Leftist Nostalgia for Brutalist Architecture
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“Look on my Ministry of Love, ye bourgeoisie, and despair!”

From Mel Magazine:


Why are online white nationalists obsessed with modern architecture? It’s all a cover to push a racist and anti-Semitic agenda

… [Paul Joseph Watson is] also far from the only critic to complain about the legacy of brutalism, a style of modern architecture that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s in the U.K., but was developed largely by French architects like Le Corbusier.

Ironically, the Swissman Corbu was just about the whitest Western white man ever, the embodiment of a movement going back to Leon Battista Alberti in 15th Century Florence and Goethe in 18th Century Germany to convert the architect from the humble servant of human needs to a Promethean Bringer of Fire from Olympus.

A woman architect would have to spend an awful lot of time in architecture school being indoctrinated by male professors to think that designing towering hulks in unfinished concrete was fun.

Brutalist buildings were characterized by simple, block-like structures that often featured exposed concrete and were constructed in the belief that architects should design buildings with their function in mind first and foremost. As a result, brutalist architects would usually prioritize public space over monuments to gawk at. “Many Brutalist buildings expressed a progressive or even utopian vision of communal living and public ownership,” writes Felix Torkar in Jacobin magazine. (To that end, brutalist buildings were often favored by European governments as social housing for impoverished communities.) “The battle to protect them is also a fight to defend this social inheritance.”

What’s interesting is how much the supposedly progressive pro-Brutalist voices quoted in the article are driven by conservative emotions such as nostalgia and couch their defenses of Brutalism in the same language conservatives use to defend Robert E. Lee statues: sure, times have changed, but that was okay back then. For example, a pro-Brutalist says:

He tells me that he’s always been fascinated with architecture, both traditional and modern styles. Having grown up in South London, where many of the first modernist buildings were built, he saw modernist architecture as “a piece of the city’s history. It was a time when we had a socialist government who actually wanted to help the poor, and there was an idea about housing being a right.” …

It’s funny that I’m not hearing the most reasonable excuse for England’s post-War architecture: We were broke, we spent everything we had to win the war. Everybody tries to deny it, but the truth is that nice stuff is usually expensive and the more money you have, the nicer you can make it. Tom Wolfe explained: “… the existence of conspicuous consumption one has rightful access to … creates a sense of well-being.” Britain in c. 1946-1960 didn’t have much money, so it put up a lot of nasty buildings.

It would have been terrific if British architects had ingeniously figured out how to make beautiful buildings cheaply. But they didn’t. Now, if you look at postwar British buildings, which are even uglier on the whole than, say, American college architecture buildings, you might get the impression that they were perversely, intentionally ugly. Evelyn Waugh predicted it in his 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited.

Luckily, there’s a resistance building among left-wing architecture enthusiasts. On Instagram, the hashtag #brutalistarchitecture has received thousands of contributions. Meanwhile, Twitter accounts like Brutalism101, Concretism and This Brutal House frequently promote environmental campaigns like Extinction Rebellion, a direct-action protest group, to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change, particularly to poor communities who still live in brutalist buildings. …

It’s almost as if brutalist buildings tend not to actually be good for the poor bastards still stuck living in them …

“Brutalist architecture isn’t about how the building looks but about the function itself,” says Steve Keen, a photographer who runs the Instagram account Brutalistlondon. For the fortysomething Keen, the style was “never popular, but it’s important to the history of London and the U.K.” …

Keen, on the other hand, believes maintaining brutalist buildings is critical, especially at a time when income inequality and poverty in the U.K. is at a record high. “The buildings show what a government that cares about the poor could do.” …

Some people want to preserve Notre-Dame, while some other people want to preserve, say, the Boston City Hall, an upside-down Aztec human sacrifice platform, because they grew up around it and are fond of it. It also reminds them of a time when people they identify with held the whip hand and could impose their ideas, good or bad, upon society.

“Brutalism is bold and true to itself, because it’s an embodiment of postwar egalitarian optimism that many people probably look back fondly on,” adds Ido Vock …

Generally speaking, buildings have an inherent lifespan and eventually need to either be replaced or expensively restored. Brutalist buildings, despite or because of their Ozymandias/1984 aesthetics — “Look on my Ministry of Love, ye bourgeoisie, and despair!” — tend to have a shorter natural life than more traditional building whose designs embody the wisdom of the ages rather than spitting in its eye out of ideological conviction.

But, that’s mostly a good thing because it allows humans to decide which relics of the past to keep and which to replace. And that makes the legacy of the past better. My guess would be that if over time we replaced, say, the worst 90% of brutalist buildings and conserved the best 10%, people in a century might assume that, hey, Brutalism, you know, wasn’t really so bad after all.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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