Meades, Concrete Poetry #2 2014


This programme contains some strong language. As we have seen, Brutalism, like the baroque, like high Victorian modern Gothic, has been routinely vilified. 50 years after its heyday, however, its uncompromising vigour and muscular aggression are once again beginning to be appreciated. It begins with Le Corbusier’s audaciously violent reaction to the smooth, white idiom of which he was the master in the 1920s and 1930s. Doesn’t it? Le Corbusier was the 20th century’s greatest architect. He had no doubt about it. Nor did his numberless idolaters, who refer to him as Corb. An embarrassing intimation of familiarity rather akin to that of people who call Miles Davis Miles and Buckminster Fuller Bucky. No less embarrassing, though, than Le Corbusier’s own habit of referring to himself in the third person. A habit today associable with brain-ectomised footballers and backward celebrities. One might take a cue from Andre Gide. When asked who was the greatest French writer, he replied, “Victor Hugo…alas!” Le Corbusier, alas! He had all the usual qualities of a big-time architect – paranoia, vanity, startling selfishness, egotism, resentment, sycophancy, moral nullity. Like Talleyrand and the Vicar of Bray, he had the ability to switch sides with impunity. After two years’ anilingual treating with Petain’s Vichy government – he even went to live in that benighted spa – he attached himself to De Gaulle’s Minister of Reconstruction within days of the liberation of Paris. As a writer, he was a harmful eccentric. Rash, provocative and a dangerous influence on those same idolaters who took his megalomania seriously. His most famous dictum – “a house is a machine to live in” – was stolen from HG Wells’s Tono-Bungay. As a painter and sculptor, he stole from Fernand Leger. Le Corbusier, painter and sculptor, began to coalesce with Le Corbusier, architect. They begat the architect that he would be for the last 30 years of his life. The pre-war master of white, abstracted, orthogonal villas for the rich and arty mutated into a primitivist, a pseudo-primitivist, working, supposedly, for the people. A stylistic Talleyrand too, then. His architecture took on the farouche colours, irrationalism, emotional heat and dreamlike exaggerations which he displayed in the other disciplines. His sculpture became architecture. His architecture became sculpture. Functioning as sculpture. Sculpture with a social purpose. It was an extraordinary mutation. It was as momentous as what the wife of a current government minister called “the shifting of Teutonic plates”. He had, so to speak, abandoned the prose of a technical manual in favour of the poetry of the Sublime. The precocious Edmund Burke, Anglican, aesthetician, politician… In which case, these are sublime – the might of mountains, yardangs, the seething ocean, basalt columns and pounding waterfalls. Jackfruit trees and sausage trees. The force of the screaming wind. Canyons and hoodooes. Termitaries. Forces beyond human control. The witness to the Sublime is overwhelmed by vastness, by awe, by wonder, by terror. The Sublime is crushing. According to Burke, the Sublime’s qualities include ruggedness, lack of clarity, infinity. And also darkness, literal darkness. The darkness of heathen temples. Unlike his older contemporary David Hume, Burke believed the Sublime to be dissociate from the beautiful. The two qualities were mutually exclusive. Burke found the Sublime in certain poetry – Milton’s. But not in painting, at least not in the painting of the mid-18th century. This was before Turner, before Casper David Friedrich, before John Martin, whose every waking day was a molten apocalypse. But paintings which attempt to capture the Sublime are not themselves Sublime. Maybe any form of representation precludes sensations of sublimity. Again, Burke was writing of the architecture, the classical architecture, of his time. Times change. Mankind usurped God. Mankind has, to put it mildly, augmented the inventory of the Sublime. Not through pictorial or literary representation, not by making art about it, but by matching it. By mimicking nature, by emulating the elements, by acting like camoufleurs, by learning from plovers which are indistinguishable from the stones they lie on. Sublimity and terror are found in technological warfare, listening devices, choreographed mass rallies, the explosion of atomic bombs, cloud seeding, the multiplication of means by which the atrocious can be achieved. They are found in pylons, great dams, oil refineries, power stations, bridges, cooling towers. Chimneys whose smoke colours the sky – orange, apple, plum. They’re found in the brutality of Cold Warriors whispering mutually assured destruction through chinks in the Iron Curtain which stretch from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. A 4,000-mile-long, 40-metre-high blind barrier of plates, rivets, braces, bolts, studs, chevaux de frise and rust. The structures of over half a century ago, architectural monuments, supreme feats of engineering, represent the dramatic apogee of the high Anthropocene era, when mankind guiltlessly lauded it over the Earth with disregard for the consequences or in ignorance of the consequences or with the conviction that the means are always justified, or with the blindest of eyes. Much of this seemingly monolithic gigantism might form the mise-en-scene of myth. Seemingly, because whilst the majority of brutalist works are built on a superhuman scale, and belong to an extra-human realm, they are fragmented, articulated, punctuated. They evoke powers which, until science caught up, were the properties of nature. And nature, throughout most of mankind’s term on this planet, has been determined by God, or by gods. Or devils. Or Furies or spirits. Bacchus and John Barleycorn. Odin and Eros. Apollo and Saturn. These were the agents deemed responsible. These structures challenge the gods. They are monuments to mankind’s supremacy. They are supremely optimistic, supremely confident, supremely hubristic. Mankind, when it was discovered that there was no God, saw an opportunity. There was a void to be filled. And to be filled with ostentatious, earnest and grandiose exultation. This was a near-sacred project undertaken with the utmost gravity. It usurped the God that wasn’t. It did his works. But only those of 45,000 square metres or more. Modesty has no place when you are taking on the most vainglorious force that never was. The God that never was wasn’t a micromanager. So why should his apes be? Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles was not the first building that Le Corbusier had designed in reaction to his earlier idiom. He had made tentative forays, rather ham-fisted, left-handed, as early as the early 1930s. But Unite’s size, ambition, fecund invention, outrageousness and sheer effrontery caused it to capture the imagination of architects the world over. In contrast, much rooted contrast, to the reaction of the people of Marseille. They are said to have referred to it as La Maison du Fada. Fada is that Provencal word which is not spoken with much fondness. It means madman. Specifically, a madman who is possessed, touched by extra-worldly powers, by contact with elves, no doubt. Who actually coined this epithet is not recorded. This was how the new was greeted. Or rather, how we were told it was greeted. Here was a presage of the notorious gulf that would come to exist between the will of architects and the taste of… well, of who, exactly? ECHOING VOICE: Concrete monstrosities…monstrosities… Defensive antagonism, blaming anything but their own prejudices, their own ignorance, the own incuriosity. Such was the behaviour of a vociferous, populist, moralistic, aesthetically timid faction that wanted to lead the world backwards. Their heirs – taxi drivers who write for newspapers – still want to bury their head in the sand, in the sands of time. Some other time. Usually the 18th century. An obscure group calling itself the Society for French Aesthetics, which probably dreamed up the coinage “La Maison du Fada”, went so far as to bring a suit for damages against Le Corbusier. It lost. It was typical of those factions which claim presumptuously to speak on behalf of the ordinary people, which invent slogans for the common man… ..which encourage hard-working families and other demographic fictions to militate against the unfamiliar simply because it is unfamiliar. Muslims undertake the hajj to Mecca where they may be crushed in stampedes. Gamblers hit Vegas and lose everything. Ailing Catholics visit Lourdes and they don’t get better. Hindis immerse themselves in the septic, shit-thickened Ganges at Varanasi. Architects go to Marseille, to L’Unite d’Habitation an apartment block that is another place of pilgrimage. The danger here is more subtle. It is that L’Unite has for 60 years proved an invitation to plagiarism or homage, much the same thing. In fact, no-one plagiarised Le Corbusier so comprehensively as Le Corbusier himself. The four further Unites are like full-scale models of the original. They lack the handmade, almost arts and crafts qualities that the architect brought to the original one and brought also to his works in eastern France at Ronchamp, Firminy and La Tourette, to the Jaoul houses in Neuilly and to his many works at Chandigarh. Prefabricated, that is to say factory-produced building systems of the same era, CLASP, Reema and so on, evidently persisted with standardisation. They achieved a worldwide monotony, block after featureless block, built of the same panels, the same windows, and with the same paucity of imagination. Brutalist buildings, forged on site from poured concrete, had the evident capacity for uniqueness, or at least to be different from each other, because they weren’t reliant on prefabricated components. Some of the pilgrims who congregated at L’Unite randomly pilfered tics and mannerisms of the sculptural vocabulary, the plastic font that Le Corbusier had invented. They replicated this form or that when they got the chance, or misapplied brisesoleils in northern climes. But the overwhelming effects that this building had were those of inspiration and an unshackling of the imagination. It stretched the limits of the possible. It showed what could be done, and what was eventually as international as the International style, though less inhibited. But then, art has always been international. The Gothic, the columnar, Van der Weyden and Bouts in the North, Crivelli and Cosimo Tura in the South. Who took from whom? There was nothing new about mounting a building on pylons or pilotis. Le Corbusier himself had been at it since the 1920s, and his nameless predecessors for 6,000 years. Certainly since the late Mesolithic period. Pylons or stilts keep at bay enemies, tides, floods, rodents, assorted predators. They are staples of coastal, estuarine and bucolic vernacular architecture. Tchanquees at Arcachon, the granaries of Galicia, southern English barns raised on staddle stones. Hong Kong and Cambodian fisher cabins. Maghrebian beach houses, charolais on the Gironde. Mediterranean cabanons at such places as Gruissan Plage. Mounting a building on such hefty legs was, however, unprecedented. They are the legs of a pachyderm. But what sort of pachyderm has 34 legs? It must be an insect. A trigintaquattuorped. But even an insect with elephantiasis does not have legs this thick. Further, the pilotis form a nave, or a nave’s ancestor, the sacred grove. It’s all as exhilaratingly impure as an oxymoron, the centrifugal, simultaneously pulling in several directions. It’s what Max Ernst talked of his own work as being – a hallucinatory series of contradictory images. A series which refuses to be resolved into a single meaning. It’s a multiple monument which defies explanation. When Jean Cocteau saw Nijinsky, he exclaimed… That’s the dancer, not the Derby winner. And indeed, as well as possessing a singular delicacy of movement and an exceptional gamut of expression, Nijinsky had the shoulders of a prop forward and the face of a manly woman. “What grace, what brutality” is the most fitting reaction to L’Unite. It’s self-contradictory, dissonant, contrapuntal. It was finished early in 1952. It had taken six years to build – architecture is a slow business. It wasn’t until it began to attract idolaters of a sort that anyone thought to look at bunkers and flak towers as architecture, rather than as the defences of a vanquished regime. As a model for social housing, Unite was often disastrous because it was so ineptly copied. The earliest of the thousands of schemes it spawned began to appear towards the end of the ’50s. The copyists were copying the uncopyable. Unite is a one-off, a work of art as much as an apartment block. However, as a springboard to a new sort of architectural invention, it was peerless. It was a conduit. It sanctioned sculptural concrete, which had been off-limits. And it vastly increased the gamut of models that architecture might draw on. It changed architecture’s attitude towards both the past and nature. Imagine a form of IVF that creates babies which are giants. Their pituitary gland is programmed to shrink the 12-foot tall, 25-stone newborn monster throughout its childhood and adolescence until it achieves adult size. The Brutalist mindset was enthused by such…what? Impossibilities, apparent impossibilities. By the lure of counter-intuition, of going against nature. But then, nature itself goes against nature. Nature overturns what is carelessly called “the natural order”. Inhabitants of sober landscapes and temperate climates are persuaded of nature’s reticence and courtesy. Their experience is not that of those who live in more extreme latitudes, where the notion of equanimity is alien. Nature, in one man’s manor, the everyday surroundings that he takes for granted, is another’s exotic grail. There’s no universalism in nature, and little in man. But, as David Hume observed, “There is a universal tendency among mankind “to conceive of all beings like themselves “and to transfer to every object those qualities “with which they are familiarly acquainted “and of which they are intimately conscious.” The sublime elements of nature that succoured Brutalism were seldom to be found in Britain. They were, then, in that last era before the advent of mass foreign travel, not those that the British were “familiarly acquainted with.” Jagged rockscapes, repetitive basaltic organs, subterranean extravaganzas and geological gaudies, weird trees, petrified forests. An architecture suggestive of such phenomena is bound to be more alien in Britain than it is in dramatically furnished countries, where the link between built forms and natural forms is more readily made. Inverted pyramids, allusive shapes, reckless cantilevers, toppling ziggurats, vertiginous theatre, imitations of Pyrites, the defiance of gravity – always a sign that a demi-god is at work. The architectural imagination was flying. Which was alarming to the timid, aesthetic arbiters of a country which was zealously divesting itself of the relics of the last time that architects went on a collective bender. England was being architecturally cleansed of High Victorian works. Buildings of great grace and greater brutality were demolished at the rate of a dozen a week throughout the 1950s. They were, of course, “monstrosities”. Brutalism changed the way that architecture drew upon nature. Applied decorative representations, usually formal, occasionally naturalistic, of, say, bearded steroid junkies called atlantes, of boughs, tendrils, fronds, bucrania, of vessel-bearing maidens called caryatids – all of these disappeared with International Modernism. They didn’t return. Brutalism, however, did not shun representation. Anything but. Instead, however, of just incorporating natural forms, its ambition was to create buildings which were themselves natural forms. Such a remaking of the planet was not a modest undertaking. It didn’t copy what was already there. It invented natural forms, new natural forms. That’s what art does. It makes what was not there before, it creates what was lacking. These new natural forms possessed manifold textures and services. The precedents were, firstly, some of the 17th and 18th century’s more extravagant exercises in rustication, but they, too, were applied, rather than integral. Secondly, they’d arrived from the camoufleur’s craft. Bunkers were routinely given dense, irregular impacted surfaces, of random incisions and accretions, in order to break up the shape of a building seen from the air. texture was more important than colour, for all reconnaissance photography was still monochrome. The Brutalists created the most haptic civilian architecture ever. Board-marked concrete grazed skin, furrowed concrete tore clothes, bush-hammered concrete just hurt. Here is an instance of the way in which they overbearingly demanded an audience and, having won that audience, treated it with unrepentant aggression. They never pandered. And they never forgot the belligerence that Brutalism was born from. A building is a weapon. If they pleased, and they were indifferent to whether or not they did so, they pleased by choosing not to please. By respecting humankind as equals who were not to be spoken down to, not to be patronised, not to be treated like children. Remember, 50 years ago adults did not dress like children. They did not read, or try to read, children’s books. They did not enjoy children’s diet. The more they’ve been consulted as consumers, if anything, the more they’ve elected to be fed drivel. And the more they have regressed into irreversible infantilism and helpless dependency. Brutalism, like much of its era, was an encouragement to betterment. It was singularly optimistic. It was Meliorist. Because architecture does not depend on language, its example is spatially and temporally limitless. It is, so to speak, portable. It crosses borders. Localism was once a necessity – available materials, lack of communications and so on. But localism today, neo-vernacular, built communitarianism, is a fake. Its architecture is a badge of identity and of exclusion, in the way that regional accents are. Architecture does not have a “language”, despite the convenient shorthand which uses, or mis-uses, the word “language” to describe its mute gestures, mute devices, mute beams, mute foundations, mute jetties, mute windows, mute lintels. It does not speak to us, it does not sign. Even so-called “architecture parlante”, the abattoir in the form of a donkey, the town hall in the form of a backhander, the parliament in the form of an asylum for the criminally insane, is doomed to repeat one word over and over again. Soi-disant “architectural language” is no more speakable than body language, which, again, isn’t a language, although every thinker in the world is increasingly fluent in this unwitting semaphore. – Body language.
– Body language.
– Body language. – Body language.
– Body language.
– Body language. – Body language.
– The all-important body language. Because architecture is not a language, it requires no translation. We glance at architecture, we stare at it, we scrutinise it, we react to it. We may feel frightened, we may feel awestruck, we may feel powerless in the presence of vastness and blankness. But whatever properties we invest it with are the products of our sensibility, our reason, our wonder, our despisal. There is no compact with buildings. Our relationship with them is one-sided. It is not reciprocated. To think otherwise is delusory. Your inflatable rubber doll friend does not love you. IT, not she, is un-aroused by you. Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect almost as protean as Le Corbusier, was among those who took up the fashion for Mayan architecture, a fashion which peaked in California in the late 1920s. Though “architecture” may not be the way to describe it. It was, rather, a question of exterior decoration. Of buildings sheathed in blocks, incised with motifs that were Mayan, or Mayan-ish, or Zapotec or sort of Aztec. This eclecticism was prompted by the dissemination of Mesoamerican archaeological research which had begun in the 1880s. Here, then, were the New World’s own primitives. Save, of course, that they weren’t that primitive. Just less well-armed than Spaniards with God on their side. Still, no matter how unconvincing and slight these initial essays might have been, they were significant because they were the first instances of architects taking their cue from pre-Hispanic, pre-Columbian America. There is a significant difference between the approach to the past adopted by the post-Corbusier, post-bunker generation and the imitative approach adopted by Frank Lloyd Wright and other Mayan revivalists such as the eccentric English-born architect Robert Stacey Judd. The pre-Columbian architecture to which the later generation was drawn was predominantly that of the Incas. Stern, massive, monumental, hardly decorated, Cyclopean. Constructed in response to the harsh Andean climate, it was the elemental qualities of ancient architecture that the Brutalists immersed themselves in, as if learning how to build from the beginning. They were finding their way back to rudiments. There was no question of mimicry, of reproducing decorative surfaces. Here was an aesthetic programme which sought to rediscover the very essence of architecture, which aspired to start from scratch. Because it was conducted in public, it was a far more audacious programme than that of the painters and sculptors of half a century before. Far riskier, too. It has to be emphasised that the denigration of Brutalism by the aesthetically myopic is almost entirely retrospective. These people habitually use the label to describe everything that was built in the long ’60s. As I say, they’re myopes, such is their furious abhorrence of any architecture created since the days when television was powered by steam, they can’t distinguish sculptural Brutalism from systems building or from curtain walling. The world of half a century ago, the world that Brutalism was built for, was far from hostile to it. It was keenly receptive, excited by newness, eager for change, maybe naively eager, but change was presumed to mean “better”. Architectural change was inhibited by the rationing of materials such as steel and by building licences, which were not removed until late 1954. Even after that date, there were still shortages of materials. The timespan between a scheme’s inception and its completion is more often to be measured in years that in months. The shape of the building boom of the ’60s was being hatched in the ’50s by young architects who had mostly fought in the War. “Young” is in quotes. A “young” architect is almost certainly at least 40 years old. There could be no greater incongruity than that of Brutalism’s complexity, earnest sternness, danger and menace and early pop music’s sweet simplicity, fluffy immediacy and eagerness to please. MUSIC: “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson They belonged to different eras which happened to exist at the same time. They inhabited parallel worlds. The people who made pop were mostly a generation junior. These two expressions of the late ’50s and the ’60s do not meet each other. The music of Brutalism is musique concrete, Schoenberg, Berg, Miles Davis, Surrealists and Stockhausen. Events do not adhere to calendrical chance. The 1960s London that is repetitively shown on telly comprises mini skirts, Mini Mokes, mods, hippies, Kings Roadies, dolly birds, LSD trips, addled mysticism, philosopher hairdressers, gingham, the Pheasantry, Courreges, Hung On You, a kaleidoscope of polychromatic vacuity and enjoyably witless hedonism. This was the exclusive London of David Bailey and perhaps 1,000 of his very closest friends. It was hardly characteristic of the experience of the other 7 or 8 million inhabitants. As is often the case, the atypical is presented as being the everyday. Even though pop music grew up in the middle ’60s, there was still an absence of affiliation with the architecture. There was still a generation gap. Brutalism was mostly Dad’s architecture. And it became, furthermore, the architecture of the establishment, of Harold Wilson’s administration, of the new universities, of municipal libraries, of the state’s theatres and galleries, of cultural welfarism and hospitals. Save for a vague correspondence between the blues craze of 1962-1964 and the architectural fascination with the primitive, governmentally sanctioned Brutalism had only the frailest cultural links to popular music, clothes and so on. What it did share was an insatiable appetite for turning over the old order, for novelty. For novelty for its own sake, maybe. But why not? Novelty did not then carry pejorative implication. The forces of novelty pulled in countless conflicting directions. Nouvelle Vague, Nouvelle Cuisine, New Left, Nouveau Roman, the New Psychiatry. The therapeutic state is controlling you. Bin your medication. New universities busily invented new disciplines. The Vatican, too, decreed that new churches should be churches in the round, like theatres in the round. Every town was awarded a shopping mall, a bypass, and a series of underpasses, where aspiring sex offenders could loiter and learn their trade. The future was almost upon us. “It’s just over there, mate!” Tomorrow’s transport would be powered by magnetic levitation. We would soon feed ourselves on a regime of capsules and pills, emigrate to space colonies, teach animals to speak, transfer thoughts, wear woggles, banish disease, never have to work because robots would do it for us. Attain immortality in plastic bubbles. The heart that beats within us is made from Gore-Tex and within that heart, and within our mind, is an unshakeable belief in progress which would beget further progress, which would beget further progress, and so on and on. It turned out to be anything but unshakeable. Ken James, the scientist who introduced operational research and computing to the Civil Service, had lived through a mid-century dominated by two genocidal theocracies, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. He remarked that the last thing he expected to see late in his long lifetime was religion once again raising its ugly head. But that, of course, is what happened. The Ayatollah Khomeini, whom the squeamish Giscard and the ailing Shah had neglected to assassinate, revived theocratic rule. Whilst in the addled West there grew from its beginnings as a late-1960s alternative backwater a gloopy soup of mysticism, tree-hugging, whole-earthness and the advent of the environmental piety which is today de rigueur. To which the apt reply is… This process does not represent progress. Indeed, the very notion of progress is today widely discredited as a sort of hubris, a relic of when mankind, in its vainglorious naivety, held itself to be all-powerful, capable of ruling the world. At the high point of Brutalism, I was in my teens. I shall never forget my excitement when, walking across Hyde Park, I saw the Royal College of Art for the first time. And I shall never forget my amazement at the sheer virtuosity of the Tricorn, almost finished, not yet inhabited. It was like concrete from outer space. You get to realise that you have lived through what to subsequent generations is history. Second-hand, lied about, generalised, mediated. And only obliquely related to one’s own experience of a far-off epoch whose mores and hopes and moods actually promised a better world. Though we knew the promise was preposterous. The cretinous apes of the demolition community must salivate at the very thought of Brutalism. Such juicy pickings. England’s two finest Brutalist schemes, designed by Rodney Gordon of the Owen Luder Partnership, the Trident at Gateshead and the Tricorn at Portsmouth, have both been destroyed. English Heritage, typically, did not lift a finger to protest. You can imagine the kind of timid dross they’ve been replaced with. Pimlico School, gone. Basil Spence’s Hutchesontown flats in Glasgow, gone. Long-outlived by the ephemeral Rolling Stones, the ephemeral Roy Wood, the ephemeral Joe Brown, which only goes to show…show what? Imperial College, London, got rid of its magnificent Hall of Residence. English Heritage, well…you know the score. Cooling towers are sublime structures. They enhance the landscape. They especially enhance the landscape of the Flatlands. They make the East Coast Mainline exciting. They create their own weather. Those at Richborough, near Ramsgate, at Sheffield and at Retford, have been wantonly demolished. Richard Green, an economist, who is professor of something called Sustainable Energy in Business at demolition-crazed Imperial College, London, defends the destruction of cooling towers thus – “You have to think, “how much does this enhance the landscape, “compared to what else we could do “if we weren’t having to maintain the towers.” This appears to be the very epitome of unreflective short-termism and a not particularly convincing justification for sanctioned vandalism. Would Professor Greene propose building a science park at Stonehenge, or dumping a housing estate on Maumbury Rings, in order to make these sites pay their way? Would he be in favour of defacing Maiden Castle’s environs with a kitschy, twee, Germanic development and calling it Thomas Hardy Theme World? No, calling it Poundbury. The intrinsic value of a structure has nothing to do with how old it is. A plant whose age is measured in millennia is not necessarily superior to a plant whose age is measured in decades. There is, incidentally, nothing remotely sustainable about destroying the evidence of the recent industrial past. Unless, that is, “sustainable” merely means a devotion to the bottom line. The appropriation by every exciting start-up and thrilling enterprise of the prefix “sustainable” would be comical were it not so obviously mendacious. Sustainable street furniture, sustainable nail extensions, sustainable liposuction, sustainable logistics, sustainable root canals, sustainable bestiality, sustainable strategies, sustainable offal shampoo, sustainable masturbation. Open, transparent, sustainable. The three great lies of the age. Life itself is not sustainable. I’m going to die. You are going to die. Get over it. The sacred cow of sustainability is due for slaughter. It goes on and on and on. Aesthetic pygmies, officious functionaries, mediocrities with pompous job titles. Soon an entire architectural epoch will have been pulverised into extinction by legally sanctioned vandals. Why? A lack of appetite for sublimity, a fear of being afraid or overawed, a mistrust of might, A despisal of intellectual rigour, an impatience with anything which might be deemed difficult, these values…”values” are bound in a Western culture which demands cosiness, comfort, instant comprehensibility, pap, and populism’s goody bag. And the solaces of smallness of scale. Humans in the First World, the rich world may have got physically larger, fatter, but the objects around them have been miniaturised. Fubsy hands grasp midget computers. Sausage fingers miss-hit Tony Meyboards. We live in a microworld. We live, too, in an atomised world. There is every reason to be nostalgic for the Cold War. But why the structures that derive from that era should be deemed surplus to requirement and thus expendable is a different matter. Taste. Crazes. The adherence to norms. Fashion. Delirious High Victorian monuments were obliterated in the name of common sense and civilisation, which was, apparently, at its height in the 18th century. What is it with the Georgians? Georgian, Georgian, Georgian Barry Lyndon, Quality Street, the crescents, the minuets, the follies, the elegance, the stab-me-vitals, the dignity, the manners, the punctilios. The dentistry, the syphilis, the sewers, the rookeries, the halitosis, the life spans, the malnutrition, or ought I not to have mentioned these? What it is with the Georgians is the lack of threat. There’s no animus, they’re modest, they doff their caps, they give great forelock, they’re apologetic, they say sorry. And they have fomented an architectural ethos which says sorry in countless ways, in manifold styles, which cause the greatest offence by attempting not to give offence. The destruction of Brutalist buildings is more than the destruction of a particular mode of architecture. It is like burning books. It’s a form of censorship of the past, a discomfiting past, by the present. It’s the revenge of a mediocre age on an age of epic grandeur. It’s the cutting down to size of a culture which committed the cardinal sin of getting above its station, of pushing God aside and challenging nature. It’s the destruction, too, of the embarrassing evidence of a determined optimism that made us more potent than we have become. We don’t measure up against those who took risks, who flew and plunged to find new ways of doing things, who were not scared to experiment, who lived lives of perpetual inquiry. Here was mankind at its mightiest. Brutalism has to go. For it is the built evidence of the fact that once upon a time, we were not scared to address the Earth in the knowledge that the Earth would not respond, could not respond. Brutalism’s grandeur taunts us. It reminds us that our supposed reciprocal compact with the Earth is an illusion. The most powerful legacy of the age of Brutalism is the legacy of the reaction against it. A reaction formed of an alliance of moralistic yoghurt weavers, New Left pietists and free-market pirates. Hippie entrepreneurs were merely Manchester liberals in patchouli and velvet. Thatcherites avant les lettres. By the time this generation was middle-aged, its bullying sententiousness was established as the consensus from which only the perverse excepted themselves. It has trodden the green path to self-righteousness and big-heartedness. It cares for animals, it cares for trees. Boulders have rights. Every grain of the Earth’s sand possesses a raft of entitlements. Beware the child who picks a wild flower. The new Boney, Bono, will smother the little mite with humanitarian concern. Badger gassers, innocently going about their daily business, risk finding Brian May strumming some dreadful rock anthem to his stripey friends in their sett. And the post-Brutalist architecture of the past 40 years which has accompanied this posture has, predominantly, been commensurately pessimistic, the architecture of no confidence, the architecture of not standing out, the architecture of playing safe. Predominantly. The tiny proportion of stuff by big-name goats which is recurrently mediated, flatteringly photographed and slavishly written about, is, as usual, far from typical. What is typical, always has been, always will be, is the work of the small-name sheep. Neo-vernacular, which is polite to the Earth. Special-needs post-modernism, in case the Earth is a slow learner. Because, however, the Earth is inanimate, it doesn’t understand when it is being treated with respect or kindness or gentleness. It doesn’t know it has friends, it is incapable of such comprehension. Its friends are cheerfully delusional. The poor saps might as well be raging wrists gaping at a porn star, telling themselves “she wants me”. There’s an entrenched category error here. Volcanoes and tsunamis are incapable of distinguishing between humans who build eco-chummy benders and humans who construct sculpturally magnificent knolls of Brutalism. It’s rather like expecting a bomb-planting jihadi to have the nous to distinguish between infidel victims who are fellow travellers of his half-witted cause and infidel victims who would happily string him up. Soft-building is made out of bad faith, out of a mendacious proposition. It is, of course, made by and for guilt-ridden humans. Apologising to the Earth for our forebears’ treatment of it is even more vacuous, even more wretchedly self-serving than apologising to the heirs of slaves, to the heirs of the exploited and the mass-murdered. Still, while my coevals have been luxuriating in a lifetime’s cosseting penitence and cosying up to their pain and nursing their precious alienation, there has grown up a more hard-headed generation which understands the Brutalist aesthetic, its social programme and urbanistic vitality, and which treats it with an appreciative enthusiasm. Now, half a century after its heyday, a wholesale rehabilitation of Brutalism is under way. The knee-jerk deprecations of bien pensant non-thinkers are being ridiculed by a new generation, mostly born after that heyday. The received ideas are being questioned. The aesthetic, the ethic and the antagonism are being scrutinised. Michael Abrahamsom, whose photo archive is called Fuck Yeah Brutalism. Louise Hayward, born 1963, makes prints of South London social housing. David Liodet, born 1971, is an archivist of architectural postcards. David Heffer, born 1935, makes paintings of South London social housing. Frederic Chaubin, born 1959, is a photographer of the Brezhnev-and-Kosygin -play-The-Sands-in-Vegas school of architecture in the former Soviet satellite states. Jan Kempenaers, born 1968, is a photographer of the monuments that Marshal Tito erected the preserve the memory of the National Liberation War. The war against Hitler. Nicola Moulin, born 1970, is a photographer and collagist of ideal dystopias and immense, grim morphascapes. Neil Montier, born 1982, is a photographer and collagist of desolate landscapes infected by ruinous point blocks and viaducts. The sheer joylessness is thrilling. Bas Princen, born 1975, is a photographer and collagist. Peter Mackertich, born 1948, is a photographer of the Atlantic Wall. These artists are using Brutalism as Brutalists used rock formations and castle ruins. As I said, not all crazes, not all tastes, not all fashions not even all religions, are blatantly commercial creations. Some, the worthwhile minority, are born of a commonality, a harmonious unison, a thread of juncture, a complex combination of circumstance, coincidence, chance and, no doubt, various other alliterative properties. A number of British writers, most notably Owen Hatherley, born 1981, and Douglas Murphy, born 1982, have disputed the received history of Brutalist social housing, have questioned the unquestionable. The supposition that such housing was not welcomed by its tenants. It was welcomed. It was new, exciting, hygienic, light. There were inside toilets and central heating. It had yet to be gangrened by local authority mismanagement and neglect. You don’t buy a car and then never get it serviced. The lifts had yet to be pissed in, the stairwells had yet to become crime scenes, it had yet to be used as a sort of asylum. That was the horrible future, which was by no means inevitable. These writers have displayed a nuanced nostalgia for a utopian grandeur which was far more realised than the media have subsequently been willing to admit. As I say, it is the bullying, loudmouth twits of the political and journalistic classes who have done, and continue to do, most of the objecting. Whatever party or faction they belong to, they stick like glue to the accepted wisdom, Wisdom here means its very opposite, ignorance. They have another shortcoming. We are witnessing the emergence of Neo-Brutalist architecture. It is not revivalist. It begins where first-generation Brutalism finished. The timid piety of sustainability is being abandoned in favour of a more aggressive stance. Green architecture has been a failure, a spendthrift cosmetic exercise in environmental correctness and self-righteousness. Architects are once again considering themselves to be artists who lead rather than meekly following as social workers, climate guardians, functionaries, who do the bidding of the consensual bland mass. This signals a cultural shift, a move away from inoffensive accessibility, eager-to-please lowest-common- denominator architecture, towards what artists ought to do, please themselves. Create the unknown and assert mankind’s supremacy over the Earth rather than cosy up to the inanimate. This revived Brutalism is saying once again, “YOU are the audience, WE are the creators. No concessions.” We’re going to be getting an architecture as tough as that archetypal Cold War figure, the steroid-enhanced East German woman shot-putter fighting off the crinkle-necked security simian who is attempting to arrest her for shoplifting. An architecture which in the words of Mr Owen Luder… Doesn’t have any reason to say sorry.

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