City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

(Bit of a ramble this one. Sorry.)

I always find Peter Lindberg’s Tesugen fascinating (Tesugen, aka winner of ‘Weblog-most-like-a-Tufte-book’ award 2003/4), but I’ve been particularly enjoying a recent series of links, notes, and observations concerning cities and architecture (surprise surprise). Featuring Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas, and Barcelona master planner, Ildefonso Cerdá. Saves me reading April’s Metropolis now.

Tesugen: Ildefons Cerdá, urban planner
Tesugen: Le Corbusier and Monasteries as Cities
Tesugen: Plan Cerdá
Tesugen: Quotes on Ildefonso Cerdá
Tesugen: Andrés Duany on Rem Koolhaas

While there, a couple of links went up pointing at articles by or about Nikos Salingaros and Leon Krier – and how frustrating to see the work of Salingaros given credence over at, attacking not just Bernard Tschumi but modern architectural theory in general. But it’s equally good to see a riposte at an extremely promising new architecture blog called That Brutal Joint, by Joseph Clarke. More later.

Salingaros talks at great length about architecture. And at even greater length about what’s wrong with it. He’s a passionate advocate of the likes of Christopher Alexander (which is nice) but has severe problems with modern architecture in general. Even he crudely describes that as pretty much ‘anything since 1920’. It’s almost that simpl(istic). He frequently points to the work of his colleague, the architect Leon Krier. Krier’s examples of successful ‘new urbanist’ projects are Seaside, (Disney’s) Celebration and Poundbury (interview here) – anodyne dead-ends at best, in my view. More seriously, profoundly anti-urban, anaesthetising, backward-looking retrenchments.

Essentially, even if one doesn’t feel that way about ‘new urbanism’ (which feels an entirely inappropriate monicker for the likes of Krier et al), note how the blinkered and dismissive air of Salingaros lingers throughout the 2blowhards pieces, leading Joseph Clarke to reflect:

"It’s possible to disagree with some of Tschumi’s premises, but it strikes me as disturbingly anti-intellectual to deny that his work is of value"

Exactly. And personally, I’m comfortable being interested in both Christopher Alexander’s work  and Bernard Tschumi – comfortable with a contradiction between pattern-based architecture and modernism, comfortable hovering over a chasm like this. I guess many aren’t comfortable with contradiction though, and perhaps one day I’ll be forced to reconcile this interest in both modernism (arguably including today’s cast list of descendants: Foster; Rogers; Hadid; Libeskind; Koolhaas; Gehry; Meier et al) and pattern-based, bottom-up design (biomimicry, adaptive design, Jane Jacobs etc.). As I mentioned before, perhaps Archigram were on to it.

Moreover, Clarke notes how Alexander and Tschumi needn’t necessarily be mutually exclusive:

"… Tschumi’s point is precisely to deconstruct the relationships and contradictions between architectural forms and the movements and events that take place in them. He accomplishes this goal artistically, by abstracting traditional means of representing these phenomena ("maps, plans, photographs…choreography, sport, or other movement diagrams…news photographs") and comparing their geometries. The result is not a “theory” of the sort that Salingaros is looking for, but rather an artistic exploration of visual continuities and discontinuities between different ways of look at the city. I certainly don’t see the [Tschumi’s] Manhattan Transcripts as an attempt to replace “handbooks” of urban design such as Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language."

This kind of thinking seems anathema to the likes of Salingaros and Krier. And what’s frustrating about the pattern-based approach is that it leads many to follow Salingaros and Krier, backing up into a cul-de-sac marked "neotrad". Which essentially means conservatism, nostalgia, and resistance to change; to a rabid aversion to progress. Drawing from this aspect of pattern-based design won’t help us move forward with adaptive design for new media. Just witness Salingaros frothing at the mouth in this interview (including a frankly outrageous and cowardly slur about Foucault and his sexuality; the ‘fact’ that the Bauhaus was a cult closed down by the government; that Le Corbusier worked in advertising rather than architecture and wanted to "eliminate people"; that deconstructionist buildings will make ordinary people physically sick; that Marxism, drugs, and a lack of understanding of Baroque classical music are essentially to blame. And that’s just in part one. Ahem. There’s more).

Here we see the true colours of the ‘neotrad’ – the worst kind of vaguely unhinged, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing schoolyard blathering. I prefer contradiction to this. End of rant.


4 responses to “What’s wrong with modern architecture. Apparently.”

  1. deconstructor Avatar

    The Imageability of Bilbao

    I’d like to make a few comments about some great recent discussion between Dan Hill of City of Sound and


  2. villard - appunti di architettura Avatar

    New architecture colliding with old architecture

    In giro (dove per “in giro” intendo sia nel web, sia tra individui de-internettizzati…) pare essere molto sentito il dibattito tra modernisti e classicisti. Su ThingsMagazine il sunto delle recenti opinioni online sull’argomento


  3. Dan Avatar

    Trackbacks sent to this post at the time (before I turned trackbacks off due to spam):

    » The Imageability of Bilbao from deconstructor
    I’d like to make a few comments about some great recent discussion between Dan Hill of City of Sound and [Read More]

    » New architecture colliding with old architecture from villard – appunti di architettura
    In giro (dove per “in giro” intendo sia nel web, sia tra individui de-internettizzati…) pare essere molto sentito il dibattito tra modernisti e classicisti. Su ThingsMagazine il sunto delle recenti opinioni online sull’argomento [Read More]


  4. Keith Avatar

    Advancement in architecture within the modernist school is always framed within an argument about new vs. old. Change vs. stasis. Conservativism, vs. Progressivism. But all of these lenses are quite false. The idea of progress as it is embraced today is born out of the western tradtion, always technocratic in its leaning, and always exclusionary of the kitch and decorative arts that define the majority of cultural expressions. Why do modernists cringe at these aesthetics? They are not oppressive, certainly no more than the austere lines of any Tsumi, or Van der Roh composition. If anything, this allowance of decorative arts in buildings is ultimately a celebration of the human desire for expressive details, symbolism, patterns in the spaces we live in. The figurative arts that pay homage to the diversity of flora and fauna have dissapeared from modern buildings. Somehow we have come to believe in the process of globalizing architectural practice and the ideologies in accademia that sculpture and art once part of lived spaces are extranious and unnecessary. Every vernacular tradtion from Japan to India, to America uses the decorative arts, native materials to acheive sublime, and everyday spaces. Somehow modernists in Architectural schools worldwide have missed this essential need among human beings to express themselves beyond simply space and form, which have become inherently decorative flourishes in themselves (gugenhiem bilbau) is astonishing. ‘Neotrad’ that time progresses in a western linear fashion, that there is a past, present and future. But this represents only one cultural world view, and that is what is dangerious about modernism. Its assumptions that all cultural change must eventually evolve into minimalist expressions of organic, or platonic form in glass, concrete, and steel. That a rejection of everything prior constitutes original thinking, and the only path to creative expression is negation. Frankly, the argument has become tiresome, and though I am not a true proponent of Krier or Salingaros, I think modernists can learn much from a community oriented notion of architecture. Architecture in the western tradition, built by educated professionals in elite positions of authority, has always leaned toward the primacy of the individual, and the expression of the pedigreed genius.
    What Krier has done is provided a strong counter argument to individualist imperatives of modern expression. Buildings can help create exterior public spaces, rather than draw attention only to themselves. And culture is not a myth to be discarded with the bath water. Pluralism, not just in buildings, but in cultural ways of life, beliefs, patterns of urbanization will bring the kind of aesthetic revolution that both classicism and modernism failed to usher in. I think that when the citizens of cities were stripped of the power, knowledge, and skills of building by professionalized architecture, they ceased to reflect the values of the very people that inhabit them. I don’t want to see modernism, or classicism dissapear. I simply want more choices, that are as diverse and as interesting, and as appropriate as the ecosystems we live in.


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