3 January, 1680.
Raises some good points, makes some faulty conclusions.
One could also write about the psychological costs of starchitectural ego-tecture which pushes too far in the opposite direction.
“New Yorkers have long bemoaned their city being overrun by bland office towers and chain stores: Soon, it seems, every corner will either be a bank, a Walgreens, or a Starbucks. And there is indeed evidence that all cities are starting to look the same, which can hurt local growth and wages. But there could be more than an economic or nostalgic price to impersonal retail and high-rise construction: Boring architecture may take an emotional toll on the people forced to live in and around it.
A growing body of research in cognitive science illuminates the physical and mental toll bland cityscapes exact on residents. Generally, these researchers argue that humans are healthier when they live among variety — a cacophony of bars, bodegas, and independent shops — or work in well-designed, unique spaces, rather than unattractive, generic ones. In their book, Cognitive Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment, Tufts urban policy professor Justin Hollander and architect Ann Sussman review scientific data to help architects and urban planners understand how, exactly, we respond to our built surroundings. People,they argue, function best in intricate settings and crave variety, not “big, blank, boxy buildings.”
“Some critics say she had to be imperious in order to get her work done, as a foreign woman working in a man’s world. I don’t agree – rudeness is rudeness, whatever the putative qualities of the rude person. Rudeness wouldn’t matter so much – although it still does matter – in a genius. But she was no genius.
You can see that same disregard for people in her buildings – flights of fancy with no regard for the poor inhabitants who had to live and work in them.
As Stephen Bayley courageously wrote in The Spectator last year, her first real building, a small fire station in Germany, never really worked for its intended purpose: ‘Its shrieking concrete angles and disruptive interiors photographed very well and were dutifully recorded in the magazines, but were not much liked by the firemen. It was decommissioned and is now an exhibition centre.’”
I think this book review at the New Criterion puts paid to any recent, somewhat optimistic takes on the architect, Albert Speer. And, yes, Michael J. Lewis is a good historian who I’ve met on a couple of First Things occasions. The end of his review is pretty telling, and provacative, perhaps moreso than any pure polemic that modern architects tend to employ, because it doesn’t have to twist history or facts for its power…history itself is often quite enough:
“But somehow one senses that Speer falls in a different category, that one cannot excuse the opportunism of the artist in order to appreciate the integrity of the art. Kitchen briefly mentions without comment one telling fact, which is that as an architecture student Speer occasionally paid poorer students to prepare his drawings. The practice is not unknown, but it is not what one expects from a truly architectural mind, from someone who lives and thinks architecture, and who exults in the making of form. Kitchen suggests that Speer’s cleverest design ideas, such as the Luftwaffe searchlights illuminating the Nuremberg Rally grounds, came from his assistants.
Why is it, one might ask, that there are no architectural drawings by Speer among the book’s illustrations, not a single sketch, not one perspective? The idea sketches that survive for Germania are not by Speer but by Hitler. Hitler was not an architect of terrible originality or distinction, but in a certain sense he was more of an architect than Speer—that is, he was brimming over with ideas for buildings and forms—derivative and conventional to be sure, but fired with all the passion and longings and resentments of his frustrating years in Vienna around 1909. He had the one architectural quality that Speer did not: an urgent architectural imagination. One somehow cannot imagine Speer waking up in the middle of a night with the compulsion to sketch a sudden idea.
This is what makes Speer in the end so repellent, and all the more so because of his courtly good looks and air of easy urbanity; it is that he does not even have the excuse of the opportunist, that he made political compromises in order to practice his art. Stripped of the murderous politics, in which his complicity is now beyond all doubt, there is precious little art left.”
However, the weak link in this argument is that, as one of my friends mentioned, there is something very artistically consistent about Speer’s work which is indicative of a guiding mind and vision in much the way many modern “starchitects” work, at the very least. This suggests that his involvement was more than simply the role of a “critic” or the public image of someone else’s genius or someone else’s drawings, but rather that he had a real architectural personality which held authoritative sway, and this evident most conspicuously because of its absence in equal measure or degree by Hitler’s other architects.
I recently submitted the following abstract for the conference below:
Abstract: Architecture in the Metaxy
Man is a (dependent) rational animal. This classic formula, while not exhaustively defining man in all of his ontic nor ontological density, is useful in that it points towards characteristic features by which the presence of “the human” might be distinguished in the anthropological record—in other words, how we might recognize ourselves and our origins within the “evolutionary” milieu.
In short, the presence of “the human” makes itself known in the vestiges of the characteristic operation of its mind, as the movement-in-being by which we abstract from and recapture our corporeal existence and use it to signify rather than merely to co-exist in the world (Merleau-Ponty). Thus, the anthropological record is inherently, and perhaps essentially, the material record of this symbolizing activity.
A philosophical anthropology indicates that this symbolization flows from the beginning of man’s “experience of being” in which is disclosed a two-fold experience: that of being not only in relation to the world in which he finds himself, but ultimately to the ground of being itself (Voegelin). According to Aristotle’s principle of equivalency, there is a recognizable identity between the experienced reality of this “metaxy” and its symbolization at various levels of differentiation, ultimately as forms of analogical participation.
One such characteristic form of analogical mediation is Architecture, not narrowly or reductively understood within either an equivocal tectonic paradigm nor a univocal conceptualism, but rather as Mircea Eliade and Bernard Lonergan explicate it: as the analogically patterned objectification of space whereby psycho-somatic man posits an orientation in space and time that manifests, orients, and transforms his relationships within the world, as well as his participation in—and search for— the “ground”.
In view of such an architectural anthropology, this paper serves to explore how Architecture comes to reveal, extend, and transform, whether implicitly or explicitly, each person’s and each culture’s horizon— the beliefs regarding who they are and what it means to be human within the metaxy. In so doing, it seeks to provide some cursory analysis to the question of “how should we build today?”.