In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Video Elsewhere | Main | Headline of the Week »

April 02, 2005

Guest Posting -- Leon Krier

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

About a week ago, we ran a Guest Posting by Laurence Aurbach about the great New Classicist architect and thinker Leon Krier. Not for the first time, Krier had been called a Nazi sympathizer by a self-righteous Modernist.

Today we run a Guest Posting by Leon Krier himself. Thanks are again due to Laurence Aurbach, who has been in touch with Krier, and who has obtained permission for us to run a brief statement.

A bit of background: Classical architecture -- the basic language of much Western building and town-making for a couple of thousand years -- has been reviled by many Modernists since the Second World War as complicit in Naziism. The thinking is that what a couple of thousand years of Western Civ led to were the horrors of WWII. Thus, everything associated with those couple of thousand years of Western Civ, including its architecture, needed to be thrown out. We needed to begin again from a blank slate. (Hence, in part anyway, the blankness of much Modernist architecture.) Classical architecture, from this point of view, was at the very least an enabler of Naziism, if not a straightforward expression of it.

It sounds absurd, but this is how it was (and, by some, still is) seen: the good Modernist demonstrates his opposition to Naziism by thwarting Classical architecture. Sigh: this is the kind of thing that passes in the arts worlds for deep political thinking ...

Much of Leon Krier's life has been devoted to rehabilitating Western Classical architecture as a living tradition and practice. Beautiful and humane buildings, neighborhoods, and towns ... Doesn't it make infinitely more sense to understand them as among the flowers of Western civ -- and to understand Naziism as an outbreak of barbarism, not civilization? Civilization is what's to be cherished; Classical architecture and Classical (and traditional) towns represent some of what's best in civilization. Besides, look at the havoc Modernists have inflicted on our cities, towns, and homes. Which is the truly destructive force: Classicism or Modernism?

To rehabilitate Classicism, Krier and Maurice Culot wrote a book investigating the notorious Nazi architect Albert Speer, who designed many overblown Classical fantasias, and even built some. This was a courageous move on Krier and Culot's part, because Speer is the man Modernists love to point at: See! A Nazi! Who loved Classicism! See!

Krier and Culot's book was clearly intended to pry apart the association between Classical building and Naziism. After all, the Nazis built in other styles too, and totalitarian regimes haven't exactly been shy about using Modernism. Given these facts, why pick on Classicism? Can a bad person choose a good style to work in? Answer: of course, it happens all the time, and it means nothing whatsoever about whether that style itself is good or bad, let alone whether it's being well or foolishly used.

But aggressive and antagonistic idiots (who often don't seem to have looked at the book) like to believe that Krier and Culot's intention wasn't to rehabilitate Classical architecture or to discuss greatness in architecture -- let alone to help us all recover much of what was wonderful about our past -- but was instead to make a case for Speer and for Naziism. Leon Krier: not a man who makes a moving and convincing case for a poetic and humane Classicism, but a Nazi sympathizer.

Recently, Anthony Vidler, a critic and historian who is the Dean of Architecture at New York's Cooper Union, described Krier as harboring Nazi sympathies. Laurence Aurbach's Guest Posting was about this outrage. Here's Krier's own response to Vidler's charge:

Maurice Culot's ... reluctance to grab the Speer problem by the neck can be better understood in the light of what we both had to go through after publishing the book (Speer Monograph). What we wanted to reasses, and what many people still refuse to even discuss now, was not Speer's guilt but the question whether a monstrous criminal can be a great architect; conversely, whether a great architect's moral guilt necessarily reduces the quality of his architecture?

It is generally accepted that a pathological criminal can be a great general, scientist, engineer, industrialist, or musician. Why not a great architect? All criminal totalitarian regimes of the XX C have equally used classical and modernist architecture for their perverse political purposes. Why should classical architecture alone be found guilty in that association?

Revealingly, modernism, industrial technology and design, communication and armament systems, which were equally used by criminal regimes, are valued as morally neutral, so to speak, "unpollutable," and hence available for unrestricted use and development.

The monstrous arrogance, the imperial ruthlessness and repressiveness of some of Speer's buildings lie not, we thought, in their classical style, but in their size, scale and ideological program. Whether Speer, Corbusier or Mies designed Hitler's parade grounds, party monuments and death camps, would not change the fundamental criminality of their social and political purpose.

Indeed many modernist projects and realisations are arguably more totalitarian
than Speer's visions. Hilmerseimer turned the whole of the Friedrichstadt into an architectural gulag. If a criminal architect does not necessarily design criminal buildings, an innocent mind does in turn not automatically produce innocent architecture.

-- Léon Krier

Krier also writes: "Tony Vidler, recirculating the old venom, has forgotten that he chose me to replace him at Princeton for his sabbatical in 1977. Wonder how he would explain that to his students. He also introduced "Rational Architecture," a volume I edited for AAM in Bruxelles, etc, etc."

Laurence has also obtained permission for us to run a handful of Leon Krier's cartoons. I'm thrilled: Krier is a first-class cartoonist in the gentle/barbed, rueful/poetic Euro mode of someone like Jean-Jacques Sempe. He's also brilliant at using his drawings to present didactic and architectural points in amazingly succinct ways.

A couple on the intolerance and arrogance of Modernism:

One recent Krier theme is that the skyscraper has been a disaster as a building type. Nikos Salingaros talked with Krier about skyscrapers in this 2001 interview. Here's one of the reasons why Krier thinks that the building of skyscrapers should be abandoned:

More links to explore, thanks to Laurence: Here's a well-done press release from Yale on the occasion of an exhibition featuring Krier and Peter Eisenman. And here's an essay Roger Kimball adapted from his introductory remarks at that event.

Leon Krier's wonderful book, "Architecture: Choice or Fate?" can be bought here. James Kunstler's brilliant and appreciative review of the book is also a first-class introduction to Krier's significance and work. Kunstler will forgive me if I cut-and-paste a terrific passage:

Krier lays out his case and issues a challenge: The 20th Century belief system called Modernism, and its cultish offshoots, have failed to produce buildings and cities worth caring about, or even capable of supporting the continued enterprise of civilization, and it is time to replace them with something better, namely, traditional principles and methods of building consistent with the real needs of the human spirit. Much of the knowledge necessary to achieve this restoration of civilization's dwelling place already exists in the very history from which Modernism sought to divorce itself.

Hard to imagine a more down-to-earth, commonsensical, respectful-of-the-rest-of-us argument. Yet this is the man some Modernists love calling a Nazi. What does their eagerness to throw around such accusations -- and to use terms like "Nazi" so freely -- say about them?

Many thanks once again to Laurence Aurbach. Laurence's own very-fun-to-explore website is here.



posted by Michael at April 2, 2005


I should love to know what Monsieur Krier made of "Perfect Acts of Architecture"--which was showing at the AXA Gallery around the same time as the Yale exhibition. I remember there was a guest book to sign, and the word "blowhard" featured prominently in my commentary. See this link for a description:

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 2, 2005 7:58 PM

Here also is Art Forum's review of the foregoing:

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 2, 2005 8:03 PM

Before I check out all the interesting links (and compose in my head Our Answer To Modernism-Haters), let me say a couple of things fast.

1) The reason why we shouldn't- in Krier's opinion- build skyscrapers, illustrated in his cute cartoon, is exactly the reason - in my opinion - why we should.
Following Krier's logic, why don't we just wet our pants completely and stop building on-surface structures altogether? Nobody will notice underground - or underwater - bunkers, that will keep us safe, right? With a side effect: in the multistory hole we'd have to forget about classical colonnades, frieses and porticos, but that's such a small matter compared to our safety!

No, let's not impose duties of maintaining National Security on architects (especially since there are so many agencies doing the job, the baby has tendency to be constantly thrown out with the bathwater already). Even without this additional responsibility, architects became more administrators and code interpreters on the job than builders, what's with all zoning regulations, fire codes, building codes, ADA codes, etc
Architect's job is to build, government's - to watch out for the bad guys.

2) A small illustration to the Priapus-Nemesis fantasy: it's not a fantasy at all! The thing is being manufactured and various creative uses has been found for it - and it is advertised in Modernist (boo-word, I know) DWELL magazine - wich I highly recommend, the magazine, I mean. (I'd be more cautious about the THING #7).
Besides, what's wrong with the Guerkin? I love it, lots of Londoners love it, it has very efficient mechanical/plumbing systems, for London it is more of the "courage" building than "nostalgie" building - and it's not so high, anyway.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 2, 2005 8:57 PM

"Classical architecture -- the basic language of much Western building and town-making for a couple of thousand years..."

I wonder if such a characterization debases the meaning of the term "Classic" and makes it simply into "pre-automobile," which in fact is really the meaningful dividing line. Modern _architecture_ can be separated from Modern _urbanism. Classical _architecture_ can be separated from Classical _urbanism.

Until you really understand that Classicism never had to deal with the car, this whole discussion of Modernism versus Traditionalism leads nowhere.

Posted by: David Sucher on April 2, 2005 11:04 PM

It was interesting to read Leon Krier's and Nikos Salingaros' comments on skyscrapers -- I see I probably haven't misremembered or misconstrued my recollection of Prince Charles' apparent disaffinity for skyscrapers!

Of course, I agree that it's ridiculous to claim that Krier's book on Speer makes him a Nazi-sympathizer (the main point of the post), but what I found interesting about his remarks in one of the links (and those of Salingaros, too) is how much they resemble to me the archi-babble language and anti-marketplace mentality of many big name modernists. (I realize that Krier does proclaim himself to be pro-marketplace in the interview, but the rest of what I read in his remarks didn't really seem to me to be all that congruent with that.)

Of course, having majored in sociology in college, I realize that sometimes jargon, etc. serves a genuine need. And, unless people like Krier are going to restrict themselves to preaching to the choir, they are going to have to use the architectural patois that is used by today's design "community." But still, it makes me wonder if there aren't stronger similarities between the two opposing camps than they think?

Having read a good number of posts on both TradArch (traditional architecture) and ProUrb (New Urbanism), I realize that there is actually a great diversity among those who are interested in traditional architecture and New Urbanism. So it would be unfair to claim that "all" the people in either of these camps think one way or another. But what did strike me about many of the posts on both mailing lists is that many of the posters did, indeed, seem to have at least a certain amount of (the "standard," architectural community?) disaffinity for market economies and affinity for centralized planning.

This was somewhat of a surprise to me on the TradArch mailing list, especially, since so many other sketpics of orthodox modernism that I'd encountered were strongly pro-market: e.g., Tom Wolfe and the people at the City Journal. (The possible difference?: these people were non-architects who hadn't, obviously, gone through the indoctrination of architecural education.) Having gone to planning school myself, however, I was a little less surprised by the anti-market economy sentiments of many posters on the ProUrb mailing list. It's hard to be an urban planner and be anti-planning! In planning school, even I was more in favor of centralized planning than I am today.)

I wonder if others also see archi-babble and disaffinity for the marketplace in the Krier/Salingaros interview?

- - - - -

"Until you really understand that Classicism never had to deal with the car, this whole discussion of Modernism versus Traditionalism leads nowhere."

Auto-Free New York ( is sponsoring a talk by John Tauranac ("Elegant New York," "Essential New York," the "Empire State Building") that is apparently somewhat along those lines. The talk is entitled, "Why Does This Look This Way -- What Automobiles Have done to NYC." It is on Tuesday, April 26, 2005, 6-8pm, and details can be found on the Auto-Free New York website.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 3, 2005 2:51 PM

Just to clarify the sources Krier's writings in this post:

The main passage is an abstract of Krier's essay about the Krier/Eisenman symposium that was held at Yale in November 2002. The essay will be published in a forthcoming book about the symposium by Rizzoli publishers.

The short paragraph that begins, "Tony Vidler, recirculating the old venom," was faxed to me last week.

Posted by: Laurence Aurbach on April 3, 2005 5:27 PM

From the Wikipedia entry on Nazi Architecture:

National Socialism is often viewed as anti-modern and romantic or having a pragmatic willingness to use modern means in pursuit of anti-modern purposes. This confuses the Nazi dislike of certain styles like the Bauhaus with a blanket dislike of all modern styles. This was based mainly on what the Bauhaus and others were seen as representing, like foreign influences or the decadence of the Weimar Republic. The lack of any human scale details or plain exteriors may have produced an overwhelming effect, but this style was common from the 1910s onwards. This modern approach was not limited to the neo-classical buildings for city centers, but was also used for völkish buildings like Ordensburgs and Autobahn garages.

The neo-classical style used was not novel for the time. It was firmly 'anchored in [its] time'. Speer's style was 'assimilating the international Thirties style of public architecture which was then being pursued as a modernizing Classicism'. This is in direct contrast to Peter Adam's attempts to separate Nazi art from the zeitgeist and present it as something that can only be looked at 'through the lens of Auschwitz'. This is trying to establish by default a thesis that ugly regimes must produce ugly buildings, and that such regimes are so evil that everything they produce must be evil or 'third-rate'. The reality was that destroying to build anew was 'a standard polemical gesture of the Modernist movement' and the styles chosen were not unlike the ones being used at the time. To criticize Speer's architectural style is to criticize buildings being built at the same time all over the world.

If one was going to criticize classical architecture from a cultural standpoint, it would make far more sense to critize it not for its associations with Nazi Germany, but for symbolizing the power of the aggressive state, the most notable example of which is of course the Roman Empire. However, apparently few Modernists find much to criticize about the domineering state.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 3, 2005 10:05 PM

Do you believe everything you read on a blog?
Do you believe everything you read on a blog?

Posted by: David Sucher on April 3, 2005 10:26 PM

Mr. Sucher seems incredulous of the idea that anyone ever criticized Classical architecture as a result of its association with the Nazis. I came across this example in about 30 seconds of searching the web. Jules Lubbock, a professor of art history at the University of Essex, somehow made the exact connection between Nazism and Classical architecture that Mr. Sucher seems to find so hard to credit:

'Classical architecture will never lose its associations with Nazism. They make it eternally unacceptable as a style in which to build." Some years ago, I wrote words to that effect in the New Statesman. I almost immediately regretted them…In the postwar period, it did appear to many on the left that classical architecture was indelibly stained by Nazism and political reaction. Most leftists concerned with architecture were modernists. The right, on the other hand, certainly after the high-rise debacle of the 1960s, used the supposed links between modernism and socialism to epitomise all that was rotten in the welfare state. Historically, however, it was not so simple. The three great continental pioneers of modern architecture, Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier were deeply compromised by their dealings with the Nazis or with Vichy.After Hitler came to power in 1933, Gropius hung on in Germany till late 1934, Mies till 1938. Both sought commissions from the Nazis in the hope that they would adopt modernism as the regime's style. Their hopes were not as vain as they appear in retrospect; the Nazi Party was split on the politics of culture. Mies contributed to the 1934 "Deutsches Volk - Deutsche Arbeit" exhibition alongside Gropius, helped design perhaps four service stations for Hitler's autobahns, and decorated his competition project for the 1935 Brussels Exhibition with swastika pennants.

You can find the complete text of Mr. Lubbock’s remarks at

Obviously, Mr. Lubbock (after mature reflection) came to a more nuanced view, but I'm sure he made his original statement in part because of the the notion that Classical architecture is somehow fascist in its essence is a relatively widely dispersed, indeed, virtually cliched notion. I certainly came across it at my Lousy Ivy University in the 1970s.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 3, 2005 11:29 PM

Oh Friedrich, you are such a good researcher. And I commend you even if doesn't prove what you'd like it to prove.

So I ask you: Does anyone really believe that? Now? Or for the past ten-twenty years?

I just don't think that such an idea (Classicism = Nazism) is even remotely current. Oh maybe you can find some weird archlectual in some obscure firm who would make such a connection. But do any real people think along those lines?

And btw, let's not confuse Classicism with Traditionalism. And New Urbanism partakes of far more than columns. No one can possibly say that a Georgian mansion has Nazi connections. Unless they are looking to create a straw man.

Posted by: David Sucher on April 4, 2005 12:33 AM

"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament!], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?'
I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
-Charles Babbage

These children are awesomely uninformed regarding Nazi Germany and Albert Speer. Creating by deliberate forward-thinking goal the architecture of "ruin value" is not the same as playing their petty little holy-war games of Style.
But nothing so inflames a game player as someone who is not playing their game.

Posted by: Saltation on April 4, 2005 8:54 AM

Here are a few sources to consider, all from the past decade:

Sally Kalson's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column about St. Florian's WWII memorial sparked some controversy. She wrote, "To me, classical architecture will probably always invoke fascism." She found support from the Post-Gazette's architectural critic Pat Lowry, who commented, "The design is based in classicism, and Speer gave classicism a bad name."

Kalson was not the only critic making such comments. USA Today reported that

[St. Florian] can't bear to hear the memorial disparaged as overbearing military triumphalism or as "fascist" or "Nazi" architecture. He is sensitive to these allusions because, though neither he nor his father were Nazis, Austria was on the enemy side in the war. "It's hurtful; it's very difficult to deal with," he says. "Classical architecture is an American tradition, and just because the Nazis perverted it is not a good enough reason to declare it untouchable."

Michael Kaplan, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Tennessee/Knoxville, associated classicism and fascism in his article "Revisiting Fascism: Degenerate Art and the New Corporate Style." He wrote, "The neo-Georgian architecture, suggesting familiarity and gentility, can best be described as 'decent,' one of several code-words used by the Nazis to describe what 'degenerate' art was not."

Andrei Codrescu, in Architecture magazine, asserted that the Louisiana State Capitol was an expression of proto-despotism. Codrescu associated the building's style and sculptural elements with the metaphors, and therefore the morality, of Stalinist Russia. (Codrescu's editorial was rebutted by Andres Duany.)

Posted by: Laurence Aurbach on April 4, 2005 10:09 AM

I don't think Mr. Lubbock realises there is no controversy between "progressive" leftie modernism and desire of its founders to work for Nazis. "*Supposed* link between modernism and socialism" is not supposed at all; socialism is a key word in National Socialism.
Stalinist Russia was a mirror state of Nazi Germany, where right hand touches the left in reflection - ideologically, economically and culturally. Half of Moscow low- and hi-rises, built in 30's display same pseudo-imperial despotic splendor. (Funny, googling for stalinist Moscow architecture I came across an article, in Russian, explaining why recent construction in the city tends to repeat same style)

I thought the similarity between two totalitarian systems is widly accepted axiom for at least 30 years. Apparently, not in Modernist circles.

Another thought - imperial symbolism as classical quotation aren't something only invented in 20th century. Romans did their interpretation of Greeks, Napolenic Empire replicated Romans and Egyptians, etc. It is indeed silly to equate Classicism and Nazis - if it is done by sincerely misled, and it's dishonest label-slapping by those who know better.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 4, 2005 11:02 AM

I find all of these '"isms" very wearying. To couple Classical architecture with Nazism makes about as much sense to me as equating mosques and minarets with the Armenian genocide.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 4, 2005 5:13 PM

I thought the similarity between two totalitarian systems is widly accepted axiom for at least 30 years. Apparently, not in Modernist circles.

Posted by: Alex on April 4, 2005 6:19 PM

Dear blogosphere readers;

Thank goodness for Michael Blowhard, who is courageously defending Leon Krier on this blog against vile and untrue accusations. I am sorry that intelligent people continue to hold the naive view that such an absurdity as linking Classical Architecture with Nazism should not get any press. Unfortunately, that is precisely the dogma taught in many of today's prestigious architecture schools, and supported by very respected Architectural Historians such as the late Bruno Zevi. Leon explained better than anyone else that, while Speer (and Hitler) may have LIKED Classical architecture, what they actually DESIGNED for the New Germany was a monstrous traversty of the human-scaled classical idiom.

Benjamin Hemric, on the other hand, raises a distinct and false issue by accusing Leon and me of being "anti-market". By implication, that would make our ideas "theoretical" but not applicable in the real world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leon is now deluged with commissions -- so much so that we have been unable to pursue a joint essay we planned long ago. I myself am consulting with developers and governments on urban projects. People in positions of responsibility have realized that we (that is, members of our group of friends) hold the answers to making cities livable -- surely not the mark of exclusively "theoretical" contributions!

These two points may well be related. Leon's accusers see the phenomenal success of Andres Duany (one of Leon's closest friends), just as they hear me giving Plenary talks at International Urbanist Conferences. Perhaps they feel that the real world of buildings and cities is slipping away from them. True, they hold unquestionable and tight control within insular academia, but is it meaningful? Do they actually build anything? Does anyone bother to ask their opinion on the built environment? What better way to express their frustration at the success of our group than to attack it with false (but inflammatory) accusations?

Yes, the marketplace will indeed decide the fate of those who have promoted nonsensical ideas that ruin our cities and destroy humankind's positive connection with the built environment. It may take a while, but I feel that we have seen the turning point. Michael Blowhard may become the chronicler of the new wave of human architecture and urbanism.

Best wishes to all,
Nikos Salingaros

Posted by: Nikos Salingaros on April 5, 2005 3:38 PM

"Unfortunately, that is precisely the dogma taught in many of today's prestigious architecture schools, and supported by very respected Architectural Historians..."

I'm very sorry to hear that. What about our leading conservatories?
Even musicologist, conductor, and Bard president Leon Botstein, who cannot utter 3 sentences without mentioning the Holocaust, would never claim that Haydn was a Nazi because "Deutschland Uber Alles" is sung to the tune of the slow movement of the Emperor Quartet.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 5, 2005 10:24 PM

To paraphrase Mac Davis, happiness is James Lubbock in the rear-view mirror. At least the youthful Mr. Lubbock.

Posted by: Reg Cćsar on April 6, 2005 4:35 AM

Having read much about Nikos Salingaros, but not having had the time, unfortunately, to have actually read much of his writings, I am delighted that he's taken the time to respond to my quick impression of his interview of Leon Krier. Perhaps he was just playing interlocutor or devil's advocate, but this is the question of his, in particular, that set off the "anti-market" alarm in my mind (the uppercase emphasis is mine):

"The built environment is created by MARKET FORCES, SPECULATIVE GREED, zoning legislation, etc. Is it EVEN POSSIBLE TO BUILD A HUMANE ENVIRONMENT within these UNFORTUNATELY real restrictions?

So what came across to me in this question / comment is the impression, perhaps erroneous, that here is someone who believes that inhumane environments are the result, in significant part, of "market forces" and "speculative greed." While zoning legislation is also mentioned as a force for inhumane environments (something I agree with), the general tenor of the quote came across to me as being, at heart, the same anti-market spiel that I'm accustomed to hearing from liberals -- especially the anti-market liberals in the architectural and design communities.

This position is something that I disagree with. Looking around New York City, for example, most inhumane urban developments I see are those that were done in such a way as to make them as unaffected as possible by market forces (e.g., urban renewal type developments) or are the product of market forces "corrected" and "steered" by misguided micromanaging zoning regulations, etc. (e.g., bonused plazas), written by "omniscient" government bureaucrats.

In contrast, it seems to me that the most humane and urbane, the most glorious environments in New York are usually those that were inspired, guided and tempered by vigorous market forces and speculative greed (e.g., Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, the bustling streets of SoHo, etc.).

Which isn't to say that no regulations whatsoever are ever called for, just that the government should set basic boundaries -- deal in macro regulations that, in large part, are meant to protect the rights of others (e.g., the height and set back regulations that wisely allowed the spectacular flowering of the canyons of Wall St. -- which despite its glorious "faults" is still a far more humane urban environment than the post-WWII sunlight filled, residential / hospital corridor ["bed pan alley'] that was built along First Ave., for example).

- - - - - -

I also got the impression from the interview, perhaps mistakenly, that here are two individuals who believe that their knowledge is vastly superior to that of "the marketplace." Quickly looking over the interview again, here are an additional two quotes that gave me this impression. (The subsequent dialogue follwing these questions, also contributed to this impression I got.):

1) "How far and on what points do you agree with Kunstler and myself that 'the era of skyscrapers is at an end'; that it is 'an experimental building typology that has failed'?"

2) "With the recent tragic events of September 11, do you think that our civilization needs to change direction in its thinking about urbanism? Does the perceived unease in inhabiting tall buildings also indicate a crisis with modernist architecture in general?"

To my way of thinking, someone who is skeptical of centralized planning (as I am) and in favor of competitive markets would have probably asked such questions differently, with a very different tone:

"Post 9/11, do you think that traditional skyscrapers will become less popular with tenants and developers? If so, what kind of buildings do you think will become popular in their place, and how do you think this might affect land use patterns around the Western world and, in particular, within the U.S.? And, what do you think this will mean for traditional cities, like New York, with a large existing inventory of skyscrapers? If the market for skyscrapers collapses, what do you think this will mean for the future of cities like New York?"

The April 5th response to my comments actually seems to confirm my original impressions (again, uppercase emphasis is mine):

"People in positions of responsibility have realized that WE (THAT IS, MEMBERS OF OUR GROUPD OF FRIENDS) HOLD THE ANSWERS TO MAKING CITIES LIVABLE -- surely not the mark of exclusively "theoretical" contributions!

Again, this comes across to me as the statement of someone who believes more strongly in centralized planning and less strongly in the marketplace than I do. To my mind, someone who was anti-central planning and pro-marketplace would say something roughly more like the following:

"I think when people (developers, businessmen, residents, etc.) hear or read the ideas that me and my like-minded colleagues are presenting, they will heartily agree with them and find ways to make these ideas "work for them," make them (hopefully) a lot more money (!), and contribute to the ultimate greater benefit of mankind to boot!

- - - -

Of course, there are many degrees of believing in any kind of approach to anything, including being anti-central planning and pro-marketplace. And to say that both Salingaros and Krier strike me as being more pro-central planning and less pro-marketplace than they profess, doesn't mean that I believe that they have no interest in the marketplace or that they focus completely on central planning.

It's just that the impression I got from this interview is that they are more pro-central planning and less market-oriented than are most "regular" people (non-architects, non-urban 'planners', etc.) who hold these ideas. And that it seems that only in comparison to the extreme central planning and anti-marketplace mentality of the "design community" does it makes sense to see such views as pro-marketplace and anti-central planning.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 6, 2005 4:29 PM

Of all the examples of bad spelling or bad grammar that may exist in my post, I'd most like to correct a glaring grammatical error with the following:

"I think when people (developers, businessmen, residents, etc.) hear or read the ideas that I am presenting, they will heartily agree with them and eagerly find ways to make the ideas "work" for them personally -- making them (hopefully) a lot more money (!), and ultimately contributing to the greater benefit of mankind, to boot!"

- - - - -

Also, I forgot to mention that I think that there are parts of Tatyana's post from April 2 that seem to me to touch upon the same thoughts that I had. Attached is my (extensive) reworking of a part of Tatyana's post to show what I believe to be some common points between our posts:

No, let's not impose the duties of maintaining national security on architects. Even without this additional responsibility, architects have already become more administrative overlords than designers being paid to perform a service for mostly private sector clients.

What's with all the micro-managed zoning maps, incentive bonuses, etc.?! The architect's job (his or her area of expertise) is to design for their clients functional buildings with pleasing spaces and pleasing facades; the job of the marketplace (homeowners, business owners and builders) is to determine what it is that people want built in the first place; and the government's job is to watch out for the unscrupulous bad guys.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 6, 2005 9:15 PM

Nikos, too, assumes without seeming question that the accusation against Leon was actually made.


Posted by: David Sucher on April 6, 2005 10:56 PM

To Benjamin Hemric:

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you re-phrase, so our differences would seem to be much fewer than you originally state.

As you admit to not having read my writings, then I would not be surprised if you, Leon, and I come out to be in fundamental agreement with many (though certainly not all) of the key points being discussed here. We are all interested in a more humane built environment. As far as I'm concerned, my association with Christopher Alexander takes me far away from the top-down centrally-planned approach, and I have addressed this crucial difference in at least one article. Please see my book "Principles of Urban Structure", Techne Press, Amsterdam, 2005 (in press).

Best wishes to all respondents.

Posted by: Nikos Salingaros on April 7, 2005 9:59 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?