Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Back to Nature...

'Krier Speaks!' declares the cover of this week's Architects' Journal. For those reading this who aren't au fait with Luxembourgian monarchist architects, Leon Krier is an ex-assistant of James Stirling, for whom he distinguished himself by odd, surrealistic plans and renderings, and who, partly under the pernicious influence of 70s architecture's cult of Heidegger, dedicated himself first to the attempted rehabilitation of Albert Speer as valiant fighter against Modernism and technological instrumentality (oh yes) and subsequently to Prince Charles' would-be Potemkinstadt, Poundbury. So he's a fascinating, if deeply, deeply dubious figure. Sadly he doesn't quite 'speak' in the AJ (as then someone might be able to argue with him), instead there's excerpts from his portentously titled new book The Architectural Tuning of Settlements.

It's sober stuff, especially compared with what has to be his finest moment, the ludicrous, straightforwardly Fascistic, but morbidly compelling essay 'Vorwarts Kamaraden, Wir Mussen Zuruck', published in the mid-70s for Oppositions. It elicited a rebuttal in the same magazine, but its logic - Nazism and ecological catastrophe as classless phenomena created essentially by technology and the rationalism it engenders, a very Heideggerian position - has stayed the same ever since. So here we have him declaring that all artificial materials - concrete and steel, specifically - should be abandoned in favour of natural stone (where does man-made brick feature here, I wonder?). Points are made with which one could agree - against the private car, for walking - but the ideology underneath is repellent.

Interestingly, Krier implies in the AJ extracts that the architectural wing of the ecological movement is being hijacked by technocrats, who with their 'gadgets' (presumably solar panels and such) are preventing the grand opportunity global warming presents for an Erewhon style rejection of all technology produced since the 15th century, irritatingly getting in the way of the monarchist millennium. A good inadvertent riposte to this can be found in this Fantastic Journal post on the soixante-huitard roots of the High-Tech movement as an attempted reconciliation with nature, something very difficult to find in their recent degeneration into corporate mock-functionalism. There's a bit of a back-history to this too, from the futurist tendencies underlying the garden city (Ebenezer Howard's liking for crystal palaces, Broadacre City, the strange mobile urban-rural Constructivism of Mikhail Okhitovich), up to Drop City, where self-built geodesic domes in the desert offered hideouts from Capital. It has its own dubious elements too, the notion that there is ever an outside, that dropping out can be anything other than a self-congratulatory redoubt for the privileged - but is a timely reminder that technology has to be solution as much as the problem, at least for those of us who would prefer not to return to the 15th century, those of us that have no interest in being at the indifferent mercies of nature.


Anonymous Jim H said...

Not stalking, but rather wandering round your blog from where I came in (Alexanderplatz), to find that I'd read the Krier piece in AJ as well, and didn't know whether to find it depressing or a little scary, or both. A strange man, particularly in relation to his views on Speer. But what of his brother, Rob, who was big in Berlin in the 80s? Have written cautiously positively about said buildings, but not sure that I should have done.


7:30 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Well, I don't think the Berlin stuff approaches the sheer horror of Poundbury...It is curious though how the Kriers, and in a slightly different way Aldo Rossi, have become so openly reactionary, given that this was considered radical stuff 30 years ago: Rossi working with Disney on their town in Florida, while once he was hanging out with Operaismo types...

It's a very under-discussed thing, the 80s IBA, very interesting reading. I shall add you to the sidebar forthwith!

4:47 pm  
Anonymous Jim H said...

And so you have, thanks! Your link on mine, also.

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