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September 23, 2004

Salingaros on Viseu

It's hard to believe but true: only a handful of architecture schools teach traditional architecture and urbanism -- which means, in other words, that there are only a very few schools in the entire world that teach students how to create the built environments that most people find pleasing and rewarding. I apologize for the blizzard of italics, but: what a strange state of affairs, no? All the other schools are modernist enclaves, devoted to whatever's chic and hot: deconstruction, blobitecture ...

Once again, I find myself shaking my head over the bizarre and noxious schemes our elites are determined to put over on the rest of us. So it was heartbreaking to learn that one of the rare trad-architecture outposts was recently toppled. We're pleased, though, that 2Blowhards favorite Nikos Salingaros has taken this opportunity to pull together some information, ideas, insights, and reflections, and has given us permission to run his piece on our blog. Here it is.

Aggression and Architectural Education:
The "Coup" in Viseu

by Nikos A. Salingaros

Architecture and Urbanism students beginning the 2004 academic year at the Catholic University of Portugal in Viseu were surprised to find a new director and 13 new professors. Commentators have interpreted this move as a takeover, changing the direction of the school from traditional to modernist. To me, replacing the traditional architecture school in Viseu by a modernist faculty is an event of momentous significance. Of course, I'm affected indirectly because my good friend Lucien Steil was on the faculty, and Jose Cornelio da Silva, whose work I know and respect, was its director. Both have now gone to teach at the University of Notre Dame's Rome program.

I would like to try and ignore personal issues here and focus on the long-term meaning of the takeover. If we count the number of places that a student could learn traditional architecture in recent years, we come up with 4 and 1/2. We have Notre Dame, the University of Miami, and, until now, Viseu. Prior to that, the Prince of Wales's Institute, headed for a while by another good friend of mine, Brian Hanson, was operational for several years, and helped to train many young people who are now very much sought-after. It was forced to close down. With the recent change in Viseu, that leaves no other institution in the European Community in which one can train. There are many traditional architects in Europe with whom a student can arrange an apprenticeship, but that now becomes more of an individual effort. The 1/2 remainder is Yale University where, to his great credit, Dean Robert A. M. Stern has always sought to balance traditional architecture with the latest avant-garde. If only that attitude were adopted at other schools!

As an aside, I just saw Bob Stern here in San Antonio at the dedication of his new building, Northrup Hall in Trinity University. Stern joked with me that our mutual friend, the great classical architect Leon Krier and I were not supposed to like it because it looks modernist -- but, on the contrary, I can testify to its excellence. Precisely because Stern is one of America's foremost traditional architects, he knows how to build an adaptive modernist building that has successful spaces, circulation, and textures. He understands why it is important to train architecture students to be real architects.

Even if we write off Viseu as just another victim of university politics, its disappearance as a place of learning traditional architecture and urbanism leaves an enormous gap in architectural education worldwide. I'm ignorant of the true causes of the takeover: whether it was to find nice, comfortable jobs for a team of architects; to institute a new program that might possibly attract more students than the old program; to bring political prestige to the entire university by promoting a more "contemporary" curriculum; or to eradicate modernism's sacred enemy, traditional architecture and all it represents. Whatever the reasons behind it, the job is now done, and architectural education is far worse off as a result.

In fact, the school at Viseu had rapidly achieved an astonishing international recognition as a European center for traditional architecture and urbanism, even as it was being undermined by its own university. The school organized an extremely successful international conference (to which I was invited but could not attend) just before its demise. This was where the forward-looking and innovative Declaration of Viseu was written.

Carroll William Westfall wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Bishop of Viseu condemning the takeover as an outrage. He gives powerful reasons why the change, evidently supported at the highest levels of administration, goes against Catholic tradition. Here is an extract from his letter:

"It is, then, not merely the means that have been used to institute the new program but the content of the new program that are to be condemned in the sharpest possible terms. This is an act that will be seen as filled with the most profound shame. It is not too late to undo this unfortunate act. It will be difficult to restore the status quo ante, but surely the cunning that went into its dismantlement can be turned to reinstituting it. With its restoration will come a restoration of the seamless unity we seek between the Church and the world as it can be rendered in traditional and classical architecture and urbanism, and only by traditional and classical architecture and urbanism."

I know Bill Westfall, who is a great teacher and architectural historian. Even though I agree with him, I am afraid he is entirely too optimistic in expecting anyone to undo the coup in Viseu. Once taken, territory is rarely given up without a desperate fight. And, in this case, the takeover was executed with the collusion and apparent urging of a higher authority.

The fact that this occurred at the Catholic University of Portugal adds some irony to the story. By an incredible coincidence, I published an article entitled "Anti-architecture and Religion" in Portuguese in November of 2002, which must have been just before or about the time the machinations to undermine the architecture school at Viseu began. My article appeared in "Broteria", which is a Jesuit journal read by Portugal's Catholic elite. [The article appears in English as Part 6 of my book "Anti-architecture and Deconstruction", Umbau-Verlag, Solingen, 2004]. In that article I dared to state an uncomfortable truth:

"It is as if architects formed by 20th century ideals have read Hans Urs von Balthasar's treatise [The Glory of the Lord: Volume I] linking beauty with the love of God -- in order to do exactly the opposite. Everything that is natural, beautiful, sacred, and holy is negated, ridiculed, and suppressed; and moreover with a fanatical insistence. Not even the Church itself has been spared. In a remarkable adoption of what is fundamentally unholy, the Church has embraced modernist architecture. The result is that many people do not feel like worshipping anymore in new Church buildings that make them ill. They also question the wisdom of a Church that can no longer equate the beautiful with the Holy."

Because of this article, I don't think the administration of the Catholic University of Portugal can claim to be unaware of the long-term dangers of associating with modernist architecture and thought. Those who read my article (and I have good reasons to believe many did) may have disagreed with it, but an important institution such as the Catholic Church in Portugal cannot afford to ignore the possible consequences of its actions. So, the question now shifts from the petty politics of replacing a group of faculty at a provincial university, to a philosophical allegiance between the Catholic Church and Modernism as an anti-religious cult.

Not being a Catholic myself, I am not in a position to discuss the grave issues resulting from this association. I only wish to raise the question of culpability that James Kalb writes about in his preface to my book referenced above. This regrettable incident cannot fail but harken back to earlier deceptions that the Catholic Church has fallen victim to (with profound and terrible consequences), and which have now returned to haunt it. The issue of culpability cannot be ignored -- those who conspire with a destructive cult will have to share its guilt.

Modernist architects and their deconstructivist offshoot have been used to acting without accountability. Erase tradition; impose totalitarian philosophies on the people (but promising all along that it is a "liberation"); turn architecture schools into modernist and deconstructivist training grounds where one learns to grab power (but not to build habitable buildings); disseminate the most blatant propaganda by taking control of the architectural media; etc. are planned and deliberate actions for which they have never been held accountable. The most dangerous -- and successful -- of all strategies is to deceive and manipulate a powerful institution so as to further their own selfish cause.

This behavior is consistent with the change in architecture from a discipline serving human needs and sensibilities to a power-driven, fanaticized cult. Starting from the 1920s, modernist architects successfully applied military strategy and tactics to slowly take over the discipline of architecture. The rest of the world misinterpreted this process as a natural evolution of styles towards forms better fitted to contemporary society. That was an egregious mistake. The gradual elimination of traditional and humanistic architectures (and the institutions that train those who wish to practice them) should not be interpreted as a Darwinian selection, but rather as an aggressive takeover and extermination of what has irreplaceable value to humanity. Only those architectural styles dominate whose proponents are aggressive and ruthless.

Among those who fully understand what is happening is the prominent architect and urbanist Andres Duany. Immediately after the Viseu coup, he posted some comments on the Traditional Architecture listserver in which he outlined his disappointment. Traditional architects have ignored Duany's periodic warnings about mastering the military aspect of their profession. The result is that, as in the irreversible replacement of an animal species or a human society, traditional architecture schools are now being exterminated. Duany's fear of misapplied priorities is being realized. Let me quote portions of his postings:

"The problem with countering the avant-gardists (they are not modernists, and we cannot grant them that position) with Reason is that they have set up a field of combat that explicitly devalues the light of reason and privileges the raw force of unreason. In other words, they are set to fight by rolling us into the gutter in the night. By proposing to counter them with reason we are proposing to counter them with 18th Century gentlemen's dueling rules. They will continue to trounce us. Reason is but one weapon to be used in the appropriate circumstances. Power is another -- and the only one they play by.

Check out the details of the coup! Classic! Perfect! Can anybody not now see what utter sons-of-bitches we are up against? Have I not been saying that we need to learn to attack, like them? What are we prepared to do now? Well ... how about some more moral superiority discussions? Want to bet that we lose Notre Dame and Miami within ten years? No student wants to take losers or wimps as role models. I don't particularly like to associate with them myself.

After these humiliations we are powerless -- without either viable organization or plan. What stunning lack of vigilance on our part! What tactical ineptitude! What lack of aggressive spirit! If these events are not a call to unity and action, I don't know what is."

Not too long ago, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (the Dean of the University of Miami's School of Architecture, and Duany's wife) told me exasperatedly that "people on our side just don't know how to fight". That is quite true -- they spend their time learning how to design and build sensitive and adaptive buildings. By contrast, the "other side" spends all of its time in mastering the arts of war and propaganda. Their main (phony) argument is that they are being innovative; never mind that they are religiously following cult dogma. What's really important is which power alliances can best promote some ridiculous visual fashion. The question is: how can the most powerful institutions be sold the deception of innovation and progress by means of sleek, shiny images?

Clearly, a small group of architects cannot by themselves get rid of someone as internationally visible as Jose Cornelio da Silva. After a powerful institution has been duped into collusion, however, it is relatively easy. Those architects who oppose traditional architecture and urbanism are doing the right thing in terms of gaining territory and eliminating their competition. They train in aggression, AND INCREASINGLY CREATE AN ARCHITECTURE OF AGGRESSION, which obviously works. They have figured out how to take over architecture schools and will thus control architectural education for yet another generation.

On the whole, academic administrators are seduced by modernism because it gives them power to redefine the nature of reality. It offers them one more advantage in the exercise of bureaucratic power. If modernist architects could convince the Catholic Church as a whole, or even a small group of Catholic university administrators in Portugal to support their cult's extension of power, then that's quite an achievement. They have indeed scored a "coup", which merits the notice and even grudging respect of military strategists within our own camp.

Perhaps the world will now realize it is in the interest of humanity to finally act. Responsible institutions should shake the fog of propaganda out of their heads and realize they are being used in an exterminatory campaign. The future will forget nebulous arguments about architecture and false promises that "modernity comes via shiny surfaces" -- but history will judge today's institutions as not being morally fit.

Some documentation on the Viseu coup is available on the Web: INTBAU has a page on it, and all relevant documentation and letters of protest are gathered here.

Many of Nikos's own writings about architecture can be read here. All the sections of a not-to-be-missed, five-part 2Blowhards q&a with Nikos can be accessed from this page here.

It's a special pleasure to announce that Nikos has also completed a brilliant book. A critique of probably the most destructive of the current academic-radical fads, it's entitled "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction," and has just gone on sale. A description of the book can be read here, and the book itself can be ordered here. (The downloadable PDF version of the book costs a mere $7.25 -- a steal.) We encourage you to read the book, of course. It's mind-blowingly enlightening, as well as an urbane, entertaining read.

Our thanks to Nikos Salingaros.

UPDATE: John Massengale comments, and tells the story behind the demise of the Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture too.

posted by Michael at September 23, 2004


"Architecture and Urbanism students beginning the 2004 academic year at the Catholic University of Portugal in Viseu were surprised to find a new director and 13 new professors."

That seems to be a fact. Fair enough.

"Commentators have interpreted this move as a takeover, changing the direction of the school from traditional to modernist."

Nikos, that seems to be a fairly weak reed on which to hang a heavy post.

What indication do you have that the "commentators" are accurate in their assessment? As you know, Nikos, at least I hope you know, I have been blogging this issue to get some facts on this subject but, as you yourself have stated, no one will talk. So what gives? This "incident" makes great rhetoric and an opporunity for people to puff, but what really happened? AC Douglas is pleased with "the coup." — But that is hardly any proof that anything happened at all. :)

I cannot fathom the hard news blockout on this issue. Why won't the people who were fired write about it? Why don't those "sons-of-bitches" (who fought like real men and took our rightful jobs) crow about it?

I don't suspect that something indeed probably and possibly did happen; but why is the discussion about it so vague? Google News has _nothing_ about it. You also state that "I'm ignorant of the true causes of the takeover:"

Yet this incident is now becoming a cause celebre among some new urbanists. I am bemused.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 24, 2004 09:12 AM

"Google News has _nothing_ about it."

What is this supposed to mean? If the press doesn't report it, then it didn't happen?

I don't know how else the jettisoning of the entire staff of the arch school and the change from urbanism and trad arch to modernism can be explained as anything other than a coup.

What has Da Silva said publically?

Posted by: lindenen on September 24, 2004 09:53 AM

If there is _nothing_ in Google news it means is that
1. nothing has been written about it in the press
2. there is no independent source of information.
Nikos himself states very clearly that he really does not know what happened.

Look, as I said, I don't doubt that something happened. But I have been trying to get hold of what could be a pivotal document -- the new curriculum with signaled the coup -- and believe it or not, no one seems to have actually read it.

So, because of the odd information field of this event, I am now far more interested in the silence than in the coup itself.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 24, 2004 10:31 AM

AC Douglas is some kind of a libertarian who believes that architects--or anyone else for that matter--have no business trying to consciously shape the city, hence his outrage at the Viseu declaration. He doesn't actually care about modernism, he just dismisses urban design of any extraction as "social engineering". He's not the kind of person we should be going after.

Posted by: Pedro P. Palazzo on September 24, 2004 11:09 PM

I was joking.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 26, 2004 12:08 PM

ISTM that the abrupt replacement of an entire faculty division at a major university ought to be news. (Though it appears that Viseu is a new satellite campus.) The hiring of 13 new professors without even notice to the existing faculty? If this happened in the Texas Tech department of Civil Engineering it would make news. Have the coupsters made any public effort to justify this action?

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on September 29, 2004 03:59 PM

I was one of the pioneering faculty supporting Chairman José Cornélio da Silva's extraordinary School of Architecture. I resigned at the end of my 3rd year at the New School of Viseu because the Catholic University of Portugal strangled systematically all our efforts to run the school in an efficient and a academically serious manner. This systematic sabotage consisted in : 1) not heating the classrooms in winter 2) repeated electricity breakdowns in our classrooms 3) refusal to provide the School of Architecture with the most basic pedagogic material like slide projector, data projector, computer material 4) the disappearance of a large number of architecture&urbanism books from the School's library over the academic year 5) no budget to buy books or visual material 6) the cancellation of a 1 month study tour to Rome, a fundamental curricular part published in the website of the New School! 6) a 40% salary cut to all faculty without any explanation or justification 7) the hiring of antagonistic new faculty against the advice of the Chairman by the despotic president of the University 8) the public ridiculization of chairman and faculty by the University's president Passos Morgado 8) the dissemination of rumors and false information including serious calomnies regarding the chairman and faculty 9) offensive and distorting comments dissimenated publically and in the University on the works achieved during the first 3 years of the School by the faculty and the chairman, as well as by the students 10) the secrecy and dishonesty of the takeover process happening this academic year with the highest degree of manipulative strategies and desinformation of both the students' body and faculty 11) generally also the lack of academical autonomy and integrity and the pressures made on the chairman through all the procedures of his work obstructing substantially the proper functionning of the program 12) the lack of respect towards students and faculty in all situations and the refusal to engage in collaborative discussions

Personally I do not know for what precise reasons President Passos Morgado has been entrusted by the Catholic University to liquidate our excellent program by preparing this miserable coup where probably a clique of mediocre modernists will have to force their ideas into a group of completely helpless students, -- maybe to claim someday that they succeeded in converting them to the mainstream architectural miseries invented in Porto or Los Angeles!!

Personally I do not believe that the Coup of Viseu has been planned by the Modernists or the Modernist establishment, but I believe it is a result of ignorance and prejudice and the modernist clique imported from Porto is just a tool to restore the academic province to its most archaic authoritarianism, untransparency,undemocratic hierarchism, bigotterie, academic and doctoral formalism and cult of opaque and irregular policies and procedures, corruption and perversion... Unfortunately also I must say that I am not convinced about the role of the Catholic Church regarding its support of humanism and an architecture of context and of living complexity?? I wonder if the very serious arguments for the dismantling of the School of Viseu is not to be found in the ambiguous strategies of the Catholic Church regarding the construction of a contemporary built environment by means of socially and culturally convivial and democratic strategies in an open democratic and tolerant policy?

Kind regards
Lucien Steil

Posted by: Lucien Steil on October 3, 2004 07:35 AM

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