Thursday, June 19, 2008

Modern Architecture

I recently stumbled across the story of the proposed new library in Prague. Here's the winning design:

Res ipsa loquitur, as we lawyers often say.

One of the library's defenders described the design in the Prague Daily Monitor:
The term which has been used to describe the proposed shape of the National Library building on Prague’s Letná plain corresponds to a new worldwide trend, dubbed “blob architecture,” “blobism,” “blobitechture,” “blobismus,” or simply “blobby.”

Blobitechture is not very well known in the Czech lands. However, in the world around us, amoeba-shaped buildings are the latest rage in architectural design, and they would make our little “Octopus” feel right at home.
As luck would have it, not everyone is pleased that a protoplasmic eye of Sauron might overlook the city, and the proposed design has run into a bit of controversy. The disgruntled architect said:
'Architects should be proud of me,' said Kaplicky. 'I'm in this battle for all of them.'

Kaplicky warned the mayor that his political career would be finished if he continued to oppose the scheme, which he claims has huge popular support among the public.

'Twelve thousand people have signed an email petition in support of [the library]. There are stickers and they have even made cakes in the shape of it. When I get on a tram, at every stop three people from age five to age 80 stop to wish me good luck.'
I'll take the liberty of doubting that final sentence; I doubt that any architect in the world would ever be recognized at a random bus stop, let alone praised for such a "blob" design. And the relevance of 12,000 signatures on an email petition is rather dubious as well, even if all of the signatures came from Prague (a city of 1.2 million people), which is likely not the case.

The problem with this type of modern architecture -- beyond the fact that it seems to be intended to please the architect's vanity rather than to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood -- is that it is inflicted on a large number of people who are unwilling viewers. When it comes to modern music, you can put on an avant garde concert consisting of farts, jackhammers, fingernails on chalkboards, and the tenpenny whistle -- but no one is forced to buy a ticket to your performance (and no one will). As for modern art, you can sponsor an exhibit consisting of trash and defecation, or perhaps blank sheets of paper, but again no one is forced to view the exhibit.

But when a gargantuan eyesore of modern architecture is erected in the middle of a city, its ugliness is right there in view of anyone who needs to visit the building, who walks or drives by, etc. It's not quite as easy to avoid, unless you forswear ever visiting the library again or even visiting the neighborhood for any reason.


Blogger "Q" the Enchanter said...

Woody Allen wrote an amusing, epistolary comic brief entitled "If the Impressionists had been Dentists." A sample letter:

Dear Theo,
Will life never treat me decently? I am wracked by despair! My head is pounding! Mrs. Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth! That's right! I can't work to order like a common tradesman! I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing, with wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset because it won't fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her! I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a star-burst chandelier. Still, I find it beautiful. She claims she can't chew! What do I care whether she can chew or not! Theo, I can't go on like this much longer.

Somehow seemed apposite here.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Michael Simpson said...

Hideous, and to think that even the communists didn't screw around with that part of Prague. I've long thought (tongue-in-cheek) that the ugly architecture of the 1950s, etc. was a communist plot meant to undermine the West through aesthetic assault. But now that the commies are gone, I need a new set of conspirators: surely no sane person could *really* think that's a good design?

3:05 PM  

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