Saturday, 15 June 2019

Intellectual crime

In a very interesting lecture in 2017, the brilliant and visionary architect Léon Krier explains why building in a traditionalist, classicist style after 1945 was no longer 'acceptable': it was the nazis who loved that style, so anything which looked like what was then called 'historicist' building, was taboo and 'no longer relevant for the world of today'. To call classicist styles in architecture 'historicist' is denying the structural and stylistic dynamics underneath the appearances which served architecture for ages and are not locked-up in a historical period. Krier says, it is like saying that the French language is no longer relevant for today because it is a historicist language, it is a language which has been spoken in the past. Hitler spoke the German that also served Goethe, Heine, Rilke, - any author, poet and philosopher in German history, but the language as such is not 'guilty' of misuse. This seems to be a very obvious observation. But now the strange thing happened that such inflicting of taboos happened very selectively.

Le Corbusier, one of the strong influences of architectural modernism in the last century, changed his style directly after 1945 and Krier shows that this happened under the direct influence of nazi military building: the long 'Atlantikwall' which were defense structures along the West-European coast from France to Norway. This became one of the accepted stylistic features of postwar modernism, so: directly descendent from functional nazi style. Also the industrial architecture of the Third Reich, where the war machines were built and the bombs, canons, tanks and airplanes produced, where the gas for the destruction camps was produced, and the concentration camps themselves, as well as the way in which factories and warehouses were built by the nazis, were all directly taken as excellent examples for postwar building. But any trace of classicism, or any traditionalist stylistic feature, was considered as associated with war crime and fascism. Krier rightly says that the Jews were not murdered in classicist buildings but in the then modern industrial complexes, which served as examples to be followed in postwar modernism as the best expression of the modern, liberated world.

Classicism, not in any concrete particular architectural style but as a principle, as a value system and a constructional dynamic, is not bound, not locked into some narrowly defined historical period, but relates to universal principles of beauty and order. As Krier said in another lecture: 'Classical art is atemporal, like mathematics'. This means that the order which reigns in a classicist style relates to a perceptive framework in the human mind which has been evolved together with orderly principles as defined by nature, because we are part of nature. Classicist stylistic principles and dynamics - in architecture, in poetry, in painting and in music - are not created and developed, but are discovered, as mathematics is something that has been discovered, and arithmetics. (The opposite of classicism is the continuum: the dissolving of articulation points and structural demarcation which are tools to make relationships possible.) Why was functionalist fascist architecture gratefully accepted and not classicist building, which had a very long and successful history of atemporal dynamics? Why was a functionalist, industrial style acceptable, even if directly created with destructive motivations, and not the fascist classicist style - both being used by the same evil regime? Because functionalist, industrial styles were considered 'neutral' and a classicist style burdened with psychological signifyers. Classicism was artistic, but functionalism not: it had in itself no psychological dimension. A little thinking reveals that this can never be the case: the functionalism of a bomb factory does relate to what is going-on inside and that its style can as well be used for a postwar warehouse of firebrigade station, says something about how the activities going-on inside are being considered - as something lacking the psychological dimension that any classicist building does have. In fact, such universal use reveals an inhuman aspect: such structures have no character, no face, don't create something typical of human presence, and are thus dehumanizing as anybody with a minimum of sensitivity knows when walking through a modernist town quarter (a new German word describes this as: 'Selbstverkistung', untranslatable but describing the process of humanity putting themselves prematurely in their coffin).

In painting and music, the same selective taboos were brought into place after 1945. Figurative painting was 'bad' because Hitler liked it - while vegetarianism and love for dogs escaped such fate. Tonal music was 'bad' because Wagner and Brucker were fêted by the nazis and Meistersinger popular at Nuremberg rallies, and because old Richard Strauss - who was not much interested in atonal modernism -  let himself be used by the regime for a while. Modernism has at its heart an intellectual crime: an attack upon culture in the widest sense, and unintentionally bringing destruction into the world of culture which the fascists had avoided, as if modernism finished the job that the fascists had inflicted upon the real world. This attack was not only an attack upon culture but also upon the inbuilt perceptive framework in the human mind for beauty and order, and for the psychological dimension that any form of beauty inevitably reveals, and which stimulates the spiritual capacities of a civilization.


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