Arbitrarily flamboyant buildings imbued with "little social or historical integrity" are a plague on today's architecture, Miles Glendinning argues in Architecture's Evil Empire?
The "spectacularization" of architecture is creating alienated places and people, Glendinning, director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation, contends in his new book. Reviewing Architecture's Evil Empire? in the British newspaper The Independent, Jay Merrick writes:
"Late 20th-century modernist architecture's failure to give form to a humane socio-industrial revolution collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s into a veneration of inherently capitalist design geniuses. ... Glendinning marshals his arguments deftly and his quoted material burns bright. Here's the architect Peter Eisenman: 'We're at the endgame of modernism – you might say we're in the rococo period. Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel – everything is becoming more and more spectacular. And the problem with a society of the spectacular is that it creates passivity.'"
"It's not architectural icons that Glendinning fears most, but the hidden iceberg of decadent causes and effects on which they perch. What he doesn't emphasise, and perhaps should have, is that many architects are surely bored or depressed about the meaning of design 'creativity' in the 21st century. The uber-saavy [sic] Rem Koolhaas's response to the violent surf of corporatism and information is to generate equally complex storms of data and architectural form.
In this double-header of a review, Merrick also focuses on A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain by Owen Hatherley — a book that, in Merrick's view, generates "stimulating ideas, chips from shoulders, and obsessively detailed descriptions of movements through the towns and cities" Hatherley visited with photographer Joel Anderson.
"Hatherley's 'new ruins' are the corrupted body-parts of Britain's trumpeted urban renaissance. 'British cities,' he says, 'deserve better than to be reduced to a systematic regeneration formula of 'stunning riverside developments' and post-industrial leisure in the urban core and outside it a sprawl of distribution sheds, retail parks and reduced versions of the houses of 150 years ago.'"
"In their very different ways, these are two admirable books whose ideas ought to provoke fresh debate about our relationships with buildings and places. One must hope that ours is not already a land of terminally lost content in which, to paraphrase Heatherley's beloved Joy Division, architecture will tear us apart."