If Loving You is Wrong (Crime Rant Classics)


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For example, Eisenman split the master bedroom in two so the couple could not sleep together, installed a precarious staircase without a handrail, and initially refused to include bathrooms. The problem of architecture is the problem of all art: the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form. The only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines, not men. The cathedral was done en passant. I find it very irresponsible. I find it nutty. I feel sorry for the man. I also feel incredibly angry because he is fucking up the world.

The debate is perhaps one of the most aggressive public exchanges in the history of design. In fact, the opposite happened: Alexander sunk into relative obscurity, and Eisenman became yet more famous, winning the National Design Award and garnering prestigious commissions across the world. But can these two schools of design, the comfortable and the unsettling, peacefully co-exist? The extraordinary fact about architecture over the last century, however, is just how dominant certain tendencies have been.

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Aesthetic uniformity among architects is remarkably rigid. Contemporary architecture shuns the classical use of multiple symmetries, intentionally refusing to align windows or other design elements, and preferring unusual geometric forms to satisfying and orderly ones. It follows a number of strict taboos: classical domes and arches are forbidden.

A column must never be fluted, symmetrical pitched roofs are an impossibility. Forget about cupolas, spires, cornices, arcades, or anything else that recalls pre-modern civilization. Nothing built today must be mistakable for anything built or more years ago.

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The rupture between our era and those of the past is absolute, and this unbridgeable gap must be made visible and manifest through the things we build. And since things were lovely in the past, they must, of necessity, be ugly now. F or many socialists in the 20 th century, the abdication of decorative elements and traditional forms seemed to be a natural outgrowth of a revolutionary spirit of simplicity, solidarity, and sacrifice. After all, every dollar expended on fanciful balusters or stained glass rose windows needed to produce some sort of return on investment.

And since such things can be guaranteed to produce almost no return on investment, they had to go. One of the most infuriating aspects of contemporary architecture is its willful disdain for democracy. When people are polled, they tend to prefer older buildings to postwar buildings; very few postwar buildings make it onto lists of most treasured places. Yet architects are reluctant to build in the styles that people find more beautiful. Well, Peter Eisenman has spoken for a lot of architects in being generally dismissive of democracy, saying that the role of the architect is not to give people what they want , but what they should want if they were intelligent enough to have good taste.

Eisenman suggests that if we deferred to public taste in music, we would all be listening to Mantovani rather than Beethoven, and uses this as evidence that architects should impose taste from above rather than deferring to democratic desires. Taylor Swift would be the best musician, and the Transformers series would be the best cinema. The physical environment in which we live and work, however, is ubiquitous and inescapable; when it comes to architecture, it is nigh-impossible for people to simply avoid the things they hate and seek out the things they like. There are plenty of instances where, when something truly great comes along, the public is perfectly capable of recognizing it.

They are accessible enough to be loved and appreciated widely, but deep enough to offer fodder for centuries of reflection and analysis. Likewise, the masses tend to like, for example, Gothic cathedrals and Persian mosques, which are breathtakingly intricate and complex works of art.

The left, in particular, should eagerly embrace a conception of architecture that is both democratic and sophisticated. The good kind of leftism, on the other hand, operates from the bottom up rather than the top down. It helps people create their own places, rather than creating monolithic structures into which they are placed for their own good. It l ooks far more like a village than a tower block, decentralized and with a strong connection between the makers of a place and the inhabitants of a place.

At the moment, the needs or wishes of the people who actually have to use buildings are rarely considered at all. Architecture schools do not actually teach students anything about craft or about emotion; most of the courses are highly mathematical, dedicated to engineering and theories of form rather than to understanding traditional modes of building or understanding what people want out of their buildings. Unless they are an uber-wealthy client, users of buildings rarely have much input into the design process. Students do not get to say what kind of school they would like, office workers do not get to say whether they would prefer to work in a glass tower or in a leafy complex of wifi-enabled wooden pagodas.

Some of this may come from the design process itself. Unlike in the age of artisanship, there is today a strong separation between the process of designing and the process of making. Frank Gehry designs his work using CAD software, then someone else has to go out and actually build it. But that rupture means that architecture becomes something imposed upon people. We are not meant to live in modern buildings; they are made for people who do not poop.

In fact, everyday good architecture should not even be about the building , it should be about the people. Rather than being concerned to give people comfortable houses that fit in with their surroundings and suited the preferences of the residents, Gehry designed houses that screamed for attention and were fundamentally about themselves rather than about the people of the city he ostensibly cared about.

Like the streaker at the football game, the building parades in front of us with such vulgar shamelessness that no amount of willpower can peel our eyes away. This is partly a function of the free market approach to design and development, which sacrifices the possibility of ever again producing a place on the village or city level that has an impressive stylistic coherence.

Because decisions over what to build are left to the individual property owner, and rich people often have horrible taste and simply prefer things that are huge and imposing, all possibilities for creating another city with the distinctiveness of a Venice or Bruges are erased forever. Once upon a time, socialists liked to make beautiful things; the works of William Morris, John Ruskin, and Oscar Wilde are filled with both celebrations of classical aesthetics and pleas to liberate human beings from the miseries of economic deprivation.

The core idea of leftism is that people should be free to flourish, in both body and mind, and they should thus be able to do so materially, spiritually, intellectually, and artistically. Handcrafts and ornament are not bourgeois, they are democratic, in that a society of artisans is a society of people who are getting to maximize their creative capabilities, whereas a society of people in clean-swept Corbusier-style skyscrapers have been reduced to specks, robbed of their individuality, stripped of their ability to make the world their own.

How, then, do we fix architecture?


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What makes for a better-looking world? If everything is ugly, how do we fix it? Cutting through all of the colossally mistaken theoretical justifications for contemporary design is a major project. But a few principles may prove helpful. Postwar architecture has been characterized by fear and taboo.

Architects are terrified of producing so much as a fluted column, because they believe their peers will think they are stupid, nostalgic, and unsophisticated. As a result, they produce structures that are as inscrutable and irrational as possible, so that people will think they are clever. But they need not be afraid! Their architect friends might think they are stupid if they put in a decorative archway. Without developing a language to talk about beauty, we will end up confusing the impressive with the attractive and creating spaces that are extraordinary from an engineering perspective and yet dead and discomforting.

The idea of decoration as decadent is particularly ludicrous in the age of monumental design projects. When we sacrifice the possibility of decoration we forfeit a slew of extraordinary aesthetic tools and forgo the possibility of incredible visual experiences. An allergy to ornament sentences humanity to eternal tedium, with nothing interesting to look at, nothing that we will notice on a building the second time that we did not see the first time. We have inherited a palette of possibilities from the architectural practice of all prior cultures, and to squander it is both ungrateful and needless.

Memory and continuity are not mere nostalgia. Recreations and pastiches are not the solution, and the mindless conservative love for everything Greek, Roman, and Victorian is a mistake. The point is not to just mindlessly love old things; that gets you McMansions. Rather, instead of recreating the exact look of traditional architecture, one should be trying to recreate the feeling that these old buildings give their viewers.

Build a city with canals and footbridges and ornate pastel houses dangling above the water, and give that city its own special identity. McMansions are an attempt to superficially remind people of beautiful things rather than doing the real work it takes to make something beautiful.

Symmetry is nice. Multiple overlapping symmetries can be dazzling.

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You can line the windows up. It will look better. Designing a comforting, pleasing, and, yes, nostalgic space is simply not smart enough. But it should be okay to say those things. They should be comforting and attractive, because we have to live in them. One of the elements that makes a place truly beautiful is a careful balance of complexity and simplicity.

Contemporary architecture frequently just goes for the simplicity and forgets the complexity, or it makes up for the simplicity of its appearance with complexity in the technical processes necessary to build it. But the old buildings that please us most are frequently simple at the larger level and complex at the micro-level.

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Most of them are simple, rectangular structures in a straight line along the street. But they are given pleasant colors, and adorned with colorful shutters and intricate iron galleries, and decorated with flowers and tropical plants. The harmonious balance of simplicity and complexity, the complexity of a floral arrangement combined with the simplicity of a plain building painted well, make a place a delight to stroll through.

Plant life is actually one of the most important elements of architecture. One of the most serious problems with postwar architecture is that so much of its entirely devoid of nature. It presents us with blank walls and wide-open spaces with nary a tree or shrub to be seen. Generally speaking, the more plant life is in a place, the more attractive it is, and the less nature there is, the uglier it is. This is because nature is much better at designing things than we are. In fact, even Brutalist structures almost look livable if you let plants grow all over them; they might even be downright attractive if you let the plants cover every last square inch of concrete.

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