Posts Tagged ‘ Modernism ’

Finding the future

This is the final version of the movie, with sound added by the extremely lovely and talented sound artist Chantal Janvier. The narrative is simple, what I am interrogating is a new position in architecture, one that would be described by meta-modernism, an dialog and oscillation between modernism and post-modernism, a tension between utopia and dystopia, between the past and the future. We cannot make the mistake of building a future that would completely destroy a past, the modernists did it, and the urban context is in a state of continuous deterioration, specially for countries that are in development now.

If we use Bucharest as a case study, we will observe how the communist regime practically butchered the capital under the pretext of modernization but with the only goal of imposing authority through monumental megalomaniac architecture. The tabula rasa approach was forced on the homogenous urban fabric of the city creating large voids which are impractical for any human activity, it was called the New Civic Center, and but there was nothing civic about it.dadada

This is the middle of nowhere in the core of the capital.


The voids served two roles: to serve as collective housing for the communist elite thus being a symbol of authoritarian power and to set the scene for the grotesquely large People`s Palace, which is the second largest building on earth after the Pentagon. The quality of architecture is questionable, but the impact on urban life in Bucharest is dramatic. The voids hinder any type of dynamism or identity or Balzacian drama (as Colin Rowe puts it) within the city, they create placelessness and fragmentation of the city, and the most dramatic thing about it is that it was carved right in the heart of Bucharest, splitting the city into 2 halves.22222

As Rem Koolhaas observes in his essay Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture on the case study of postwar Berlin, that as soon as a city is divided into 2 halves, there will always be a good half, and a bad half, thus splitting the population by their social status. Bucharest went through the same thing, while the New Civic Center was being constructed, entire communities were uprooted and relocated and Bucharest was split into the rich and enterprising north half and the poor and disenfranchised south half. Population is split more or less evenly but the the office, retail, cultural, religious and services facilities are roughly 80% in the North side of the New Civic Center. large_palatul-parlamentului_54

This massacre was done under the consent of  modernism with the sole goal of imposing the regimes authority on the people, with complete and utter disregard to history, culture and tradition, this cannot happen again, transforming the boulevard in a symbol of power and the public square into a space of intimidation. A multifaceted dialog must be employed when dealing with an urban context, in contrast with the ignorant, naive and tautological solution of the tabula rasa . The post-communist period of privatization in Bucharest did little to change the course of the butchery, with hardly any public projects, the new star in the scene is the office building which is as ignorant to the human condition as the People`s Palace is an insult to the people. PP_1romanianparliament1

There can be change, if we seek the future in the past, the enthusiasm of modernism is still lingering, and the reserved pragmatism of post-modernism keeps things in scale, while a return to neo-romanticism might carve the way forward, tension and dialog are the key factors, the way to get the best of both modernisms. The tension between two opposing poles like the past and the future, unity and multiplicity, temporal and atemporal, purity and corruption, order and chaos will infuse “the common place with significance, the ordinary with mystery, the familiar with the sense of the unfamiliar and the finite with the semblance of the infinite”-Novalis.

Thesis idea: Utopia-is this what the myth of modernism looks like(Ted talk by Mikko Hypponen: How the NSA betrayed the world’s trust)

I was currently studying a text by Frederic Jameson called “Of islands and trenches: Naturalization and product of utopian discourse”, for my History and Theory course. This is a text which analyses other texts which speculate on utopia, it references a huge amount of literature, most of it fiction along with philosophy and theory. The more I read of it the more I started questioning its relevance, in this day and age. I didn`t understand why is it important to analyze speculations on Utopias seen through the spectrum of Sci-fi writers or similar fantastic set-up. So I`ve done some digging, I`ve spoken with my tutor who has read some stuff here and there, by which I mean an amount that I cannot currently even try to have the arrogance to admit that I would be able to comprehend, and also I`ve found this interesting video that just popped up. So I started thinking upon the information I had and ended up considering that it is fundamentally relevant to discuss the concept of Utopia.

In the text it is referred to Levi Strauss` interpretation of the myth, which he considers a device for mediation. A circumstance that cannot be solved in the current sociopolitical context of the society is discussed or speculated upon through a myth. Which leads to eventually the myth of the Utopian context which is represented through a series of fiction texts that attempted to create a perfect Utopian world. What I found most interesting is that they all failed, even in fictional literature, the authors had to come to compromises or deux ex machina devices to solve the complications that would arise within the dense system of what utopia actually is. Some of the fundamental rules would be that money is no longer a thing and there is no such thing as crime, which sound ludicrous if we would apply them to our own society. And yet this dream/myth was pursued with great energies by the modernists, and failed to deliver it. But it’s not my belief it was a complete disaster or a complete travesty of their concept, but that some of it should be salvaged along with what was not flamboyant irony in post-modernism. The pursuit of this myth of utopia cannot be pursued blindly, as it was by the modernists because it produces the anomalies of places like Dubai, which in my opinion are similar growths to that of cancer within a body, places like Beijing where the air is un-breathable, and places like Kowloon city which although they might look like hell on earth it might actually be closer to an utopia than we might think at first glance.

And I started asking myself, why did they not deliver? Why did the great minds of the modernists fail in their crusade for the gates of Utopia. I believe it`s because their hands were tied. They could not act fast enough, or react accordingly with the world which grew so fast it overwhelmed them. The ever-growing capitalist machine did not care for the utopia, it wanted things to happen fast, and used the overrated axiom of Less is More just to validate their impending needs. The modernists were not blind to this and realized that their influence is shockingly limited, and what could not be achieved in the real world was attempted to be achieved on paper. And I think this was a complete fetishism on their part because they didn`t had the power to act. Eventually some of the so-called utopias were build and failed exceptionally fast. I think what was fundamentally wrong in LeCorbusier`s approach to it for instance was the all but complete use of tabula rasa. The massacre of Marseille for instance he would wipe completely a part of Paris, he would decide what is relevant to keep as an artifact of the former civilization and to rebuild everything in his own vision of what Utopia should be.

Is this approach a correct one or a fair one? Doesn`t this sound like how corporate-towns pop up in the middle of the desert in the proximity of oil. Is this not a complete disregard of cultural identity, of regional tradition and an insult to the French people? (Or maybe not, the French never knew what they wanted.) The problems of the traditional city are obvious, Collin Rowe explains that quite eloquently in Collage city, but what are we willing to sacrifice for utopia? Our identities? Our character? Our pride? And as the link above states, our privacy? Utopia means a complete lack of the organic, of actually what makes us human, living as a lobotomized zombie, although that`s what any corporate would want for most of us, it doesn`t really sound fun, now does it? And I feel that`s exactly what this type of international style artificial architecture is doing. The loss of cultural identity instills a sense of complacent`ness (there I go inventing words now) by default. Everything is the same and you could be from anywhere, although it creates a comfort zone, it limits your identity. Other newly formed states like America try to deliver its patriotism through a propaganda agenda with the gist of it in 3 words : the American dream, which has led eventually to be used for naive chauvinistic dialogues with foreigners.

But I`m not here to discuss American problems, and why isn`t Kafka ever brought up in these kind of discussions, his dense monstrous machinations work in all intents and purposes as utopian dystopias, funny right? why do I say that, and I am referring now to the castle mostly, because the system works perfectly, and although they seem to have internal conflicts, that is all just a facade because they only seem as conflicts in K.`s eyes, for everyone else it is just how things normally happen, should happen and will ever happen. Everything in that machine seemed to work to perfection until you add the human element to it, the protagonist, who cannot comprehend the space he is thrown within, and no matter how many layers he unfolds and how much more information he discovers, he cannot seem to integrate himself within the system, or to actually understand it. He cannot be part of it, he is fundamentally different and cannot comprehend the utopia. So how could we try to even speculate that we might be capable to comprehend it in real life, we can`t it is absurd. Is Marxism the key for utopia? Is an implosion of classes in the proletarian masses an answer? No it is an impossibility as well. (I`ll address that in the second draft of this essay, who knows when) I`ve recently read a funny little book I came across : Animal Farm, by George Orwell, which is basically the recent history of all post-communist countries. It is uncanny how accurate it is. Extreme communism is a failure as a doctrine, it must never be employed on anyone in my opinion. But a socialist approach might solve some of the social-economical crisis of the extreme lob-sided distribution of money to the populous.

Economy is catering for the elitist few, culture and art for the masses have all but been reduced to kitsch and pseudo-intellectualism, this is a process that began with the totalitarian regimes, which actually didn`t have much against post modern art (except for Hitler, but that didn`t stop Goebbels to have his little charades) argues Clement Greenberg, they found it to innocent to use in propaganda, but eventually realized that it is not feasible to sustain a culture that is understood by the privileged few, and decided to completely redirect culture towards the masses. The best example of it is Mussolini`s regime, who at first were promoting a futuristic mentality, showing that fascism is an progressive regime, and it is in tune with modernism, but when realizing that the masses could not understand or identify with the new current, he killed it with the extremely megalomaniac gesture of his monumentalist architectural program.

A lot of this is speculation on my part, but this is a thing that caught my interest, and I decided to write a thesis on it, (Because I can!), there is a lot of reading to do, I want to attack the Heideggerian position of Architecture, I want to clarify my own position as an individual in relation with the meta-modernist approach. I want to discuss what can be salvaged, and what is usable of modernism and post`modernism. This is a radical approach to architecture, that I am studying now, and might be the next step in all arts. This is an extremely vast subject to debate, I left a lot of ideas out, and all of them are incomplete at the moment, I don`t have a scope on this work yet but I`ll set it to maybe 100 000 words. But it will have to be done over the course of a year or two, who knows…Any comments at all, and especially criticism is highly appreciated. Any suggestions on reading material is welcomed as well, but the list is outrageously as it is 🙂 Thanks for reading.