Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following material, which originally appeared in various journals, both printed and online. “The Chessboard Model of Architectural Styles” was originally published in Italian in Il Covile, No. 320 (April 2006), English translation by the author. “The Danger of Deconstructivism” first appeared in Italian in Temi di Stefano Borselli (February 2003); English version in 2Blowhards (March 2003). A much shortened version of “Charles Jencks and the New Paradigm in Architecture” appeared in Chaos & Complexity Letters Volume 3 (2004); the present full version is previously unpublished. “Deconstructing the Decons” in PLANetizen (January 2003); shorter version in The American Enterprise, Volume 13, No. 2 (March 2003), page 13; Spanish version in AMBIENTE Revista 90 (March 2003). “Death, Life, and Libeskind” published in Architectural Record Online — In the Cause of Architecture (February 2003); shortened version in 2Blowhards (January 2003), reprinted with permission from ArchitecturalRecord. com. Postscripts are hitherto unpublished. Book review of Anthony Vidler’s “Warped Space. Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture” in Journal of Urban Design, Volume 6 (2001), pages 332-334, reprinted with permission from Carfax Publishing, Taylor & Francis Ltd. “Twentieth-Century Architecture as a Cult” in INTBAU Volume 1, Essay Number 3 (November 2002). Postscript is unpublished. “Anti-architecture and Religion” first appeared in Portuguese in Brotéria (Lisbon) Volume 155 (November 2002), pages 381-388; English version in Sacred Architecture, Issue 7 (Fall/Winter 2002), pages 11-13, reprinted with permission from The Institute for Sacred Architecture. “Contemporary Church Architecture and Saint Augustine’s ‘The City of God’” was originally published in Italian in Il Covile, No. 300, Speciale Architettura Religiosa (January 2006), English translation by the author. “The Derrida Virus” in TELOS No. 126 (2003), pages 66-82. “The New Ara Pacis Museum” was originally published in Italian in Il Covile, No. 329 (June 2006), English translation by the author. “The New Acropolis Museum” in 2blowhards (February 2004); republished in Temi di Stefano Borselli, No. 196 (March 2004), in I Fileleftheri (March 2004), and in Archimagazine (April 2004); “Architectural Cannibalism in Athens” originally published in Orthodoxy Today (November 2007); republished in Greek Architects (November 2007). “Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi” in 2blowhards (April-May 2004). “The Nature of Order: Christopher Alexander and the New Architecture” appeared in Vogue Hommes International 15 (Spring-Summer 2004), pages 116-119; French version in Vogue Hommes International 15 (Printemps-Été 2004), pages 116-119. “Aggression In Architectural Education: The ‘Coup’ In Viseu” appeared in a shorter version in 2Blowhards (September 2004). “Why Do We Have Horrible Inhuman Architecture?” by James Kalb was originally published in three parts in Turnabout (January 2008).
Salingaros, Nikos A.
“Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction”
Fourth Edition ISBN 978 3937954 103
© 2010 UMBAU-VERLAG & Nikos A. Salingaros
www.umbau-verlag.com • [email protected]
The book began modestly as a collection of essays severely critical of the most fashionable and esteemed contemporary architects, published in English by a small architectural press in Germany. The book was unknown to general readers, since the major American and British bookstores (including the online ones) did not sell it. One prominent architectural bookstore in the US did carry it, but astonishingly, condemned it on its website! When my publisher complained that this did not make good sense for promoting sales, the bookstore in question promptly dropped the book. Despite such obstacles, the book has been translated into French, Italian, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish, and the first edition has now sold out.
Consistent with its original purpose, the book seems to have been quietly embraced by a number of influential people. I am gratified to have heard from architects, architectural historians, philosophers, scientists, and journalists who have adopted some of my ideas. A few of them have thanked me for providing what they consider a useful framework for discussing architectural and social topics. Others, whom I don’t know personally, picked up key concepts from this book (or from the individual articles as they originally appeared before being collected into the book). All in all, many people have found here a convenient rubric for analysis.
At least the vocabulary I introduced has caught on. On the Internet, in books, in newspapers, and in journals, the most offensive contemporary “star” architects are increasingly described as “anti-architects”, the paradoxical proliferation of inhuman buildings is explained in terms of viral methods of infection, and monstrous new forms are analyzed with reference to their willful non-adaptivity. People started noticing that some built forms and spaces create anxiety and symptoms of physiological distress in the user, but this connection is denied by the architect (and by architectural critics who promote that architect). I expect that the first litigations over architecture-induced sickness will settle the matter quite soon, and this book may even be used in evidence.
The architectural debate is starting to take place outside architecture altogether, in an open forum where these fundamental questions can be freely discussed. In the twentieth century, architecture assumed a wholly unjustified role of authority (characterized by some as a substitute religion, complete with proselytizing and grandiose self-delusions), yet this key aspect is hardly discussed within architecture itself. Many people projected and continue to project their aspirations onto architecture, which thus acquired lofty ideals. Those excited by new and strange shapes seek a thrill in man-made forms. Nevertheless, this sort of visceral pleasure gets mixed up with defunct religious yearnings, and subsequently assumes aspects of a religious cult open only to the initiated. At the same time, its adherents celebrate a geometry that denies the generative experience of life in the world.
Ordinary citizens have suddenly discovered that their own intuitive feelings about architectural form are not aberrations, but have a basis in scientifically-comprehensible conditions. What looks and feels ugly, monstrous, and evil is in fact bad architecture from a user’s point of view. Confused and disoriented by the peculiar discourse of our prominent architectural critics, illustrious schools, and the international media, they finally found a group of people (i.e., my circle of friends and co-authors) who validate their own deeply-felt frustrations. Theirs are normal responses to the perceived decline of the built environment, and the irresponsibility of our architectural leadership. I am incredibly gratified to have been able to help people stand on their convictions against the onslaught of media propaganda and specialist conditioning, supported and promoted by powerful institutions.
As far as the practice and teaching of architecture are concerned, the situation is more complicated. Everyday architects go on as usual, oblivious to the polarization of their discipline. Most of them continue to believe the delusional assumption that ordinary citizens “just don’t get” architecture. The profession is not self-governing, and as a result, the public is not protected from professionals who abuse or damage nature’s delicate geometry. Accusations about the inability or unwillingness of the architectural profession to adapt to human sensibilities and the ecosphere are answered by superficial gloss and a lot of hype. The debate on contemporary architecture’s failure to adapt to biological forms and processes has only just begun, and will soon get more intense.
Architectural education remains isolated from the rest of the world, its very future in question (although those in control either don’t know it, or don’t wish to consider the possibility). I lecture at various architecture schools around the world, where I am confronted by the fundamental disconnect between living forms, on the one hand, and what is promoted as the nihilist standard of avantgarde art by professors, required course books, magazines, and the global media on the other. Students don’t see the extent of the deception going on in architectural academia; otherwise they might get locked into a destructive struggle with their teachers, and thus never get to finish their degree. It’s better that they discover this when they can stand on their own two feet (either upon entering graduate architecture school, or after they begin to practice).
I have found more sympathetic recognition from colleagues within Classical and Traditional Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Sustainable and Biophilic Architecture — all respected communities that are currently somewhat peripheral to the world of iconic architecture. Those disciplines are gaining in influence, however, and may eventually supply our future architects. As the agenda of sustainability and human wellbeing becomes paramount, iconic architects are beginning to find themselves isolated, and on the defensive. Quite aside from analyses like this one, it becomes more and more difficult for iconic architects to pretend to embrace sustainable urban concepts, without anyone noticing an incompatibility with their fundamentally destructive approach to the built environment.
As a welcome and positive development, a small number of architectural educators increasingly embrace my writings as offering opportunities for innovation. Those individuals are not aligned with any particular ideology or power structure. They genuinely want their students to become better architects — and make this their priority over and above political games. It is a challenge for me to help them try and work out future directions for architectural education from within the system. Even if only a handful of academics and practicing architects (and they are so far in the minority) are willing to make a change for the better, that can surely be accomplished, although it goes against established tradition. My writings help stir up a healthy debate in schools of architecture, a process encouraged in some places. Although most architecture schools advertise an open approach to the topic, they will not go so far as to include my views!
I have actually been careful not to foment any more controversy than is strictly necessary. For instance, I recently had to sit through a lecture by the Dean of one of the world’s premier architecture schools, in which he presented the three greatest architectural thinkers of all time as Vitruvius, Palladio, and Libeskind. I kept quiet, not wishing to upset the conference’s organizers who had also invited me. At the same conference, I befriended the Dean of another prominent architecture school, who had given a reasonably good talk on urbanism. I later sent him this book as a gift. He sent it right back! Now that’s odd — Deans receive all sorts of books they don’t particularly want, and they donate them to the school library.
Clearly, he didn’t want this book available in his school’s library. He could have tossed it in the trash instead of paying return postage, but he must have found it remarkably provocative — so much so that he felt it necessary to distance himself from it in no uncertain terms.
The deepening crisis in which iconic architecture finds itself is of its own making — aided and abetted by a commodity culture that is only too happy to package up nihilistic kitsch. The present period of nihilistic expression continues for the time being, creating an alternative reality of seductive, translucent images offered for public consumption. Its corrupt support by vested interests might yet be superseded by a wonderful flowering of emotionally-nourishing, enduring buildings. It is with this goal in mind — a naïve wish that people will eventually rediscover simple, living architecture — that I hope this book will continue to provide inspiration to readers.
Two new parts are included in the third edition: a second essay on the New Acropolis Museum; and a description of the takeover of the Architecture School in Viseu, Portugal, written just after that architectural coup d’état took place. My original comments against the museum in Athens were published in several languages, and became known all around the world — except in Greece. That was not for lack of me trying, however. The outcome I predicted for the New Acropolis Museum turned out to be far worse than I could ever have anticipated. A successful propaganda campaign for starchitecture was carried out with consummate skill and efficiency. It destroyed, and is still threatening, part of Athens’s historical urban fabric. The public was brainwashed using methods I had outlined in this book (but not learned from me!). Those who thought my warnings were exaggerated should look to Athens, where the methods were actually put into practice.
The second focus is on architectural education. We cannot hope to train humanistic architects in our existing architecture schools without a radically new type of educational program. The architectural establishment correctly perceives this as a major threat to its continued ideological domination. The ruthless takeover of one architecture school that introduced a humanistic design curriculum was a terrible setback for world architecture. Nevertheless, I believe that a lesson can be learned here. A single historic defeat can eventually become a rallying cry leading to eventual victory.
Co-opting the recent movement towards humanistic architecture by those who have suppressed it for the past several decades is a very worrying development. In the Postscript to Part 7 of this book, entitled ‘The Authority of the Gospels’, I mention how proponents of an inhuman architecture have now adopted a scientific vocabulary, and make up plausible-sounding but false arguments to promote their bizarre forms. This is simply an attempt to maintain their hegemony on the discipline — one more pretense in a long line of deceptive practices used to hold onto power. Students are easily fooled, however, since they are faced with new books containing attractive organic illustrations, in which deceptively sincere architectural theorists talk about exactly the same things I talk about: but twisting them to promote the worst sort of absurd anti-architecture. The arguments rely on the most superficial analogies with biological forms, betraying a fundamental lack of scientific understanding (which is unfortunately not evident to architects and students).
I must admit that this recent propaganda campaign is very cleverly done! Titles of the new books promoting a new direction in design all include the catchy words “Biological”, “Green”, “Landscape”, or “Nature”. Their authors (and publishers) have abandoned their usual sadistic architectural style of using a too small sans-serif font in a light gray ink, with blurry, grainy photographs; and have instead adopted a nice large serif font in solid black, with sharp, detailed photos of biological forms. There are also paragraph breaks for the first time in decades! Those books could be mistaken for the writings of my friends, not only for their superficial content, but also for their “look and feel”. That, I’m afraid, is the intention: to marginalize us yet one more time by stealing our own vocabulary. Remember when the old totalitarian political regimes finally fell? Those who had worked for the secret police presented themselves as resistance fighters and moved quickly to take over the new democratic governments. It’s the old trick all over again.
Foreword by James Stevens Curl
This book should be required reading in every institution concerned with the teaching of architecture, planning, and all other aspects of the built environment. It should also be read by every person claiming to be an architect.
That, however, is a forlorn hope, as most architects seldom read at all: they only look at seductive pictures and absorb slogans. There are a very few honorable exceptions; these are those rare individuals who conserve and restore old buildings, add to them or adapt them with sensitivity and scholarship. It includes those who can still design buildings that delight and enhance life rather than threaten it, and who understand the nature of the materials used in their buildings without having to call in engineers and contortionists to enable their designs to be realized.
The rise of Deconstructivism and its adherents can partly be explained by the spread of the contagion Salingaros, in this essential and timely book, calls “The Derrida Virus”, and partly by the Imprimatur given to the style (for that is what it is) by Philip Johnson. Before the 1939-1945 War, Johnson had also encouraged the pandemic of the International Style with the exhibition he and H. R. Hitchcock organized in New York City. Now, Deconstructivism has been hailed as a “New Paradigm” by those who ought to know better, and the cult is being forced on students in those breeding grounds of the ugly and the unworkable, namely the Schools of Architecture. (In my opinion, they ought to be properly renamed “Schools for the Destruction of the Environment”, and, in any reasonable society, closed down because of the menace they pose for the future).
This excellent and thoughtful book dismantles the flimsy codification known as Deconstructivism, showing how the ill-educated have been fooled by obfuscation, which they have mistaken for profundity. It also warns of the wholly negative nature of Deconstructivism. How many more of these so-called “iconic” buildings, with their jagged forms and uncomfortable spaces, their grotesquely impractical corners, their expense, and their disregard for context, can be sustained? Already, LAUS DEO, there are rumblings of discontent, and certain projects are being called into question as support falls away. Despite the pseudo-intellectual apologies for this cult/style, buildings resembling crumpled boxes, or with fronts looking as though they are sliding off in shards, cannot be justified, even using obfuscatory non-language. Nor can all the glossy pages of the journals that purport to be “architectural” (but are nothing of the sort) justify them, raising questions about trades descriptions.
“The Emperor Has No Clothes” is an old adage, but, in the sad case of Deconstructivism, it is absolutely appropriate, as the style is really nothing more than Modernism in a new guise. Modernists, notably the Bauhäusler, aimed for the clean slate — the tabula rasa — jettisoning everything that went before. Yet, at times, they claimed links with antecedents such as the Parthenon (Jeanneret-Gris alias Le Corbusier, and company), the English Arts-and-Crafts Movement (Pevsner et. al.), and Prussian Neo-Classicism (Mies van der Rohe) to give a spurious historical ancestry to their aims and creations. Now all sorts of barmy links and precedents are being claimed for the works of Deconstructivists by Deconstructivist architects and their supporters.
As this book points out, “architects and architectural critics have become expertly adept at fancy wordplay, sounding impressive while promoting the deconstructivist style’s unnatural qualities. This linguistic dance is used to justify a meaningless architecture of fashion.” Quite so, except that to some of us, blessed with a Classical education, it does not even sound impressive. We know it is simply empty jargon, meaningless pseudo-language, and ranting drivel of the worst sort. Cults invent their own liturgies and fraudulent language. Deconstructivism is a perfect example of this.
Deconstructivism is just another phase in the creation of the inhuman world dreamed of by Modernists. That world of uninhabitable cities, incessant noise, violent and pornographic “entertainment”, destruction of natural resources, an uncivilized, dangerous, selfish population, and all other attendant horrors, is rapidly becoming a nightmare of the most ghastly kind, in which even the buildings are distorted, misshapen, and menacing.
Architects are trained nowadays to destroy: they are brainwashed into killing off living organisms such as cities, and have no feeling for old buildings other than to wreck them too. They are also trained to worship, starry-eyed, the few “star” architects who have gained favor with the arbiters of taste — the journals — so that when the stars go out or fall from the firmament, they have nothing left to worship. What is to become of them? They cannot do anything expect ape the once-fashionable and that which is passé, so (empty-headed and unskilled as they are) they really ought to be retrained to do something useful in a completely different field. Probably a mindless job — which seems to be the most common these days, and one for which the products of most architectural schools are eminently suited — is appropriate.
This book is the beginning of a long-overdue counterattack.
Professor James Stevens Curl is one of the world’s leading architectural historians, and the author of “The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture” (1999).