Based in Las Vegas, Douglas french writes about the  economy and book reviews. 

Politically Incorrect Architecture

Politically Incorrect Architecture

One never knows what kind of chat you’ll have at the Property & Freedom Society conference. One evening a gentleman approached to introduce himself to the host. He was, as Wired.com describes, “a strong-jawed German who rocks a look that's equal parts CEO and Bond villain.”  

From Bauhaus to Our House
$13.50
By Tom Wolfe

After a few pleasantries were exchanged with the conference impresario in German, the conversation, in English, turned to architecture. One might say, politically incorrect architecture. How does the director of world renowned architectural firm Zaha Hadid Architects make the speakers lineup for PFS? Have The Guardian run a feature article about you with the lead, “Abolish social housing, scrap prescriptive planning regulations and usher in the wholesale privatisation of our streets, squares and parks,” wrote Oliver Wainwright who was paraphrasing comments made by Patrik Schumacher shocking his architect colleagues in Berlin.  Suddenly, Schumacher became “the Trump of architecture."

Zaha Hadid was the queen of curve and now the firm that still holds the deceased Pritzker-winner’s name, is headed by “the king of free-market libertarianism,” writes Mr. Wainwright.  

There’s nothing I like better than railing about zoning, nonsensical local government land plans, and the irrational NIMBYism of homeowners. Come to find out, it’s no different anywhere in the world. Schumacher deals with it from Tokyo to Timbuktu.

In his Berlin keynote address, he ragged,

against the “social engineering” of housing design guides and the “intellectually bankrupt” idea of land use plans, he set out his Urban Policy Manifesto, which rambled from scrapping housing space standards to abolishing all forms of rent control and tenancy regulation.

Schumacher believes architects engage in "misguided political correctness," and says they are guilty of "confusing architecture and art." What he’s all about is, "Parametricism 2.0," which according to Schumacher, “will still create free-flowing buildings,” writes Sam Lubell in Wired.com. “But the terabytes of data that inform its structures will include not just sun studies and gravity load tests but measurements of how, when, and where people interact, and what makes them most efficient. It will also take into account less measurable parameters like history and culture.”

This seems a long ways from Tom Wolfe’s “From Bauhaus to Our House,” a book I was unaware of until that night in Bodrum. Who knew a writer could be so snarky about architecture?

Wolfe wrote back in 1981 that architects themselves said their crafty was “exhausted, finished. They themselves joke about the glass boxes.”

Wolfe continues,

In any event, the problem is on the way to being solved, we are assured.  There are now ne approaches, new movements, new isms: Post-Modernism, Late Modernism, Rationalism, participatory architecture, Neo-Corbu, and the Los Angeles Silvers. Which add up to what? To such things as building more glass boxes and covering them with mirrored plate glass so as to reflect the glass boxes next door and distort their boring straight lines into curves.

Modern architecture is “the fat on one’s bourgeois soul.”

It all started in Weimar Germany with Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus School, “a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms.”

The Bauhaus movement was anti-bourgeois. Its diet was balnd fresh vegetable mush and “the hallmarks of the Bauhaus style were glass corners, flat roofs, honest materials, and expressed structure.”  

Architecture was to be created for the workers and reject all things bourgeois. Bourgeois became a dirty word. One should never design something that might be referred to as bourgeois.

At Bauhaus, composers, artists, and architects were “devoted exclusively to separating itself from the mob. For mob, substitute bourgeois.”

The various compounds of artsy types competed to be the most non-bourgeois. “The battle to be the least bourgeois of all became somewhat loony,” writes Wolfe. “Simple this and simple that.” Dusseldorf hosted the First International Congress of Progressive Art in 1922. “Right away they got down on the mat over this business of nonbourgeois.”     

Wolfe’s hysterical rant continues for 112 pages. Bauhaus forever.

But that was only the start. The definitions and claims and accusations and counteraccusations and counterclaims and counterdefinitions of what was or was not bourgeois became so rarefied, so arcane, so dialectical, so scholastic...that finally building design itself was directed at only one thing: illustrating this month’s Theory of the Century concerning what was ultimately, infinitely, and absolutely nonbourgeois.

Schumacher saw the light in 2008, The Guardian's Wainwright explains,

Like a number of fellow rightwing libertarians, he was a former Marxist who had become disillusioned. He was finally jolted out of his “mainstream political slumber” by the 2008 financial crisis, when he discovered the writings of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, the godfathers of neoliberalism, along with Murray Rothbard’s ideas of anarcho-capitalism.

“It’s about loosening the reins and rolling back the nanny state,” he says. “We must unleash entrepreneurial creativity and individual empowerment for greater prosperity and freedom for all.” Since his recent awakening, he has devoured a heady cocktail of writers from the Austrian school of economic thought (based on individualism and limiting state interference in the market), including Meltdown author Thomas Woods, Republican stockbroker Peter Schiff and ex-Reagan budget director David Stockman.

Ms. Hadid was never outspoken. But Schumacher told Wired, "I'm thinking larger. I'm thinking of making history, in fact."

Mr. Lubell concludes, “Schumacher doesn’t, it appears, want to become the next Zaha Hadid. He wants to become the Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, or Walter Gropius for the digital age.” However, these three famous architects of the Bauhaus received their commissions from Socialist governments. 

Schumacher surely doesn’t want to be stuck in the Bauhaus.

 

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