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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday November 15 2015

This is a hastily drawn illustration of a characteristic urban phenomenon of the late twentieth century, namely: the Meaningless Triangle:

image

The blue lines are the edges, aka the curbs, of two city streets, which, for reasons lost in history, meet each other at an angle.

The black lines are are piece of Modern Movement type Modern Architecture, circa 1970, made of grey concrete, with big, boring windows.  Something like an office block or a department store.  The Meaningless Triangles are the pink bits.

In the days of Modern Movement type Modernism, architects were obsessed with making everything rectangular, which explains that jagged, saw-like edge to the big Modern Movement type building, at the bottom of my diagram.  In order for the building to be in line with one of the streets, it has to be at an angle to the other street, because the streets are not themselves at right angles.

So, why not just have wall to the building that are not at right angles?  This is what is done now.  Why not then?

There are many reasons.  One is that doing this kind of thing, in the days before computers, was a bit difficult.  But more fundamentally, right angles were, you know, Modern.  Only the despised higgledy-piggledy Past had walls at crazy angles.

More fundamentally, Modern Movement architecture was not so much about building a mere building, as about building a small fragment of a potentially infinite urban grid.  In a perfect world, the Modern Movement type building would not stop at the boundaries of the site.  It would instead stride madly off in all four directions, covering the whole earth in a single rectangular grid.  You think that’s mad?  Sure it’s mad.  But this was how these people thought, in those days.  They really did publish schemes to cover the entire world with just the one new building, and smash all the others.

The boundaries of the site were an affront to the building.  The building did not end gracefully and decorously at the boundary, and then show a polite face to the world.  No.  It merely stopped, as gracelessly and rudely as possible, and in a manner which threatened to go bashing on, just as soon as a socialist upheaval (preferably worldwide) could clear all the higgledy-piggledy crap of the past out of the way.  In a perfect world, there would be no boundaries, no property rights.  No arbitrary lines where one bit of “property” stops and another bit starts.  Oh no.  All would be owned by the People in Common, and our architect is the instrument of the People in Common, and supplies them all, all I say, with a new and infinitely huge new building.

I know, insane.  Don’t blame me.  I’m just telling you what these lunatics were thinking.

Luckily, the higgledy-piggledy old world kept these maniacs under control.  They had to stop their damn buildings at the edge of the site.  If they had tried to bash on beyond the site, they’d have been arrested.  But, they could make the ragged edge of the building look as ragged and ugly as they liked, and they did.

Hence all the Meaningless Triangles.

If you want to hear me talking about the above, go to this video, of me giving a talk about Modern Architecture, and start watching at 41 minutes.

What got me blogging about Meaningless Triangles was that I recently, in the course of wandering through my photo-archives, came across this photo:

image

What we see there is a very meaningful building, built to fill in a Meaningless Triangle.  As I recall, this is a few dozen yards from the entrance to Kensington High Street Tube station.  Yes, I just found the Caffe Nero in Wrights Lane, near that very tube station.  That’s the one.  I took my photo of it in 2010.