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Old Posted Nov 25, 2017, 6:11 PM
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Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture And If You Don’t Why You Should

Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture


OCTOBER 31, 2017

By BRIANNA RENNIX & NATHAN J. ROBINSON

Read More: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/...y-architecture

Quote:
The British author Douglas Adams had this to say about airports: “Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of special effort.” Sadly, this truth is not applicable merely to airports: it can also be said of most contemporary architecture.

- Take the Tour Montparnasse, a black, slickly glass-panelled skyscraper, looming over the beautiful Paris cityscape like a giant domino waiting to fall. Parisians hated it so much that the city was subsequently forced to enact an ordinance forbidding any further skyscrapers higher than 36 meters. --- Or take Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Downtown Boston is generally an attractive place, with old buildings and a waterfront and a beautiful public garden. But Boston’s City Hall is a hideous concrete edifice of mind-bogglingly inscrutable shape, like an ominous component found left over after you’ve painstakingly assembled a complicated household appliance.

- There’s a whole additional complex of equally unpleasant federal buildings attached to the same plaza, designed by Walter Gropius, an architect whose chuckle-inducing surname belies the utter cheerlessness of his designs. The John F. Kennedy Building, for example—featurelessly grim on the outside, infuriatingly unnavigable on the inside—is where, among other things, terrified immigrants attend their deportation hearings, and where traumatized veterans come to apply for benefits. Such an inhospitable building sends a very clear message, which is: the government wants its lowly supplicants to feel confused, alienated, and afraid.

- The fact is, contemporary architecture gives most regular humans the heebie-jeebies. Try telling that to architects and their acolytes, though, and you’ll get an earful about why your feeling is misguided, the product of some embarrassing misconception about architectural principles. One defense, typically, is that these eyesores are, in reality, incredible feats of engineering. After all, “blobitecture”—which, we regret to say, is a real school of contemporary architecture—is created using complicated computer-driven algorithms! You may think the ensuing blob-structure looks like a tentacled turd, or a crumpled kleenex, but that’s because you don’t have an architect’s trained eye.

- Another thing you will often hear from design-school types is that contemporary architecture is honest. It doesn’t rely on the forms and usages of the past, and it is not interested in coddling you and your dumb feelings. Wake up, sheeple! Your boss hates you, and your bloodsucking landlord too, and your government fully intends to grind you between its gears. That’s the world we live in! Get used to it! Fans of Brutalism—the blocky-industrial-concrete school of architecture—are quick to emphasize that these buildings tell it like it is, as if this somehow excused the fact that they look, at best, dreary, and, at worst, like the headquarters of some kind of post-apocalyptic totalitarian dictatorship.

- Some unseen person or force seems committed to replacing literally every attractive and appealing thing with an ugly and unpleasant thing. The architecture produced by contemporary global capitalism is possibly the most obvious visible evidence that it has some kind of perverse effect on the human soul. Of course, there is no accounting for taste, and there may be some among us who are naturally are deeply disposed to appreciate blobs and blocks. But polling suggests that devotees of contemporary architecture are overwhelmingly in the minority: aside from monuments, few of the public’s favorite structures are from the postwar period.

- The politics of this issue, moreover, are all upside-down. For example, how do we explain why, in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, more conservative commentators were calling for more comfortable and home-like public housing, while left-wing writers staunchly defended the populist spirit of the high-rise apartment building, despite ample evidence that the majority of people would prefer not to be forced to live in or among such places? Conservatives who critique public housing may have easily-proven ulterior motives, but why so many on the left are wedded to defending unpopular schools of architectural and urban design is less immediately obvious.

- For about 2,000 years, everything human beings built was beautiful, or at least unobjectionable. The 20th century put a stop to this, evidenced by the fact that people often go out of their way to vacation in “historic” (read: beautiful) towns that contain as little postwar architecture as possible. But why? What actually changed? Why does there seem to be such an obvious break between the thousands of years before World War II and the postwar period? And why does this seem to hold true everywhere? --- A few obvious stylistic changes characterize postwar architecture. For one, what is (now somewhat derisively) called “ornament” disappeared. At the dawn of the 20th century, American architect Louis Sullivan proclaimed the famous maxim that “form follows function.”

- 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.

- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum is an impressive building. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bear any actually relationship to its surroundings; it could have been placed anywhere. Wright’s Fallingwater house, on the other hand, was designed to cohere with its location. Aesthetic coherence is very important; a sense of place depends on every element in that place working together. The streets of the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston are beautiful because there are many different elements, but they are all aesthetically unified. The Tour Montparnasse in Paris is horrifying, because it doesn’t flow with the surrounding buildings and draws attention to itself. Capitalism eats culture, and it makes ugly places. Money has no taste.

- It should be obvious to anyone that skyscrapers should be abolished. After all, they embody nearly every bad tendency in contemporary architecture: they are not part of nature, they are monolithic, they are boring, they have no intricacy, and they have no democracy. Besides, there is plenty of space left on earth to spread out horizontally; the only reasons to spread vertically are phallic and Freudian. Architect Leon Krier has suggested that while there should be no height limit on buildings, no building should ever be more than four stories (so, spires as tall as you like, and belfries). This seems a completely sensible idea. But more than just abolishing skyscrapers, we must create a world of everyday wonder, a world in which every last thing is a beautiful thing. If this sounds impossible, it isn’t; for thousands of years, nearly every buildings humans made was beautiful.

.....








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Old Posted Nov 25, 2017, 7:09 PM
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There's nothing "contemporary" about the Montparnasse tower. It was completed in 1973, which is called late modernism, but certainly not contemporary.

It's so old that it's about to get some new makeup already, but the problem is not the tower itself, it's the mediocre modern bars that were built around in the 14th arrondissement, probably the most forgotten arrondissement of the inner city currently. I think the 19th for sure, and even the 20th are getting more attention.

I don't care what the Brits say anyway. They've always been cynical and unfaithful to us. They're building tons of wealthier contemporary architecture over their cities, and they think (or hope) we'd be too royalist or retarded to do the same?
In their wet dreams only. We're going to push the right thing forward.
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Old Posted Nov 25, 2017, 9:26 PM
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I don't care what the Brits say anyway. They've always been cynical and unfaithful to us.
Perfidious Albion.
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Old Posted Nov 25, 2017, 9:33 PM
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Perfidious Albion.
Lol, I'd forgotten about the ancient name. Let's be honest, we played quite a couple of nasty tricks to them too, but they deserved it all.

They like nasty things anyway... Hmhmhmmm
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The French are just a bunch of Italians that woke up in a very bad mood - Jean Cocteau.
The French? Pathetic! Always obnoxious! The total opposite of the Italians! Paris? Awfully polluted! The unbearable downtown! - (basically unattractive) Carla Bruni.
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Old Posted Nov 25, 2017, 9:44 PM
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^^I'm with you (in spite of being usually an Anglophile). Not at all a fan of the Gherkin or the Shard (especially the Gherkin).
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Old Posted Nov 26, 2017, 2:33 AM
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Quote:
For about 2,000 years, everything human beings built was beautiful, or at least unobjectionable. But why? What actually changed? Why does there seem to be such an obvious break between the thousands of years before World War II and the postwar period? And why does this seem to hold true everywhere?
I ask myself this all the time.
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Old Posted Nov 26, 2017, 2:55 PM
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For whatever reason, humanity largely stopped caring after WW2 about architecture, if you can even call 99 percent of buildings today architectural. Even cheap houses and buildings back before WW2 for the most part had some character or architectural merit.

Last edited by photoLith; Nov 27, 2017 at 5:43 PM.
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Old Posted Nov 26, 2017, 3:13 PM
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I think it has a lot to do with corporations and mass production pretty much taking over the world after the 2nd world war.
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Old Posted Nov 26, 2017, 5:27 PM
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I think the idea that "form follows function" took over and it became all about serving the function desired while form became irrelevant. It it did the job, what it looked like didn't matter.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2017, 12:24 AM
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  #11  
Old Posted Nov 27, 2017, 3:22 AM
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Part of the change to modernism after WWI was an idea that, through architecture, we could create an entirely new world free of conflict. By removing ornamentation that looked toward the past and instead designing buildings that only incorporate contemporary materials and features, maybe we could move humanity away from conflict. Obviously that didn't actually work. Then World War II happened and people realized this no-more-ornamentation thing was a pretty cheap way to replace the lost buildings or build more new buildings.

Great modernist architects (like Ludwig Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright) maintained classical proportions and high levels of detail (especially in the interiors they designed, which included matching furniture and signage; Mies even went as far as creating fonts for his buildings' signage). Those are great pieces of architecture, they avoid the bulk of the problems that many poorly designed modern buildings have.

Another aspect to modernism that was obvious in the past but has been lost today is the contrast it presented to historic architecture. Seagram Building in 1950s New York surrounded by gothic, deco and wedding cake architecture? The fact that it wasn't covered in ornamentation was it's ornamentation. Throw in 1,500 shitty imitations 20 years later? All of that gets lost.

Tour Montparnasse still benefits from this aspect. It's so wildly different from everything around it that no only can you appreciate the shape and form of modern architecture, but you also get a better appreciation of the texture and colour of the older architecture around it. They're complementary. If it were half the size or if there were more buildings like it nearby, it would completely lose that and be less exciting.

Another thing we've lost with modernism is the ability to see faults in historic architecture. Some of those buildings are also badly designed with unusual proportions and impractical interior layouts or not enough windows or doors but when it's a classical or revival building, people seem more willing to overlook that simply because it has ornamentation.

As for nature: the most recent modern architecture we're seeing makes extensive use of local materials (like wood, glass and stone, which are found everywhere but also local at the same time in a way that manufactured aluminium panels aren't) and much more greenspace.

And another thing that gets lost on people like the author of that article (which I honestly thought was James Kunstler because he's also a fanatical anti-modern architecture/anti-skyscrapers person) is the cost of building today. In the past, you didn't need large bathrooms on every floor (we just shit into pots and dumped them out windows until, like, the 1800s), there was no extensive electrical and communications cabelling, heating was more rudimentary insulation was poor or absent. They could put a lot of money into having stone facades carved because the rest of the building was so simple to construct they didn't have to spend so much on that part of it. Today, the parts of a building we can't see are always far more complex than what the facade is showing us, and that really cuts into the budget for decorative facades. It's easier to just make a glass box, which are at least unoffensive in their simplicity.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2017, 3:14 PM
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The Kunsthaus Graz is just bad architecture. It looks like it was designed by a cardiologist and has zero cohesion with its surroundings...like a lot of modern and contemporary architecture. Let's shove a squid looking thing amongst 19th and 18th century buildings and pretend it works. Just no. At least the Shard and Swiss Re are with other modern buildings.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2017, 3:34 PM
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It looks like a giant baby left a toy there. Stop leaving your toys around baby!
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2017, 3:56 PM
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Cars and suburbs sure didn’t help either.
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Old Posted Nov 27, 2017, 10:03 PM
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The problem with these types of articles/arguments is that they are objectively not true.

Quote:
- For about 2,000 years, everything human beings built was beautiful, or at least unobjectionable. The 20th century put a stop to this, evidenced by the fact that people often go out of their way to vacation in “historic” (read: beautiful) towns that contain as little postwar architecture as possible. But why? What actually changed? Why does there seem to be such an obvious break between the thousands of years before World War II and the postwar period? And why does this seem to hold true everywhere? --- A few obvious stylistic changes characterize postwar architecture. For one, what is (now somewhat derisively) called “ornament” disappeared. At the dawn of the 20th century, American architect Louis Sullivan proclaimed the famous maxim that “form follows function.”
For 2000 years there was a lot of architectural history, and there were a lot of styles which were all popular or unpopular to different people at different times. It was even very common for individual buildings to change styles partway through construction or be drastically changed to different styles during renovation. This was especially true during the Renaissance.

Anyone who has taken any class in architectural history knows that for most of those old famous buildings, the stories go "so and so was hired to design it, then 30 years later he died and then so and so took over and redesigned the unbuilt parts, and then 200 years later they renovated it and changed styles and then 100 years after that it got changed again". If the original styles were so wonderful and popular and timeless they wouldn't have spent giant piles of money to change the styles.

There were also regional/political/identity related angles to it. In Europe nationalistic identity politics caused gothic to be preferred in some places and neoclassical to be preferred in others. And during these times, the "wrong" styles were sometimes demolished or renovated or replaced.

And then not to mention all of the wonderful amazing old buildings that were disassembled and used for construction materials for new buildings in more popular styles.

Quote:
- 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.
This is so completely outrageously false I don't even know what to say. NONE of those old non-modern styles involved plants at all whatsoever. Buildings simply did not have plants incorporated into the designs. Go to St Peter's Basilica and count the plants. Then there's early modernism and midcentury modernism where incorporating nature into our lives and having buildings which integrated interior and exterior are some of the most defining characteristics.


Quote:
- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum is an impressive building. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bear any actually relationship to its surroundings; it could have been placed anywhere.
Neoclassical architecture is exactly the same everywhere. The proportional and compositional laws which govern it are universal. Many of the celebrated architecture styles and buildings are universal and could be teleported to a lot of different places without it being conspicuous.


Quote:
Wright’s Fallingwater house, on the other hand, was designed to cohere with its location. Aesthetic coherence is very important; a sense of place depends on every element in that place working together. The streets of the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston are beautiful because there are many different elements, but they are all aesthetically unified.
So what we need to do is build entirely modern neighborhoods so that they're aesthetically unified? Aesthetic unity isn't specific to certain styles.

Quote:
The Tour Montparnasse in Paris is horrifying, because it doesn’t flow with the surrounding buildings and draws attention to itself.
By that argument we also need to demolish all of the gothic cathedrals which also don't fit into the flow (in terms of scale and style).

Quote:
Capitalism eats culture, and it makes ugly places. Money has no taste.
Most modernist movements are explicitly socialistic. Oh wait, sorry, using exotic and expensive materials carved into as much ornament as possible to convey as much wealth as possible is what we value in our society. Humble materials and unassuming designs are ugly and morally bankrupt. If only modern architecture could be as humble as the Palace of Versailles! In the article he says that modern architecture was convenient for the capitalists because it meant things like stained glass windows and ornament which hurt the bottom line could be eliminated... but the only buildings that had those things in the first place were for rich people. And yet the most expensive and most profitable buildings built during those times were the ones covered in expensive ornament, so the ornament definitely had good ROI.

Quote:
- It should be obvious to anyone that skyscrapers should be abolished. After all, they embody nearly every bad tendency in contemporary architecture: they are not part of nature, they are monolithic, they are boring, they have no intricacy, and they have no democracy. Besides, there is plenty of space left on earth to spread out horizontally; the only reasons to spread vertically are phallic and Freudian. Architect Leon Krier has suggested that while there should be no height limit on buildings, no building should ever be more than four stories (so, spires as tall as you like, and belfries). This seems a completely sensible idea.
In order for human scaled cities to work there needs to be density (otherwise it's not possible to walk to things). If you spread the density across buildings completely evenly there's not enough room for plants (isn't that what he wants?), and the buildings don't get good light and ventilation or views/privacy. Concentrating certain buildings types (offices, apartments for non-families) into higher density towers lets you use lower density building types (rowhouses with backyards for families) where it's most important.

Quote:
But more than just abolishing skyscrapers, we must create a world of everyday wonder, a world in which every last thing is a beautiful thing. If this sounds impossible, it isn’t; for thousands of years, nearly every buildings humans made was beautiful.
99% of buildings ever built have been demolished. I'm sure it was because each one of them was just so incredibly beautiful. And if you want the world to have everyday wonder, I think everyone here would agree that looking out the window of a skyscraper down onto your city is wonder invoking.


Also in the article he complains about why we can't make buildings like Sullivan anymore, even though Sullivan was 100% a modern architect. We can't build buildings like Sullivan anymore because after neo-traditional architecture destroyed the chicago school he spent the rest of his life barely employed and in poverty.

He also mentions the Guardian Building in Detroit, which is art deco, which is... also modernism!! (or at least a populist form of it).


I have to admit I didn't read the entire article but just about every line there's something objectively false. The article is long and going line by line showing the problems in his arguments would make an even longer forum post.

If you think modern buildings are ugly and how ugly something is is all you really care about then just say so and be honest about it.

If you want to make a theory of how architecture ought to be, and you're going to judge buildings based on that, then you need to take your own theory seriously and approve of modern buildings which fit your criteria and disapprove of non-modern ones that don't fit the criteria.

And absolutely most of all, if you're going to advocate for historical architecture you need to actually learn about historical architecture. If there's one thing that's consistent between neo-traditionalists it's that they're all staggeringly ignorant of architectural history.
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Old Posted Nov 28, 2017, 3:07 AM
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What's considered "Contemporary" Architecture literally changes by the decade, even by the year. It's like fashion. Many of the examples and articles posted here are already out of date. You need to judge them for the time they were built in. If you don't like actual current styles of architecture (not stuff that was considered contemporary 20-40 years ago) stop complaining and just wait a few years.
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Old Posted Nov 28, 2017, 12:18 PM
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Quote:
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^^I'm with you (in spite of being usually an Anglophile). Not at all a fan of the Gherkin or the Shard (especially the Gherkin).
I think Barcelona's Torre Agbar (therefore French archi. Jean Nouvel) is the one responsible for that supposedly phallic shape.
It's not super subtle, to say the least, but the Gherkin materials nonetheless look nice.

Paris's D2 tower is actually better. Obviously partly inspired by the Agbar and the Gherkin, its shape is more subtle and its design does compliment the boulevard it sits on, and the surroundings as a whole. I think that's due to the inherent constraints of the urban lot it was erected on. Sometimes, even often, constraints of a built-up environment help architects do better. Except for the top that's a little messy, D2's a smart building as an actual enhancement of its surroundings.
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Old Posted Nov 28, 2017, 2:36 PM
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Another thing we've lost with modernism is the ability to see faults in historic architecture. Some of those buildings are also badly designed with unusual proportions and impractical interior layouts or not enough windows or doors but when it's a classical or revival building, people seem more willing to overlook that simply because it has ornamentation.
.

100x this. For every well-designed and proportioned Victorian (for instance) building there's a gaudy knock-off combining multiple architectural styles and covered in way too much ornamentation. They just tend to be overlooked because, old.
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Old Posted Nov 30, 2017, 8:39 PM
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Imo architecture is bad when it doesn't engage the human scale. With public buildings, that's when there is bad interaction with the street and pedestrians. Contemporary buildings can be great at this. I think the really bad car-focused mega developments of the 70s made people associate modernist styles with bad architecture. Nowadays things are getting much better.
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Old Posted Dec 1, 2017, 12:56 AM
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100x this. For every well-designed and proportioned Victorian (for instance) building there's a gaudy knock-off combining multiple architectural styles and covered in way too much ornamentation. They just tend to be overlooked because, old.
Even these so-called "knock-off" prewar buildings are still nowhere near as bad as what modern architecture has produced. You're nitpicking with this. Obviously nothing is perfect, but it was a hell of a lot more nearly perfect than the shit we produce now.
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