(Bit of a ramble this one. Sorry.)
I always find Peter Lindberg's Tesugen fascinating (Tesugen, aka winner of 'Weblog-most-like-a-Tufte-book' award 2003/4), but I've been particularly enjoying a recent series of links, notes, and observations concerning cities and architecture (surprise surprise). Featuring Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas, and Barcelona master planner, Ildefonso Cerdá. Saves me reading April's Metropolis now.
While there, a couple of links went up pointing at articles by or about Nikos Salingaros and Leon Krier - and how frustrating to see the work of Salingaros given credence over at 2blowhards.com, attacking not just Bernard Tschumi but modern architectural theory in general. But it's equally good to see a riposte at an extremely promising new architecture blog called That Brutal Joint, by Joseph Clarke. More later.
Salingaros talks at great length about architecture. And at even greater length about what's wrong with it. He's a passionate advocate of the likes of Christopher Alexander (which is nice) but has severe problems with modern architecture in general. Even he crudely describes that as pretty much 'anything since 1920'. It's almost that simpl(istic). He frequently points to the work of his colleague, the architect Leon Krier. Krier's examples of successful 'new urbanist' projects are Seaside, (Disney's) Celebration and Poundbury (interview here) - anodyne dead-ends at best, in my view. More seriously, profoundly anti-urban, anaesthetising, backward-looking retrenchments.
Essentially, even if one doesn't feel that way about 'new urbanism' (which feels an entirely inappropriate monicker for the likes of Krier et al), note how the blinkered and dismissive air of Salingaros lingers throughout the 2blowhards pieces, leading Joseph Clarke to reflect:
"It’s possible to disagree with some of Tschumi’s premises, but it strikes me as disturbingly anti-intellectual to deny that his work is of value"
Exactly. And personally, I'm comfortable being interested in both Christopher Alexander's work and Bernard Tschumi - comfortable with a contradiction between pattern-based architecture and modernism, comfortable hovering over a chasm like this. I guess many aren't comfortable with contradiction though, and perhaps one day I'll be forced to reconcile this interest in both modernism (arguably including today's cast list of descendants: Foster; Rogers; Hadid; Libeskind; Koolhaas; Gehry; Meier et al) and pattern-based, bottom-up design (biomimicry, adaptive design, Jane Jacobs etc.). As I mentioned before, perhaps Archigram were on to it.
Moreover, Clarke notes how Alexander and Tschumi needn't necessarily be mutually exclusive:
"... Tschumi’s point is precisely to deconstruct the relationships and contradictions between architectural forms and the movements and events that take place in them. He accomplishes this goal artistically, by abstracting traditional means of representing these phenomena ("maps, plans, photographs…choreography, sport, or other movement diagrams…news photographs") and comparing their geometries. The result is not a “theory” of the sort that Salingaros is looking for, but rather an artistic exploration of visual continuities and discontinuities between different ways of look at the city. I certainly don’t see the [Tschumi's] Manhattan Transcripts as an attempt to replace “handbooks” of urban design such as Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language."
This kind of thinking seems anathema to the likes of Salingaros and Krier. And what's frustrating about the pattern-based approach is that it leads many to follow Salingaros and Krier, backing up into a cul-de-sac marked "neotrad". Which essentially means conservatism, nostalgia, and resistance to change; to a rabid aversion to progress. Drawing from this aspect of pattern-based design won't help us move forward with adaptive design for new media. Just witness Salingaros frothing at the mouth in this interview (including a frankly outrageous and cowardly slur about Foucault and his sexuality; the 'fact' that the Bauhaus was a cult closed down by the government; that Le Corbusier worked in advertising rather than architecture and wanted to "eliminate people"; that deconstructionist buildings will make ordinary people physically sick; that Marxism, drugs, and a lack of understanding of Baroque classical music are essentially to blame. And that's just in part one. Ahem. There's more).
Here we see the true colours of the 'neotrad' - the worst kind of vaguely unhinged, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing schoolyard blathering. I prefer contradiction to this. End of rant.