Days 941-942: It’s Not Your Fault

30.07.11-31.07.11:

Just enjoyed an awesome weekend volunteering for the Melbourne Open House festival. Seventy-five buildings around the city had their doors flung open to the general public… and you know I’ve got a thing for large erections.  It was great stuff (there was over 100,000 visits in just two days) and has also given me the opportunity to write yet another blog entry about architecture! YIPPEE!!

I am firmly of the opinion that some kind of secret meeting took place in 1958.  Present at this meeting were representatives of every single architecture firm in the world.  Under hoods and bearing blood-dipped swords, they swore a dark oath in the flickering candlelight: to never design anything beautiful, anywhere in the world, ever again.

Some of those present at that first meeting have since died, but the legacy of their macabre pact lives on in the hearts and minds of architecture students all over the world.  I see it as a kind of Hippocratic Oath but for architects.  And evil.

If, after reading this blog you care to point me towards a building that is OBJECTIVELY beautiful (like Audrey Hepburn, yeah?) that has been designed in the last fifty years, then I will happily eat my hat.  You’ve got 200 countries, thousands of cities and hundreds of thousands of buildings to chose from… but, lets face it: you can’t, nobody can, because such buildings do not exist.  Travelling through literally hundreds of cities in my lifetime has done NOTHING to amend that opinion.

So what are we left with?  Well, as I always say, KNOW YOUR ENEMY (that’s why I’m more than happy to watch bad films), so Rocco and I went to a talk this week from some of Australia’s Top Modern Architects, designers whose nightmarish creations would feature on the Melbourne Open House Weekend, just so the organisers can’t be accused of refusing to take submissions from the special school.

I was taking notes.  The nonsense word ‘vista’ was said 42 times.  The word ‘green’ was bandied about like building a massive construction involving tons of concrete and steel, man-hours, cranes, machinery, energy, diggers, drainage, pneumatics, electrical cables, pipes, glass and heating THAT IS DESIGNED TO ONLY LAST 30 YEARS is somehow ‘green’.  It’s not.  See St. Paul’s Cathedral?  THAT’S MORE ‘GREEN’, okay?  Been there for 350 years, see?  The bloody PYRAMIDS are more ‘green’!!!

There were murmurs about ‘rationalisation of space’, ‘textured lighting’, ‘juxtapositioning’, ‘initiating a conversation’ and other words that are at best meaningless, and at worst pointless.  The event was like a Monty Python sketch, only not one of the funny ones.

And how many times did the word ‘beauty’ pop up?  Go on, guess.  Maybe five times?  Nah.  Not once.

You can go on thinking that the point of a building is to do something functional and therefore any intrinsic beauty is somehow decadent and bourgeois, but then you’d be a dick and I will have you in a fight.  If you want to fill up a planet with massive formless monstrosities of interchangeable cultureless cack, why does it have to be this one?

But horrific garbage like Federation Squareisn’t even the worst bit.  If you really want to piss me off, why not take a beautiful heritage building and literally attach a malformed shed to the side of it? 

You know, an edifice that would make McDonalds seem upmarket.  A lock-up that Del-Boy might use to keep his Sinclair C5s.  Maybe you could throw some bright primary colours on it (subtlety and intricacy being concepts of yesteryear) and, hey, why not fling some lopsided shapes willy-nilly on the wall, just for giggles?  Three examples: Bluecoat Chambers, Liverpool, John Rylands Gothic Library, Manchester and (we had the bloody architect giving a presentation about it!) The Melbourne Grammar School.

Who allows this multi-million dollar vandalism to happen?  Who sanctions this carnage?  Who allows our most treasured cultural possessions to be terrorised in this way?  And WHO THE HELL THINKS IT LOOKS GOOD?!?!!

Do I go too far in these rants?  Have I crossed the line of polite conversation?  Would you be giving me looks and kicking me under the table if I argued this sort of thing at a dinner party?  Would you throw a pint of beer over my head if I said it in the pub?  Or do you have the teeniest bit of sympathy for my point of view?  I’m not asking you to stand in front of your most detested building and scream ‘F**K OFF!’ at it all day (as I sometimes fantasise about), all I want is to live in a world where the unbelievable shiteness of modern architecture is as commonly and vocally acknowledged as the general awfulness of your average Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Why are we so cowed, brow-beaten, thwarted into submission over this stuff?  Why are we so terrified to acknowledge that the emperor has no frickin’ clothes on?  If you think modern buildings are universally ugly, just say so, studies have shown it will make you up to 41% happier and up to 93% more sexy.

The places I visited on Melbourne’s Open House Weekend blew me away, lifted my spirits, made me squeeze Mandy’s hand a little harder, put a song in my heart and a spring in my step.  But not one of the buildings I embraced on my tour of the city was built after 1958. 

You might think I take all this a little too seriously, I’m sure you could imagine me in a suit of armour, clutching a lance and riding a horse at full tilt towards Manchester’s Beetham Tower, but I refuse to believe that I’m the only one who has noticed how culturally impoverished our modern constructions are when we ALL KNOW we could do so much better.  SO. MUCH. BETTER.

There’s a common film trope in which the main character has a bit of a breakdown and finally addresses the problem that’s been bothering him (and you) for the last 90 minutes.  The expensive-wine-in-the-plastic-cup scene in Sideways, Cameron kicking his dad’s Ferrari, the bit were Rob Lowe locks himself in the bathroom in St. Elmo’s Fire (what a dreadful film)…  It’s called an ‘Anagoretic Moment’.

Well here’s this post’s Anagoretic Moment…

Author: Graham

Adventurer, filmmaker, blogger, double Guinness World Record Holder. The first person to visit every country in the world without flying. I currently live on a private island in The Caribbean that I won in a competition.

2 thoughts on “Days 941-942: It’s Not Your Fault”

  1. I would say next time you’re in London you should pop into the Natural History Museum’s new Darwin Centre phase 2 block. From the outside I would agree that it is basically a great big greenhouse but the ‘cocoon’ inside its protective sheen is stunning. And, before you look it up online – don’t. It’s only effective in the flesh where it makes you feel insignificant, and I expect that was the point.

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