Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Wednesday January 05 2011

On February 14th, I will be giving a talk about architecture, modern and “modernist”, to the LSE branch (so to speak) of the Libertarian Alliance.  Details of the event will presumably be appearing here in due course, and presumably also a video of the talk once it’s done, if previous events in this series are anything to go by.

Incoming from David McDonagh:

We meet on the second Monday of the month at 7pm at The Institute of Education, just off Russell Square - student bar, Room S16, Thornhaugh Street, London, WC1B 5EA.

As to the content of my talk, I intend to bite off far more than I can hope to chew thoroughly on the night.  Many of the points I have in mind to make will end up being alluded to only in the form of cryptic summaries, embedded in blog postings like this one.  No way will I have time to talk at any length about my entire agenda.

But thanks to the magic of the Internet, I don’t have to.  I can publish the agenda here and circulate the link to this beforehand, to all those whom LA-LSE chairman David McDonagh will be inviting to attend.  As I say, I’m guessing that the talk will be video-ed and internetted, so it will also be reactable to afterwards.  Perhaps I will also hand out print-outs on the night, along the lines of what follows.

So anyway, here is what I now have in mind to be talking about:

Theses, antitheses and syntheses in architectural modernism: A gallop over the last century and a half of architectural practice (much great – much terrible – much okay) and architectural theorising (mostly pretty terrible), from the industrial revolution until now and beyond.

Theses:

Traditional architectures rooted in shared, educated understandings of the past and its architectural gestures and meanings, in the context of quite slowly evolving architectural technology.

Antitheses:

Machine art and the crisis of decorative virtuosity in an age of exploding technology.  The puritanical revulsion against architectural “beauty”.  Ornament equals crime.  New engineering achievements, particularly bridges and ships.  Structure the only acceptable appearance.

Architectural modernism as in: the Modern Movement in Architecture, as a theory rather than just as a subsequent practice.  Twentieth century totalitarianism and its evil follies made concrete (enough for a dozen talks on that alone).  Why Modern Movement architects made machines for living in that didn’t work and that looked horrible.

The rejection of conventional architectural solutions that solve problems without necessarily knowing why or how.  The roofs that flew off the houses.  How and how not to innovate.  The ironies of mass production, or why modern movement architects often did better designing chairs than they did designing buildings.  The success and failure of the Bauhaus.

The menace of fake trad architecture, i.e. buildings that only look traditional, but don’t work either and soon look horrible also.

Syntheses:

Modern electronic culture, the demise of past-centred culture (see Theses above) and the mass popularity of cool modernism.  (In London, the Gherkin, the Wheel, etc.) Beauty rediscovered (renegotiated?) by the modernists.  Separating structure from appearance.  Structure as (expensive) decoration.  Architectural traditions, as in practices that make buildings work properly, painfully rediscovered, or newly established and bedded down.  The indoors triumph of modernism (see Bauhaus above).

Through it all: The never destroyed, continuously evolving tradition of modernism, as successful practice rather than just wrong-headed theory.

Comments on all of the above topics will be especially welcome, whether before the talk or after it.