – these were the last intelligible fragments of a dying culture that fractured and blazed before it finally burnt out.
    But what do you do for an encore?
    Also marking the end of modernity was the way art turned its back on science. “The shapes of locomotives and ships could engage the inspiration of a Monet,” Lukacs notes; and the first aeroplanes could captivate Malevich, H. Rousseau, Delaunay, D’Annunzio, Kafka (who had himself photographed in a mock airplane). Compare the outburst of art, poetry, and song that celebrated air flight to the artistic silence that greeted space flight. In the interim, something in the Modern Ages had gone black.
    Lukacs writes: “Fakery was now dominant, not only in the manufacture of publicity for art and artists, but in the manufacture of art itself. Whereas even extraordinary craftsmen have found it impossible to copy or to fake the painters of the past with anything resembling perfection, the style of most painters in the mid-twentieth century could be reproduced by people with little talent to the point where no one would know the difference.” Today I learned, forty years after Lukacs wrote that, that a nephew of mine is “designing sounds” (not “composing music”) using computer apps, as a friend of my brother does to tweak his singing on CDs so that it appears as if he is on-key. This is not art, but manufacturing. And of course, it is a commonplace to find such things as a sewage pipe in an art museum, physically impossible to remove, being labeled and accepted as an exhibit!
    In architecture, Lukacs continues, “the once inspiring breakthrough to functional forms very soon gave way to machinelike buildings that, in spite of the white ferroconcrete and the glassiness of their materials, proved astonishingly impermanent, soulless and dirty. The “modern” and “ageless” buildings of the twentieth century were peeling and aging more rapidly than had huts of peasants in the Middle Ages; they became, also, much more rapidly uninhabitable.”

    John Lukacs. The Passing of the Modern Age. (Harper & Row, 1970))
    ———–. At the End of an Age. (Yale Univ. Press, 2002)

  28. A lot of what he says is true, a lot of what he says is hyperbole, and a lot of what he says is just wrong. It’s the last part I’m angry about.

    “Any playwright who believes he can write on the principles implicit in the work of both Sophocles and Beckett […] is in the grips of a delusion, because the work of the latter artists came into the world to be a rejection and negation of the work of the former.”

    Now, certainly, Beckett is not for everyone–and his later work is not for anyone. But someone who suggests that it’s impossible to hold Sophocles and Beckett together is just fooling himself. First, he’s blind to the strangeness, the originality, the shock and the iconoclasm of Sophocles; second, he’s overstating Beckett’s removal from it. Modernism was not a wholly negative, anti-traditional force like this writer seems to think. The best drew from the very same material that they subverted. Beckett’s early tragicomedy was in many ways thoroughly connected to its Greek and English roots. He’d probably have admitted as much himself. Existential angst existed in Shakespeare hardly less than Beckett, such as with Macbeth’s claim that life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

    Further, his red-faced outrage over poets whose writing “constitute[s] an assault on the normal conventions of linguistic usage and discursive thought” is misplaced. Modern poets are bad, but it sure isn’t because they play with language. Throughout history, for thousands of years, poets have broken language to make their point. His demand that they stick to standard usage displays his laughable ignorance of the very classicism he’s defending. He can ask that they write beautifully, write interestingly–but write according to “conventions of linguistic usage”? Tell that to Shakespeare, who reshaped the English language with his strange wording and neologisms.

  29. In the comments, Salingaros says …

    I’ll address the topic of architecture. Here the plot thickens because building cities, unlike poetry and the visual arts, is a trillion-dollar business. What happened is that the construction industry found a fantastic opportunity for lowering costs and increasing profits, by building inhuman boxes out of relatively cheap material — that’s the worst side of Modernist architecture. Serious critics condemned this radical change for the worse, but they were quickly retired, to be replaced by propagandists for the ideology. Money talks, and money is allied with power.

    I guess that serious critics are those that agree with him.

  30. Hmmmm. Almost as many posts on this topic as there were for each of the Feser’s. Only 4 for the p-value one.

    Interesting.

    building cities … is a trillion-dollar business. … the construction industry found a fantastic opportunity for lowering costs and increasing profits …

    So! It’s a conspiracy after all! Those sneaky capitalists! The nerve!

    I think the answer it clear: we should legislate good taste in architecture and, above all, legislate out lowering costs and increasing profits.

  31. Some years back Tom Wolfe wrote a couple of slim volumes on this topic:

    The Painted Word (skewering art and art critics) and
    From Bauhaus to Our House (ditto architecture and its theorists)

    I recommend them, especially to Mr. Dias.

  32. DAV,

    You highlight a common reaction, now ingrained deeply. Whenever a man points out a bad thing, e.g. the horror of (post) modern architecture, the feeling arises that the man must be tacitly suggesting government intervention to rid ourselves of the bad thing. This reaction makes sense, because often when a bad thing is made known invariably somebody does call for government intervention—and it is all too often granted.

    In the case of ugly art, music, writing, government is not wanted. We can make do with ridicule, derision, laughter, shame, and, since we’re talking about capital, the denial of funds.

  33. Briggs, nice of you to skip the obvious criticism that to expose the lowering costs of the habitat and the rising profits in this enterprise is a ridiculous criticism, one that I wouldn’t expect from anti-communists. However, it does not surprise me, we all know communism is the prodigal son of christianity.

  34. “…we all know communism is the prodigal son of christianity.”

    Which, when it returns home repentant, will be forgiven by it’s loving father.

  35. Bad architecture is what happens when you let things get run by capitalists. Maybe the O will give us the Department of Homeland Artistic Integrity when he gets re-upped and stop these evil terrorists in their tracks.

    Just to be perfectly clear: legislation for this is the ultimate in silliness but then many communities already have code enforcement policies that aren’t restricted to mere safety. The claim is bad aesthetics reduces property value.

    Didn’t the French try something similar regarding the purity of their language? How did that turn out?

    We can make do with ridicule, derision, laughter, shame, and, since we’re talking about capital, the denial of funds.

    But they don’t seem to work. Those who supplied the funds for your examples obviously didn’t think they’d bring ridicule upon themselves or maybe didn’t care. Complaining about the mundane is counterproductive anyway. We will have to wait until someone produces what we like then heap praise upon it. It will then be copied many time over (if truly cost effective) — and become mundane as well.

    We complain about cookie-cutter houses but aren’t willing or able to pay for anything else. Quality level is dictated by the market and little else. As the saying goes: money talks and BS walks. Money also doesn’t care what anyone else thinks unless “anyone else” has more money.

  36. Is Luis Dias a real person or just Brigg’s alter ego; a sort of Professor Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes? Inquiring minds want to know.
    😉

  37. Luis: Art Deco skyscrapers exist, and they ain’t ugly. Then again, they aren’t modern.

    Modern architecture, in skyscrapers, is wall upon wall of tall mirrored glass. It is ugly.

  38. I don’t mind repulsive art so much, since I am free to ignore it. But ugly buildings I consider a personal affront, and they sometimes stir a strange bloodlust in me. I want them demolished, and I want those who built them brought to justice. In the worst cases, I would like to execute them myself personally. Eleven years ago, a Montreal newspaper had demolition wish list that readers could vote online on:

    Demolition wish list
    Thursday 14 June 2001
    Big O at top of heap as critics name Montreal’s ugliest buildings
    CHARLIE FIDELMAN
    The Gazette
    http://morewn.com/Josh_Freed/5031915.html

    Vote for the Montreal building you’d most like to see torn down. It’s the Question of the Week at http://www.montrealgazette.com

    It all started when Premier Bernard Landry said the building that houses his Quebec City office – dubbed the Bunker – is so hideous that it should be torn down.
    Yesterday, Montrealers responded to an informal survey with their own most-hated city landmarks they’d love to see razed.
    Topping the list is the much-maligned Olympic Stadium that has been compared to a giant toilet bowl or a spaceship.
    “It’s the ugliest thing,” said writer Josh Freed. “It killed the Olympics, it killed baseball and city finances. Please, let’s take it down before it kills again.”
    But where some see monstrous towers and bunkers of urban blight, others see great architecture.
    Loved or hated, the stadium is a significant symbol of Montreal, said Heritage Montreal program director Dinu Bumbaru.
    The Bunker is too easy a scapegoat, he said. “At least the Bunker is covered by trees.
    “There are worse buildings than that,” said Bumbaru, referring to the square tourism centre, the Institut de Tourisme et d’Hotellerie du Quebec facing St. Louis Square park on St. Denis St. “Now that’s a bunker.”
    The drab brown structure makes no concession to the neighbourhood’s late-Victorian-style buildings, added Michel Prescott, leader of the Montreal Citizens’ Movement.
    “It’s one of those buildings constructed in the 1960s and ’70s. The older it gets, the uglier it is,” Prescott said.
    Most ’60s and ’70s edifices deserve poor marks, said Westmount Mayor Peter Trent, especially the “concrete canyon” of high-rise apartments along de Maisonneuve Blvd. from Guy St. to Atwater Ave.
    “Architects took leave of their senses for two decades. There are so many ugly buildings … where does one begin?” he wondered.
    “Obviously, the Big O.”
    For bookstore owner Nicholas Hoare, Concordia University’s main downtown campus building is hideous.
    “Externally, it looks like a federal prison. Dark and gloomy, with shatter-proof glass walls and security guards. I don’t know how the students can stand it,” he said.
    The Universite de Montreal’s business school didn’t fare much better.
    The ultra-modern looking ecole des Hautes etudes Commerciales building, next to residences on Cote des Neiges Rd., is “extremely ugly,” said Gazette columnist Mike Boone. “With those tubes, it looks like the top of a boiler room.”
    Another eyesore that could easily disappear from the skyline is Grain Elevator No. 5 on Montreal’s waterfront, a few said.
    But the most vitriolic comments were reserved for the Big O.
    “It’s a postcard,” said McGill architecture professor Ricardo Castro. “It’s a trite building with little architectural merit.”
    “It’s just big,” said Castro, comparing his anti-stadium sentiments to French author Guy de Maupassant’s distaste for the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
    “He’d go to eat his lunch there just to avoid seeing it,” Castro said of the celebrated French writer.
    La Presse columnist Nathalie Petrowski says she also avoids the place.
    “I belong to the camp that thinks Montreal should do without a stadium,” Petrowski said. “Also St. Joseph’s Oratory. No, no, I’m just kidding.”
    Publisher May Cutler suggested that some initially reviled buildings, like the Sun Life building with its modernist roots, have become esteemed landmarks.
    “Question is, could the Bunker ever be loved?” she asked.

  39. Found this older article by Salingaros:

    Architecture, Patterns, and Mathematics
    Nikos A. Salingaros
    Division of Mathematics
    University of Texas at San Antonio
    http://www.emis.de/journals/NNJ/Salingaros.html

    A few representative samples:

    […]
    Before the era of mass education, and for a great many people still today, architectural patterns represent one of the few primary contacts with mathematics. Tilings and visual patterns are a “visible tip” of mathematics, which otherwise requires learning a special language to understand and appreciate. Patterns manifest the innate creative ability and talent that all human beings have for mathematics. The necessity for patterns in the visual environment of a developing child is acknowledged by child psychologists as being highly instrumental. One specific instance of traditional material culture, oriental carpets, represent a several-millennia-old discipline of creating and reproducing visual patterns. A close link exists between carpet designs and mathematical rules for organizing complexity [6,7]. A second example, floor pavements in Western architecture, is now appreciated as being a repository — hence, a type of textbook for its time — of mathematical information [8].
    […]
    We are interested here in what happened in the twentieth century. The Austrian architect Adolf Loos banned ornament from architecture in 1908 with these preposterous, unsupported statements:

    “The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects. … not only is ornament produced by criminals but also a crime is committed through the fact that ornament inflicts serious injury on people’s health, on the national budget and hence on cultural evolution. …Freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength.” [13]

    This hostile, racist sentiment was shared by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier:

    “Decoration is of a sensorial and elementary order, as is color, and is suited to simple races, peasants and savages…. The peasant loves ornament and decorates his walls.” [14]

    Thus they condemned the material culture of mankind from all around the globe, accumulated over millennia. While these condemnations may seem actions of merely stylistic interest, in fact they had indirect but serious consequences. The elimination of ornament removes all ordered structural differentiations from the range of scales 5mm to 2m or thereabouts. That corresponds to the human scale of structures, i.e., the sizes of the eye, finger, hand, arm, body, etc. In the Modernist design canon, patterns cannot be defined on those scales. Therefore, modernism removes mathematical information from the built environment. Looking around at twentieth century buildings, one is hard-pressed to discover visual patterns. Indeed, their architects go to great lengths to disguise patterns on human scales that are inevitable because of the activities in a building; they arise in the materials, and as a consequence of structural stability and weathering.
    […]
    Architects complain that new buildings are bad because they are cheap and tacky; implying that they could be improved by a more generous budget. One hears that: “the reason beautiful buildings cannot be built today is because of the high cost of materials and workmanship”. This statement is belied by the wonderful variety of folk architecture built the world over using inexpensive local materials. Architecture is about creating patterns and spaces; a preoccupation with materials only obscures more important issues. It is perfectly possible to build mathematically-rich structures on any budget, by applying the timeless rules derived by Alexander and elaborated by this author. New buildings are usually bad — in particular, those with a big budget –because they are generated by a negative set of mathematical rules [1,10].
    […]
    Modernist architects took the rectangular geometry of classical architecture, but eliminated subdivisions and subsymmetries (i.e., columns, cornices, fluting, and sculptural friezes). By explicit stylistic dictate, modernist architecture has no fractal properties, and that is one reason why it appears unnatural [20]. Traditional architecture, on the other hand, including that in a Classical style, tends to be explicitly fractal. Fractal subdivisions and scaling can be found in buildings of all periods and styles, and that crucial characteristic divides contemporary architecture from much of what has been built before. The exceptions are those older buildings wishing to disconnect from the pedestrian, usually in order to express power and to intimidate. The latter include monumental Fascist architecture, and its precursors in deliberately imposing, grandiose temples, palaces, and defensive military buildings of the past.
    […]
    Modernism removes fractals from our environment. Pure Platonic solids and fractals are incompatible, because the former exist only on a single level of scale. One definition of a fractal is a structure in which there is substructure (i.e., complexity) at every level of magnification. Magnifying a fractal by a fixed scaling factor, say 3, will give a set of pictures at magnification 1, 3, 9, 27, etc., all of which show structure and complexity. A “self-similar” fractal has the additional property that all these pictures are related by geometrical similarities (as long as one uses the scaling factor intrinsic to that fractal). The buildings of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe intentionally violate this rule, in an attempt to distinguish themselves both from natural forms, and from traditional building styles [1,2]. Some exceptions are discussed later.
    […]
    The built environment of the last few decades eliminates ordered, fractal structures (trees, rocks, rivers, and older buildings), and replaces them with empty rectangles and planes. Lately, chaotic, random forms appear in the landscape; still contradicting and displacing forms with organized complexity. This provides a strong message that complex patterns are not allowed as part of our contemporary world. Subconsciously, people learn that such objects are “not modern”, and so there is no reason either to build new ones, or to preserve existing ones from destruction. Notice with what fervor third-world cities eliminate their most beautiful buildings and urban regions, to replace them with a barren emptiness of faceless rectangles; ostensibly in order to imitate the more “developed” world. The latter, in turn, now competes in building disorder.

    Most of us regret the loss of organic forms such as trees from our surroundings, yet the assault is actually far broader: it is against essential mathematical qualities. Our civilization has turned against those structures, animate as well as inanimate, that possess organized complexity. We are taught by our schools and media to eliminate mathematical information from our environment. We have reversed our mathematical values on the misguided impression that that is necessary for technological advancement. That is both false and dangerous. Emptiness has no content, and chaos is profoundly disturbing; human beings evolved by organizing biochemical complexity, and that is what should be valued above all else.

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