March 05, 2003
How I learned about Modern Architecture from the inside - and how I realised that it is now getting better

When I was hardly more than a child, I tried, very half-heartedly, to become an architect, and I drank in the ideology of the Modern Movement in Architecture, like some idiot who had joined a religious cult. The cult spat me out, although not because I lacked belief - I just couldn't do the drawings. And, a few years older and distinctly wiser if not wise exactly, I resumed the attempt that is still in progress at my version of a normal life. I never really liked what passed for modern architecture at the time in my life when I was trying to learn how to add to the problem. But I did suffer a bad case of false consciousness on the subject. I thought I did.

And I wouldn't have missed this experience for anything. It really is very special to have lived through one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary delusions from the inside, in the grip of the thing. I acquired a knowledge that is denied to normal people of this bizarre moment in human history. Normal people wonder what the hell those insane architects were thinking of when they built all those crazy housing estates and office blocks. Normal people were baffled that architects who prated endlessly about "form following function" seemed uniquely incapable of making a building that did actually function properly. What in the blazes was going on? Well, I am in a position to tell you quite a lot of the answers.

By the early to mid seventies I was thoroughly cured of my Modernistic architectural delusions, and like any other normal person I spent the next decade walking past scaffolding, shuddering, and asking myself in despair: What ghastly atrocity are they going to put here?

But then, it happened. I can't remember exactly when it was. Early nineteen eighties I think. Anyway, one day, I was walking past a London building site, and I heard myself say, not: "What the hell are they going to put here?", but rather: "Ooh, a building site, I wonder what they're going to put here!" And I knew at once that this was not a feeling that I was forcing myself to have. This was the real thing. I now genuinely liked modern architecture!

Modern architecture, from about the mid-seventies onwards, has, in London, been getting better and better. Expect many more postings here explaining why this is so, and I hope, further pictorial proofs.

For more of my opinions on all this, see this piece in Free Life, about skyscrapers, Ayn Rand, the Word Trade Centre, and related matters. By the way, I've changed my mind about the World Trade Centre and what they ought now to put there. I now think it should be a "political skyscraper".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:29 PM
Category: Architecture