Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Yes, but your 'pastiche design' is worse!!

Art and its forms and techniques live in history and certainly do change. I sympathize with a remark attributed to Saul Bellow, that to be technically up to date is the least important attribute of being a writer, though I would have to add that this least important attribute may be nevertheless essential. In any case, to be technically out of date is likely to be a genuine defect: Beethoven's Sixth Symphonyn or the Chartres Cathedral if executed today would be simply embarassing.

John Barth, 'The Literature of Exhaustion'

Prince Charles threatens to quit the National Trust because they don't subscribe to his unreconstructed-if-they-hadn't-been-reconstructed-from-something-over-2000-years-old opinions about architecture. Funnily enough, I probably feel as hostile as Charles does towards the sort of Postmodernism he's attacking, but he's completely unaware that his set of beliefs belong to exactly the same intellectual current. Go, for example, to your nearest Sainsburys: it will be a bland, brick building decorated with twee nods to some never-real agrarian idyll: Poundbury on the cheap, in other words. As per usual, Charles is being allowed to speak on behalf of all the people in the UK who a) have day-to-day, functional contact with both his despised postwar modernism and with the idealess randomisations of the Postmodernism which neo-Neo Palladianism and, er, pseudo-yeomanesque actually sustain, and b) are inevitably a lot closer to the sharp end of the sustainability issue than a man with a Civil List airmiles allowance ever will be.

Isn't it odd how sustainability, an immediate concern of modernist architecture and planning, should become a stick with which the material effects of premodernist ideologies should make a comeback? As much as I believe that there has never been a time in which sustainability should be more of an issue - with two weeks still to live amidst the wreckage caused by post-1989 economic deregulation, I feel more strongly about this than ever - it often seems that it has become synonymous with expensive, slightly off-grid libertarianism; which is to say that it implicated in an argument against any sort of planning whatsoever, and the devolution of the independently wealthy from social answerability. One needs only look at contemporary Tory policy: apparently, our current predicament arose out of unsustainable public spending on the likes of the NHS. I find the cut of the jib of current Tory spin absolutely jaw-dropping, not least because it is a known fact that Thatcher purposefully withered (some might say crippled) the state in her time in office, absolving the likes of David Cameron from any loyalties to Britain as a community, but not from their 'responsibilities' to the Poundbury/ Totnes pre-industrial theme park which is supposed to constitute a viable future for the 60, 000, 000 inhabitants of the UK.

1 comment:

Attic Fantasist said...

Great post. I feel that whenever you sympathise with the kind of view about architecture held by traditionalists like Charles, you are actually turning your back on true innovation - the type that blends engineering with design aesthetic. I'd much rather live in Chips in Manchester than any of Charles' blandly nostalgic confection towns. They live in a time warp down south sometimes; it's as if the Industrial Revolution never touched civilisation, which is why they're nostalgic for agrarian times and why Manchester continues to embrace innovation in design and engineering.