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February 05, 2008

Roger on Nikos

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Thanks to Dave Lull for alerting me to this impressive New Criterion piece by Roger Scruton. In it, Scruton (a philosopher as well as one of the best writers on architecture around) reviews three books that share an anti-starchitecture stance. He likes them all, but saves his most enthusiastic words for "A Theory of Architecture" by 2Blowhards fave (and occasional contributor) Nikos Salingaros.

Scruton writes:

"No reader of A Theory of Architecture can fail to recognize the seriousness of tone, and the profundity of observation that went into the writing of this book, or to appreciate the many insights, both into the beauty of the old vernacular styles, and into the empty offensiveness of the modern."

That's some high (and well-deserved) praise. Nikos is (IMHO) an important and much-underrecognized thinker, and it's very pleasing to see the world begin to take note.

Buy a copy of Nikos' "A Theory of Architecture" here. His "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" is pretty damn great too (and features introductions by Jim Kalb and yours truly). Visit Nikos' very generous website here. To enjoy a wide-ranging five-part interview with Nikos, go to the top of 2Blowhards and click on "Interviews." Nikos is in the midst of delivering a stimulating online lecture series. Get to videos of his talks by visiting this page, scrolling to the bottom, and calling 'em up.

Here's Roger Scruton's website. I loved this Scruton book about architecture, and found these short popular works of his about philosophy and culture terrific -- easy to enjoy and very brain-opening. Read an interview with Roger Scruton here.



UPDATE: Lakis Polycarpou wonders why so many people think that the aesthetic and the practical are at odds. Lakis relies heavily on Christopher Alexander and Nikos Salingaros.

posted by Michael at February 5, 2008


My copy of New Criterion ought to arrive in the mailbox soon, but I couldn't resist hitting the Scruton link and getting to it right away. Good read. Too bad this sort of article doesn't often get into the mainstream press, but something is still better than nothing.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on February 5, 2008 1:04 PM

I only had time to skim the Roger Scruton article ("Between Art & Science") in the on-line February 2008 issue of "The New Criterion." While I don't disagree with what seems to be the general thrust of the essay, it also seems to me that there are a number of misstatements / inaccuracies in the essay, especially about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.

- - - - - - -

Roger Scruton writes:

"My own preference was for the scheme of Alexander Stoddart and others, as proposed through the pages of City Journal. This involved a return to the scale and density of the old lower West side and the restoration of a mixed-use neighborhood, in which the main public space would be the street rather than the sanitized park or square and in which the old warmth and geniality of the New York villages would grow through the fruitful intermingling of business, residence, and leisure."

Benjamin writes:

While the "City Journal" plan for the World Trade Center site had much to recommend to it, especially for those who favor modern traditional architecture over orthodox modernist architecture, it also had features that even proponents of modern traditional architecture (like me) could dislike. In other words, one didn't have to be an orthodox modernist to oppose the City Journal plan.

A) Contrary to what the essay seems to say, the City Journal plan did have a park / plaza as it's centerpiece. Unfortunately, though, this open space was "meaningless" as it did not include the site of the footprints of Tower One and Tower Two of the original World Trade Center -- something a great many people (including myself) felt was absolutely necessary for any successful WTC rebuilding plan.

B) The City Journal plan also had it's own Corbusian "modernist" feature -- it put West St. (a major north/south street along the west side of the site) into an anti-urban (and extraordinarily expensive and wasteful) tunnel.

C) In my opinion, The City Journal plan was also dogmatically reductionist (and "modernist") in insistence upon the reintroduction of vehicular (as opposed to solely pedestrian) streets through the site.

It's like insisting that 43rd and 44th streets be put through the Grand Central Terminal superblock (as some modernists actually proposed in the mid-1950s). Some urban districts, however, are really more urbane as "superblocks" than they would be if they weren't superblocks: e.g., the Milan Galleria, Grand Central Terminal, Bryant Park / New York Public Library, the original Pennsylvania Station, Washington Square Park, etc.

(Contrary to popular opinion, even Jane Jacobs herself was NOT categorically opposed to the idea of a REDESIGNED World Trade Center superblock.)

- - - - - - -

Roger Scruton writes:

It was not surprising, therefore, if the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the then-governor, George Pataki, and the leaseholder, Larry Silverstein, were all attracted by Daniel Libeskind’s design to replace the World Trade Center towers with a fanciful collection of asymmetrical glass boxes, one of them graced with a twisting “Freedom Tower” topped by an off-center radio transmitter reaching to 1,776 feet.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

It was actually Governor Pataki (and "design community" advocacy groups) and, perhaps to some extent, Mayor Bloomberg) who pushed for the orthodox modernist Libeskind plan. Larry Silverstein -- a practical builder -- was opposed to Libeskind and his type of architecture from the very start. It was really Silverstein who insisted that the Libeskind designs be modified.

- - - - - - -

Roger Scruton writes:

The old ways of building are no longer affordable, now that space is limited, skilled labor rare, and gargantuan engineering well understood and relatively inexpensive.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

I'm surprised that Scruton would say this without addressing the arguments that have been advanced in defense of the economics of modern traditional architecture.

1) Tom Wolfe seems to argue essentially that modern traditional architecture is only more expensive / impractical because modernists are making it so. (The fewer modern traditional buildings, the more expensive the materials, etc. In other words, that it is vicious cycle.)

2) Others argue that even this isn't "fair" to modern traditionalism -- that modern technology (e.g, new materials, like fiberglass, and new computerized manufacturing methods, etc.) makes modern traditional architecture just as economical and practical -- if not more so -- than orthodox modernism.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on February 6, 2008 9:11 PM

I have my strong preferences in architecture, and like most British people regard medieval cathedrals and Georgian townscapes as the pinnacle.

But a visit to Iceland resulted in me down-grading the importance of architecture in the scheme of things.

Aside from the climate, I thought Iceland was an excellent place - but the architecture was extremely bad (bad in many ways - old buildings made of corrugated iron, brutalist modernism etc), and the place was generally extremely scruffy and unkempt as well.

BUT - Iceland was an excellent society in my view. So I concluded architecture doesn't matter that much, after all.

Posted by: BGC on February 7, 2008 6:38 AM

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