With a hat tip to Reclaiming Beauty
Architecture is the setting for how we live and the expression of how we think. It reflects our shaping of the world in order to inhabit it, and the geometry of what we build is far from neutral. The built environment, like the biological and other natural systems that it engages, needs to function reliably in complex and adaptive ways on many different levels. Such adaptive and sustainable systems have similar characteristics that, despite distinct origins, develop in a broadly similar manner.
The need to provide shelter from the elements and serve everyday needs led to the construction of roofs and walls that defined spaces adapted to human use. Traditional buildings and cities were assemblies of such basic components, put together in ways that had been found to promote particular and overall functioning. The New York row house, the New England village green, and the Mediterranean arcade and plaza all suit the setting and way of life in which they grew up.
More importantly, going beyond mere function, those structures combined ornament and other details that somehow seemed necessary. Even when structures were designed as a whole, their form and organization followed the evolved principles that had led to successful construction in the past. The results included the great historical styles of architecture, and the most-loved and most functional buildings and cities East and West.
Times change, and not always for the better. The advent of architectural modernism in the first decades of the twentieth century suppressed traditional styles and complex evolved forms in favor of simple concepts and striking images. The result was an approach to the built environment that lent itself to public relations and propaganda—it played well in manifestos and glossy architecture magazines—but was less functional, less adaptive, and less human and engaging.
Our educated world does not distinguish science from technology, because it confuses understanding with arbitrary control. Modernism had to do with the latter. It was an attempt to liberate technology from reality that took the form of a massive but unscientific application of technology to shape the world into an industrial dream image. Hence the emphasis on unfamiliar invented forms, sharp edges, and gleaming surfaces. The effort was entirely unscientific because no thought was given to discovering how human beings actually interact with their environment, or whether we need certain specific geometrical features just like we need nourishment and air, or to understanding how human beings interact with each other to create a city. Modernist architects just drew forms on paper that looked like machines and those in power built them.
The motivation was essentially political and oriented toward domination. The revolutionary movements that followed World War I wanted a break with the past, and especially the look of the past. The world revolution would rebuild humanity through industrialization, so these movements embraced buildings that looked like the machines of the time: sleek, white, and metallic. States, both on the left and on the right, loved this depersonalized approach to building, where the individual no longer matters and everything is sacrificed to an imposed utopian vision. Aspects of architectural modernism are prominent in Nazi and Soviet architecture, and the capitalist state also turned the machine into an icon. When Le Corbusier died both Lyndon Johnson and the Soviets expressed their sense of profound loss.
One lesson of contemporary architecture is that there exists a basic need for religious belief. Ours is not the secular world everyone pretends it to be. Architects tend to follow a cult of images that arose in the early twentieth century from the desire to break with all elements of the past, especially inherited human culture. Contemporary architects professing to be atheistic champions are in fact promoting an ideology with religious overtones. Their buildings, we are told, are “iconic,” and the attempt to reshape the built environment in accordance with pure concept, as Le Corbusier proposed in his plan for Paris, is an attempt to reshape the world in which we live into an expression of will and inhuman rationality.
The ideology of contemporary architecture is detached from nature and from God. It creates buildings that are dangerously detached from human beings. Traditional religions, despite periodic failings and fanaticisms, arose out of the evolution of human culture, and are thus far more grounded in real human needs. More importantly, they celebrate humans as rich and complex beings, with capabilities far beyond those of a machine. This makes religions more rational, and less divisive, than pseudo-religions based on irrational will. A Greek or Hindu temple, a sixteenth-century mosque, or a Gothic cathedral connects us to each other, to the past, and to the world. A modernist building or urban design does not. Even someone from a different civilization and religious tradition can tell the difference.
Read the rest here.
Now lets talk about our State Legislature Building