Stockholm University Talk



Project News
All links








6. Abstraction in Building

This is a slight diversion to try and explain how this Modernist ideological creed feeds into creating the forms of their buildings. Now one of the things that Modernist buildings do is that they become very abstract. What does it mean to say a building is abstract? I think it is quite easy to understand how a painting can be abstract. This is an abstract painting - but not quite - 19 -. Paintings are either figurative or abstract. If they are figurative they suggest images, they suggest material objects in the world. This painting still has a figurative element. This painting - 20 - probably has much less. Some people may see figurative elements in it but it is reinforcing this slide, this movement to creating more abstraction. So what we mean by abstraction in painting is quite easy. When we talk about abstraction in building - what does that mean? You can't talk about a “figurative” building, as you can a “figurative” painting. So how do you define abstraction in building?

What I would suggest is that buildings become abstract when they depart from the vocabulary we automatically use to read buildings. You may think, well, the vocabulary we use is a language and like any language it can change; that would certainly be the view of Modernists. But that is something I don't agree with. I think there is an intuitive way that humans have of reading buildings and you can't just change that completely and ask them to invent a new vocabulary. I think this vocabulary is built into our make up. Now that is a photograph of Stockholm - 21 -. I could take any town in practically any part of the world and you would see the same vocabulary. It is very simple in a way although it carries with it a lot of meaning, metaphor and charge that makes it very expressive. The vocabulary is wall, window, roof, door, staircase, and so on. They are simple ideas but I believe that we can read a building in terms of these simple facts of our existence. I suspect the reason why we can so easily understand the idea of a wall or a window (it sounds almost too simple, doesn’t it?) is because we physically interact with them. That is how we establish our sense of what a wall is, what a window is, because we physically interact with them.

Now what the Modernist architects tried to do was to disassemble this vocabulary. And that's another building by Gropius - 22 -, - 23 -. So what is happening to the wall and the window? Well this window is now the whole wall. So is it a wall or a window, in the sense that it is all glass? This is a wall that still has a few windows and so it looks kind of traditional. But I suspect he is not terribly happy about that. It's again the same idea that we are loosing our sense of the vocabulary. Now the Modernists would say this is because we live in a new age and human beings have changed. The old vocabulary no longer applies. And this is where I have a problem because I think that there are certain aspects of the human makeup that really do continue. I don't believe that you can reform the human sensibility which is what Modernism explicitly thought it could do. And this a sense it's like Marxism in Soviet Russia. They wished to remake the individual - not just remake society, but remake the individual to fit the society. I think it is exactly the same tendency that is going on here. And, of course, if you want to have fun with it, you can turn people into machines and that is what they were essentially doing with this kind of architecture - 24 -.

Again this is Stockholm - 25 -, but it is the same vocabulary that we are so used to - the street, a simple idea that we all understand. It is simple but it has got a lot of psychological content built into it that enables us to understand it, read it and to respond to the different streets that we may be in. That is the same Gropius building, again. This is actually taking away the corner of the building. So not only has this wall become all window, or the window has become all wall, whichever it is, but the building has lost its corner, Again, the innate sense we have of the way things go together is being challenged and undermined. And also the wall here comes down and doesn't reach the ground, so it is floating. And it is all about trying to disassemble the vocabulary and thereby the intention was to create something modern, different and revolutionary. And those are probably the secretaries and the best designs that they did.

7. Platonic Idealism

This is a building - 26 - that you may or may not know. It is called the Villa Savoye. It is in Poissy which is a suburb east of Paris and it is one of, I supposed you would have to say, the seminal buildings of the Modern Movement. And it embodies much of what I have already talked about - this idea of deliberately undermining our way of reading buildings. And so what was a window (which we understand as hole in a wall, a perforation in a wall, which happens to be glazed) now becomes a strip. And so the idea of the way we read a window again is being challenged. The wall doesn't actually come down to the ground, as we would naturally expect.

Now buildings of the past have achieved that sort of effect, but never quite so extreme. The point is there is a very definite concept behind building in this way which is to challenge traditional architecture. Now with this building I think that a word that you would use to describe it is “pure”. Now it is “pure” in the sense, well, it is white, but also it's negating the kind of detailing and structure that you get with traditional buildings that were built up to, say, ten years, twenty years before this building was built. For instance, there are no cills. The cill is the projection underneath the window which throws the water off the building. It is a very simple device and traditional architecture uses it because a lot of water will run off a pain of glass. The pain of glass doesn't absorb the water, so it runs off and the water runs down the face of the building if there is no cill. The result is that you get staining, you get water penetration. And on the top of the building, there is no detail there which allows the building to throw the water clear of the building.

The result of all this is that this building is not very practical. It doesn't take account of weather to put it simply and this is another way in which Modernist buildings try to detach themselves from reality. Now this building, as I said, you could describe as a pure form. It is alluding to is the idea of a pure form, it is idealising the building. The building is not longer responding and being designed according to the weather to which it is inevitably subject. So it is like a denial of the world. It is like a denial of nature. That might sound slightly extreme but I think that that is what is behind this kind of building and this is the way it is inviting us to read it. And this is why in the essay I used the word Platonic. Because Plato supposes there is this world/realm of ideal forms. And, more than that, what is very, very powerful in Plato is the idea that this world is somehow superior to the world that we live in, it is better, it is primary.

According to the writings of its architect, le Corbusier, this architecture, is quite specifically trying to evoke this idealised form. And in doing so it's not very practical. Now if you are going to build impractical buildings, then you are not doing a very good service to your client. It may be an interesting exercise intellectually to do but is it really going to solve the problems of how we want to organise our built environment. That is the centre of Poissy - 27 - and these are traditional buildings. It is the same vocabulary that you find everywhere and these buildings have cills, they have projections at the top and so as the water runs down the building it is thrown clear of the building. The building structure is preserved, you don't get staining, you don't get water penetration. It is very simple stuff, but it means that that building actually and visibly responds to the real environment that it exists in. It is not evoking this pure metaphysical world that Plato told us about and that le Corbusier was so interested in.

Nobody lives here anymore - 28 -,. In fact I don't think it was ever intended to be lived in. Le Corbusier famously said "A house is a machine for living in". Well this is a machine. That's probably fair, but not for living in. It's really for looking at. It is very much an aesthetic statement.

Now I'm going to move on from Modernism. There are different ways in which I could talk about Modernism and the way it attempts to refute the past but, nevertheless, remains dependent on it but the basic idea that I would like you all to take away from looking at le Corbusier's work is this idea that it is aiming at pure form so it is a deliberate rejection, it is a conscious challenge to the past. Now what I want to do with the last part of my talk is to start looking more at traditionalism.
Now to talk about traditionalism is less easy. It is much less clear what it is doing, how it achieves its aesthetic goals and how it functions within society. But I’m going to have a try at explaining how I think we should see traditionalism as an alternative to Modernism and how it can really give us the future of architecture. For this is essentially what people like myself and people in the group that I am in are interested in. We want to promote traditionalism as the future of architecture.

8. Architecture and Nature

So what is traditionalism? And how does it work? We saw how Modernism works by rejecting the past, by suggesting pure forms, by evoking the machine. That is the kind of vocabulary that it uses.

This is Stonehenge - 29 - which is in the centre of England on a plain. It is very old. It is over 3000 years old we think. There are many, many theories about what it is, what it was used for, but really nobody knows. It is some kind of religious monument. That is almost certainly true. And it is very simple. it is achieves its effect and its drama no doubt by its size and its positioning within the landscape within which it lies on a high plain called Salisbury Plain - an environment very much denuded of vegetation. And it's making a very powerful statement within that natural environment - 30 -.

Now the thing that I want to bring out with this building is the idea of trabeation. Now trabeation is a very simple idea. It is also called post and lintel. It is the idea of a vertical post and a horizontal. Stonehenge achieves it power because it is a very, very simple use of trabeation. Now, there is a very important point about trabeation which is so obvious that you many overlook it. Nature doesn't do trabeation. Nature knows how to build things. It knows how to construct, that's for sure. It has constructed us ultimately. It knows how to build. And basically nature builds in two ways. One is organically. It builds bodies, it builds trees, and it builds plants. That's organic growth. That is one method that nature uses. The other way it builds is geological. It builds mountains, it builds plains, it builds oceans. It has got these two ways of working. What it doesn't do is trabeation.

Uniquely, humans do trabeation. Humans like to build but they can't build organic, for sure. They might try, thinking that one day we are going to build organic bodies, but we are really not very good at building organic bodies from scratch and we can't really do geology because that's too long term. So we have our own methods and this is one of them - trabeation. You build a structure with trabeation and it's used in practically every structure. You've got trabeation here {pointing to the window in the room}. You make a window. You have the vertical and you have the horizontal. You don't see that in nature. So trabeation is one of the very, very fundamental forms that humans use to create their built environment. And this is the simplest expression of the idea of trabeation in a building 3000 years old.

But that wasn't enough. People wanted to move on from that. It was simple, impressive but we wanted to do more. This building is the Bank of England - 31 -, - 32 - in central London. It is quite a familiar architectural style of building. This was built in the nineteenth century. I'd like you to notice two features of this building. The first thing that I'd like you to notice is that here again we have trabeation. We've got columns, the verticals and we've got the horizontals. And of course you can see trabeation everywhere, in the windows, in the doorways, but particularly I'd like you to notice the way the classical architectural forms use trabeation. Trabeation is something fundamental to the human spirit that nature doesn't do

Now the other thing I'd like you to observe in this building is that it is using an architectural style. But just think for a moment about the origins of that style, The origins of the style are ultimately from antiquity, from Roman and Greek times, this is probably more Roman than Greek, but what I'd like you to think about is the building type that originated this style. It's basically a copy of a building style and it’s based on the Roman or Greek temple. This style originated in religious architecture and in fact it is an interesting point about styled architecture. It comes from religious buildings. Not quite all traditional architecture can ultimately be traced back to religious buildings and I want to talk at the end about the buildings that don't do that. But certainly until, say, the middle of the nineteenth century, all styled architecture ultimately can be traced back to religion.

That's the Royal Exchange - 33 - just nearby. It’s another bank building and we've got exactly the same type of vocabulary used. That building I am sure a lot of you will recognise - 34 -. It's the Pantheon in Rome, and it's nearly two thousand years old. It's one of the best preserved Roman buildings and there it is pretty well intact - but it is still not actually strictly speaking a religious building. That's the inside of the Pantheon - 35-. Now we go back to this building which is the Maison Carrée - 36 - in Nîmes and this is a temple. It is not the earliest temple but it is certainly one of the best preserved temples of antiquity in the world. It's got its roof, it has got pretty well everything there and so it is a good example to use - but the form of this building and its style is much older. The point is that this style originated as religious architecture. Aferwards the style for religious buildings was transferred for other building types, like the Pantheon in Rome which is really an expression of the Roman state. And then it gets used for banks and later in western civilisation for houses – and for almost anything. But the original architecture was a religious architecture and so this style of building was originally evolved to satisfy religious needs.

Now this is reinforcing the point that I was making about how traditional architecture is so different from Modernism. Modernism doesn't look to the past. But once you start looking at traditional buildings we start going deeper and deeper into the past and we are reflecting something that is of very long standing, some people would say eternal, but that is maybe taking it a little bit too far. But it is certainly something that is very deep in our history and our culture and the previous cultures from which we derive our own culture. Now let's look at more closely at what makes this building work.

Think back to Stonehenge and the very simple trabeation you saw there - simple blocks forming the columns, a simple block forming the horizontal member. In the Maison Carrée we've got the vertical and the horizontal but this time they are articulated in a different way. Now, what is happening here? I would say the columns are still functioning as architectural form, but there are starting to resemble something from nature. Now nature as I have said builds in two ways, with organic forms and with geological forms. This is quite clearly to me suggesting a tree. if you take a tree and saw it off at a high level it will start to sprout again at that level. This is asking us - by reinterpreting the vertical form - it is asking us to read into it something from nature. This makes the building start to carry different messages, different meanings, that in the end perhaps make it more interesting than the very simple architecture of Stonehenge.

When it comes to the horizontal element on top - 37 - of the columns, what the architect is doing is creating a kind of strata which resembles the base of the building - 36 -. The base of the building is suggesting, perhaps not too strongly, something geological because with these moulding it's suggesting a kind of strata. So you have got on the one hand the vertical which is suggesting an organic form and on the other you've got the base which is suggesting geology. The top, too, is suggesting a kind of geological interpretation and so the whole way of looking at trabeation - a very pure, simple thing, a very human thing - is being changed to look rather like nature.

I believe that this is one of the essential ways in which traditional architecture works in order to gain its rhetoric to gain its purchase on our imagination. It uses what is undeniably a very human form in trabeation and then it is suggesting well maybe it's not quite that simple. It's suggesting nature. And that can carry with it another suggestion still which I'll come back to in a moment.

10. Regionalism

I have gone on quite a long time so I am going to make these last points as brief as possible. I've talked a bit about how the aesthetics of traditionalism works although I haven't had time to explain that in detail. I've indicated how the dialogue with nature works and how building created style came from religious buildings. Now in the late nineteenth century people became very interested in the problem I mentioned early on in this lecture: what is the modern age? And I think they understood it. They understood it really (even if they didn't express it quite in this way) - they understood it in much the way that I've described - that the modern age is about the loss of religion. But they also understood that traditional architecture used religious forms in its style. And so they said: well look, how can we may something that is modern – not Modernist, of course, but modern?.

Modernism is using modernity as a cult. Modern is simply to say: well, the world has changed and there are particular problems of being modern. The Modernist view is to talk about the spirit of modern - the zeitgeist of modern and make that into an -ism, make that into Modernism. The architects I am referring to of the late nineteenth century were very interested in the problems created by the modern age, but the idea of the spirit of the modern age is something they would not have accepted. And I think we are still interested in those problems - or should be. We have to address the problems of our own age. But let's now go looking for any time ghosts. That isn't going to help us.

But what the some architects of the late nineteenth century did was to try to find an alternative to using religious styles, or maybe any style, in the way that they built. And the result is that you find in many different countries what I would broadly call Regionalist styles. It was an attempt to draw from the region in which you lived. And the region after all in the end is nature. The region is created by nature. Humans put their own culture into those natural environments and they changed it and used it and built upon it. But essentially when you talk about a region you're talking about something that is only defined only in geographical terms and those are made by the natural arrangement of the world.

So these architects started to look at the regions. In England there was a group of architects called the Arts and Crafts architects and they looked not so much at styled architecture but at vernacular architecture, that is to say, the architecture of “low” culture - if I can put it that way - probably not a very good word, but we are not longer looking at the great majestic creations in the cathedrals. We are now looking at really basic buildings that were much more functional and were not about religion. They were about where you live and where you work. That is the vernacular architecture.

And this building - 45 - was built in the late nineteenth century but it is quite clearly drawing from the vernacular architecture of the place in which it was built. And Arts and Crafts architects - 46 - loved to use natural materials because by using a material that is local you give a very definite link of your building to its place. This is a twentieth century building - 47 - , built in 1901. I think it is a very beautiful building and what I find so interesting about that building is that you know it’s a church. it looks sort of gothic in a way and yet there is no element that you can very easily say is gothic - maybe the tracery on the windows. The elements there are really very freely used and I think that's an interesting way of using the past in order to create something that is highly original. Of course, it is very romantic but then I think there has to be room for romance in our lives.

That building is again a regionalist building - 48 - . It is completely different. This is from southern California. It was built by architects who are called the Greene Brothers. They operated in about 1900 - and they share this strong concern with a building that was totally integrated with its environment and its region. The building with its overhanging eaves is very much related to the kind of weather that would be experienced in that part of the world. You can constrast that with le Corbusier’s work where we saw how when he built he just ignored the weather. He didn't want weather. He pretended it didn't exist. And you can see how the Green Brothers' building is very beautiful in its detailed design. I've nearly finished.

11. The Metaphormosis of Buildings

Now there is another way in which you can address this same problem of trying to see how manmade forms can relate to nature and thereby start to construct a way of building that we might say represents an appropriate response to the problems of our age. That building - 49 - is in Palma, Majorca. It is free - very imaginative. Now this building is partly Regionalist buildings in the way I described for the other buildings of the Arts and Crafts movement but they are normally called “Art Nouveau”. They do relate to their region but there is something else going on here which I would like to identify.

Most people know the buildings of Antoní Gaudí in Barcelona - 50 - . I think this is one of his most beautiful works. And we can see in Gaudí what I talked about - our way of reading structure, our way of reading the vocabulary of buildings in terms of window, wall these simple ideas. And in Modernist architecture we saw how those ideas get dissolved quite deliberately. Gaudi is pushing the boundaries of what buildings can do, but you can still see walls and windows - 51 - . You've still got a way of reading the vocabulary of this building. You have window and wall, but something else is going on. That's quite clear. So what else is happening?

Gaudí is introducing natural forms. And we saw similarly how, with the classical building, nature is suggested. We saw, in gothic, how nature is suggested. But Gaudi is I think doing something quite different from what had been done in the past which marks his work out, in my sense, as being truly modern - certainly not Modernist, but modern.

I would suggest that what's happening here is that nature is entering into the dialogue by metaphormosing the built form into nature. That's what happening. And so what was a column is really taking on an organic quality. So even the chimneys - 52 - have stopped being chimneys - almost - and they really start to look like organic shapes - but not quite. If there were just organic shapes then it wouldn't be interesting. Again there is this dialogue between the human made construction and nature. And Gaudí creates a very spectacular building as a result - and very beautiful I would say. As you can see the craftsmanship that he organised to realise his buildings was really exceptional. It is difficult to imagine how he did it technically

So there are the two basic responses in relatively recent times and I would say that if we are going to go forward in architecture we have got to look to those two responses to the problems of building as well as the more longstanding traditional architecture that uses styles that derive from religious buildings.

Well Gaudí is a hard act to follow. I will show very quickly show some work that I've done - 53 - . I’m more interested in the regionalist view. Art nouveau is very beautiful, it is very exciting but it is very expensive. You need to have a client with very deep pockets to build art nouveau. Recently I've designed a more classical building with art nouveau elements - 54 - . My attitude to design is that you use the vocabulary that suits. You use whatever you want to.

12. Endpiece: Stockholm City Hall

And I'll just finish on this building [Stockholm City Hall] - 55 - because this building, which I viewed yesterday with Lars, is a building I have wanted to see for a long time. I think it is a really wonderful example of how Regionalism has been used to create something which is totally appropriate. We learnt yesterday how the bricks in the building are not just bricks from an ordinary factory - the architect actually modelled the proportion and the type of brick on a castle that stood on the site before. And so this is very much the Regionalist approach to take something of the site and to reuse it. But of course he has used it in a very original way and it's a very free use of elements of different buildings of the past. And it would repay a lot of exploration and re-exploration.

This dome form is pure Arab constructions - 56 - . You don't see that anywhere else except in Arab lands and so he has a very eclectic view about his sources, but he manages to bring the whole thing together. But again there is a great use of art - 57 - . Art is something we've lost in buildings. Art I believe should be brought back into public spaces. And the architect has used art extensively in this building as an essential element. The building is not just about the structure - it is not just the architecture - the art comes in and makes its own contribution, and this happens throughout the building. To build this structure in the twentieth century is really extraordinary.

I've included this image - 58 - as the last image because for me it is a very beautiful image and a very apt image. I think this because in our own times we don't do joy very well. There are very few modern architects, or modern painters, who understand how we can create a sense of joy and optimism. I think that perhaps of all the modern painters I can think of Henri Matisse is the only one that comes to mind that really expresses joy in his painting. And I think that for me that's what to good about this mosaic image and so exceptional and outstanding. The architect has included this figure at the centre of a modern city hall and it is really quite a risky thing to do.

There are various theories about the hair but I am absolutely sure that the six locks of hair that are all horizontal express uplift and optimism. And you have just got this one questioning note of the lock that falls down vertically to say: well OK, maybe things aren't quite so good so we'll put in a questioning note. I think that is a beautiful image in the way it relates to the past and yet is so totally originally. And that's a great building. Thank you very much  [1.43]


9. Architecture and God

Thinking back, we've gone through this process of looking at the Bank of England which is a relatively recent  building, a nineteenth century building, and we've seen how that came ultimately from religious buildings in antiquity. Now I'm going to do the same exercise with a totally different type of building - but it will reveal exactly the same process. This is the Law Courts in London. - 38 - , - 39 - . It was designed in the nineteenth century and it’s a gothic building. It's perhaps not the greatest expression of gothic architecture but it's a well-used and well-loved building. And, incidentally,  I would suggest if you are going to be judged for a crime you would rather be judged in that building and be more reassured about the possibility of justice than in the previous building that I showed you in Barcelona with its rather repetitive, inhuman, threatening architecture.

And that you will recognise. - 40 - . This is, I think, one of the best gothic revival buildings anywhere in the world. But it's a government building. It’s not a religious building; it's a secular building as were the Law Courts. Even more secular would be this building which is a railway station - 41 - .. That's now the terminal for the Eurostar train that goes through the Channel Tunnel to Paris. It's also using the gothic style. It’s a secular building, but where does the style come from? Well, it comes from buildings like that - 42 - .

That's York Minister in York. (It's called a Minister but it's essentially a cathedral.) And so what is happening here is that a style, that is used for all types of different buildings in later times, originally came from religion. The gothic architectural style was invented for religious purposes for creating religious buildings. Now if you compare this with the classical building that we talked about, the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, it's really quite different. Now, some people attempt to argue that somehow gothic building is derived from classical architecture although, for me, a gothic building has got a completely different inspiration behind it compared with a classical building. However, what I want to point out is the common way in which they work. And again it's this relation between human construction (what are essentially human structures, human forms) and its dialogue with natural forms.

Now a gothic cathedral, as many people have pointed out, really does start to resemble - shall we say? - a forest - 43 - . These elements are the trees and as in a forest you get the effect of a canopy overarching. It's suggestive of a natural environment. But at the same time it's suggesting very strongly a human environment.

Gothic cathedrals of the middle ages were meant to be representations of the "City of God" - 44 - . Now this interpretation, which I believe is so central to the mediaeval understanding of a cathedral, is not so much recognised now but I believe that the key idea is that this was god's city, god's place. The way that a mediaeval cathedral has crossing, has different side pieces and transepts, creates a complexity, which in a way is like a city. It’s not like a normal city but then you wouldn't expect that. This is the City of God. A city is a human construction. Nature doesn't make cities, that’s for sure, and so that is very much the way a cathedral is expressing a human side. But, at the same time, it's looking to a great degree like natural forms. And, of course, everywhere there are details which depict nature. So again we've got this intermingling between natural forms and human forms.

Now if you think back to the Modernist buildings we looked at you don't get that. What Modernist buildings do is to reject style, at least all traditional style, and in rejecting traditional style they reject the way nature can come into human-made artefacts, human-made buildings. And so they are chucking out a lot of stuff that carries a lot of sensibility and understanding and carries a lot of information about the way humans live and understand buildings and understand the world. Now how exactly this dialogue between nature and human construction that you get in traditional building, how that works and what it means is not something that we can go into now. I've got ideas about that but I think we'll put those to one side and just leave you the essential idea that traditional buildings intermix human forms with natural forms. And of course the effect can be really remarkable and very spectacular.

So we'll just recap. Trabeation in its simplest form is 3000, 4000, years old or even older. Trabeation was reworked and represented by a very sophisticated culture, the classical culture of antiquity, into a way of rereading those trabeated forms in terms of the forms that nature creates. And the same idea but in a completely differently form and worked out in a completely different way occurred in mediaeval times to create the gothic cathedrals. The whole balance between nature the natural form and human form in a cathedral is so different in the way it works in the classical temple. But there is that common idea of opposing nature against human forms. And then Modernist building comes along and clears away all that, making life nice and simple, Platonic forms, ideology, simple, there we are, and that's the result

4. What is the Modern Age?

A real question that is posed by Modernism that we have to address ourselves to is the following:
Is the modern age a reality or is it something that we've constructed?
As somebody who believes very strongly in the power and value of history and tradition, it may thought that I would argue that our present day society is continuous with the past, and that the modern age is not really a valid concept. However, on the contrary, I would say in fact that the idea of the modern age, that is, an age that is really different from previous ages from past history is really a valid idea. I don't agree with Giedion who said right we can characterise the modern age by the fact that we use machines that whereas in the past they used craft methods, now we have machines and we have factories. He wanted to characterise the modern age in that way which I think is very, very shallow. But, nevertheless, I would accept the fact, I would affirm the fact that we do live in a society that in some sense has made a break with the past.

I am suggesting the idea of the modern age is a reality. So if that is the case, what makes our age different from previous ages? I don't believe it is the machine. I believe it is something quite different from that. I think it is something far more profound and far more interesting. I would characterise the modern age (and in this I am not at all original) I would characterise it by the loss of religion. We have changed because we have lost religion. And there are a whole lot of implications in that process because in the past of course religion dominates. Faith was very real thing in people's lives. The belief in god, the belief in the after life, these weren't just things that were added onto life they were absolutely integral to people's world view. Take that away and you have a really profound change 37

But getting rid of religion isn’t as simple as that. I think the Modernist view broadly would be to say we will just get rid of religion and then we will just carry on and you don't need to qualify it. But I don't take that view. I think it is right to say we have lost religion for broadly speaking religion doesn't occupy the same place that it did in people's lives a hundred years ago, say. But in getting rid of religion you have got to put something back in its place. The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre said "Humans have a god-shaped hole". Now I think he is right about that in the sense that you take god away, you have got a void - something else is going to go in there. Now, there are two responses to that. There are two ways in which people have tried to fill that hole and in order to suggest how that happens I would say that Sartre got it slightly wrong. It is a very nice poetic way of saying it "Humans have a god-shaped hole". I would put it differently; I would say they have a faith-shaped hole. People need to believe in something - whatever it is. And so this idea of trying to reconstruct a new faith is something that has arisen since the death of god whenever that may have happened.

There are basically two responses, two types of faith. Now Modernism is very much a type of faith. It is the belief in, what I would call, an ideology. It's an attempt to give somebody something to believe in that is going to perform the role that religion used to. It is giving people something to hang onto - some way in which they can recognise how society works and how they can have an identity within that society. And so the idea of constructing an ideology is one of these responses to the loss of god and the loss of religion, and that is very much on the side of Modernism. I'm simplifying a lot but nevertheless this is the general picture I would wish to describe.

Now the other way of responding to the loss of religion and introducing another faith is what I would call humanism. Humanism is a faith. It is a belief. And the humanist faith is far more open-ended than the faith of those who would wish to construct an ideology. Because the humanist idea, as roughly speaking I see it, and how people who are aligned with humanism see it, is that within humanity that there is the possibility of finding something that you can believe in. Now how that works, how that plays out, is a complicated matter. It is basically a search. It is a search to find something of real value and virtue that we can believe in and that is where we are going to look. We are going to look within human values and see what we can find. Because we believe that that is where we can find something that can put back some kind of core of beliefs in our society. This is quite a different way of looking at how we can approach this problem of finding a new faith which is so much of a reality in the modern age.

So, on the one hand, we can construct these big simple theories, as Modernism does, that are going to answer all your problems and tell you where to go. On the other hand, you engage in this exploration into trying to discover what human values are. A lot of people have argued that that emphasis on humanity is not a very good thing because after all humans are only one species on the planet so why are we singling out humans as an area in which we are going to look for salvation, for our future, for our faith. Why should we? That is something we can't answer but that is the kind of criticism of humanism. Broadly speaking those are the two ways I believe of responding to the modern age.

2. The Contemporary Scene: Traditionalism

Now that's quite a different kind of building - 12 -. Again it's a recent building and it was completed last year. It was designed by one of my colleagues in the Traditional Architecture Group, Robert Adam. Now as you can see it is far from being a modern building, and this is the kind of building that Modernist architects really get very worried about for they see it as undermining the kind of architecture that they wish to promote. Now again it is a matter of personal taste, but what this building is very definitely trying to do is to respect its environment. It is built in Piccadilly in London, which you may know. It is a major thoroughfare in London and it occupies an important site. It is an example of a very much more traditional approach that is coming back in Britain and elsewhere. It is clearly drawing from history and it is a much more complicated exercise to draw from history and to reinterpret history and to create a new building which references the past.

Now there are many different traditionalist styles. What I would describe as traditionalism is not something that is easy to pin down and that for me is one of the big virtues of it. Later on I want to talk about the different forms that traditionalism can take. So don't imagine that these images define what traditional architecture is. It is very varied. They are simply examples. That is another one - 13 - . It is a very recent building built in Japan. It is clearly very, very historical in its influences. But traditional architecture doesn't have to be quite so literally historical as that. That is another building by one of my colleagues in the Traditional Architecture Group. It is a riding stable in Spain - 14 -, which is on the drawing board now and will be completed in a few years. This building is probably a freer interpretation of traditional elements than we saw in the last couple of slides but nevertheless it is identifiably quite in contrast with the Modernist buildings I showed you.

That is a building - 15 -, again a new building that was completed in 2004. It is in America by a very interesting American architect called David M. Schwartz who has in the last few years build an enormous number of buildings in America of various types, and various styles. He is not afraid to go big, but then it's America. He is building where there are other high buildings adjacent and he is finding a way of articulating a big mass of building using traditional elements. Traditional builders in the eighteenth and nineteenth century couldn't build that big and so there is no precedent. He has had to reinterpret, re-evaluate how you can use traditional elements to create a large building. Now for me that building is a building that responds to the problems of our times and it responds to the problems of how we are going to build in cities.

That is another building - 16 - by the same architect David M. Schwartz which is a government building. To me it is a very, very interesting exercise in design, again in how to reinterpret traditional forms in a new way. And incidentally it shows that he is not afraid to use art in buildings for one of the things that has happened with Modernist buildings in the last few years, is that the artist has been excluded. I think this is a great loss and omething that is very important to traditional architects in Britain and other countries is to reintroduce art, painting and sculpture, back into buildings. In the past it was an essential element of buildings, humanising, and beautifying them.
That is the end of the slides for the moment. [23.48]












































5. Machine Architecture

Now I think we will go back to the slides now and I will show you in a little more detail how the Modernist ideology plays itself out in actual buildings. Now, as I explained, Giedion said that the way we define the modern age is through the machine. So that makes life nice and simple. We know that all we have got to do with our buildings is to introduce the ethos of the machine into them and then we will be obeying the zeitgeist and all will be fine. That's all we need to do. It's very simple. What we don't need to worry about very much is whether it's beautiful or not.

But whether it is beautiful or not, I would say is very much part of the humanist project that I talked about. Beauty after all, at least beauty in buildings, is only recognisable to humans. But Modernism tells us that we don't need to worry about that too much; we just make sure that we get this machine effect. This is a very early building - 17 - by Walter Gropius which I think is about 1911 - 1912 and so it is pre-First World War. It is a very early modern building. It is expressing the machine with its repetitiveness for simple repetitiveness is what you get in a factory. There is a relative lack of detail. It is intended that it should look like a machine. That is that same building - 18 -; it is a little more articulated. This kind of feature is really a hangover from traditionalism but it is a very early Modernist building as I mentioned. Such a rather formal staircase is not the sort of thing that you get in later Modernist buildings which are far more extreme.

3. The Modernist Ideology

That is the background into which this polemical essay was written. There are, you could say, two opposing groups : Modernists and traditionalists. We have a lot of discussion in the Traditional Architects Group as to how we should position ourselves in this discussion or conflict with Modernist architects. Some say we should seek compromise and find common ground and some say we have got to accept that this is a "war" and we have to do battle. There are different ways of looking at it, but that's the background in that we've got this opposition and two different ways of building. On the one hand, we have got Modernism which I would call the current orthodoxy, and we've got a group of other people who are questioning that and saying, well, what we should be doing in the first place is to go back and look at the way people built before Modernist architecture.

Now in this discussion, it seems to me that the Modernists have got one big asset, which traditionalists don't have at the moment. And that asset is a big theory. It is a theory that explains why people should build in a Modernist fashion. And there are two main sources for that theory which I mentioned in the essay. There is Siegfried Giedion and there is le Corbusier. 
Now Siegfried Giedion put forward the idea that Modernism is an inevitable fact of present day existence and in doing so he was heavily and consciously influenced by the German philosopher, Hegel. Hegel gave us this idea of the zeitgeist – the idea that each age should be understood in terms of its own spirit of the times. Each age has its own spirit and this spirity is interestingly and controversially a unified thing. But for some people this is a big problem - the idea that our age can be simplified and understood in terms of this one tendency, in terms of this one spirit. It's as if our present day culture or any culture of any period can be understood through a single idea, whereas most people would say that life is just not as simple as that. They would say that there are all sorts of different currents and undercurrents that work in any given society and any culture. But that was the big but simple idea that Hegel put forward and that Siegfried Giedion as an architectural theorist took that idea up and said: Right! we live in this age which we call the modern age and so we have got to find the zeitgeist. And if we can find the zeitgeist and identify it, that is going to tell us how we should build. We are not going to decide this for ourselves. We are going to look to the zeitgeist and it will tell us.

Now Giedion, in looking at the society in which we live, could have no doubt looked at many different aspects of that society which could be said to characterise it and determine the zeitgeist as he saw it. But what he fastens on is the idea of the machine, the idea that our society is different from other societies because we have machines and factories. Well, there is a kind of truth in that. Yes, we do have a lot of machines - more so than in, say, mediaeval times. Whether that really determines the whole of the rest of the culture is a good question, but for Giedion with the machine he had determined what the idea of the zeitgeist of the present times would be.

So what this tells us is that we have got to build with the ethos of a machine. Machines are repetitive. I would say that machines are not particularly humanised instruments but Giedion says we should empathise as far as we can with the machine and build building that look like a machines and they don't look like that [   ]if they look like a machine; they don't have art, they don't have human aspects

So the Modernists have this theory which justifies the way they build. But traditionalists don't have a theory. Now people have built in traditional styles of one kind or another for thousands of years. Before Modernism there were only traditional buildings. So there was no need for a theory. They did not need to justify what they were doing because that was the only way they built. and so we are in this position now where we up against the Modernists who have a very powerful theory. It doesn't make sense to me, but it makes sense to a lot of architects. The traditionalists are saying, well, we want to build in a different way but we don’t need a theory. This situation was what lead me into this debate: How can we respond to this big theory, this big theoretical idea that the Modernists have

Now what I don't think we should do is to have an opposing theory, so that we can then have a battle between the theories. I think that that ultimately is not going to lead anywhere very interesting. I don't think the situation is ever going to be resolved if we try to have such a battle. My approach to dealing with the Modernist theory is to try to put it into context. By seeing it in historical context in that way we can reduce its importance, reduce its power. You can find precedents for the Modernist way of looking at things in the past and you can see it as part of a longer tradition (well, it is not exactly a tradition, but it's more a strain of thought in western society). My purpose is to try and see it from a longer perspective.

Now one of the aspects of Modernism that I haven't mentioned so far that I want to talk about is that it is essentially a reactionary movement. I will go into a bit more detail with the slides as to how I see it as a reactionary movement. The Modernists are trying to do what so many ideologies contemporary with Modernism (such as Marxism) try to do. They try to start history again from year zero. They think they can just stop the clock and start it again. So they don't need the past. They have got their theory that enables them to determine the way we should build. They don't need to look at the past and in this sense in which Modernism is a very reactionary movement - in the literal sense of the word reactionary. They achieve their rhetoric by reacting to what they perceive as going before. They react against the past. But this attempt to dispense with the past leaves them still dependent upon the past because the power of their buildings and the power of their aesthetic relies on the reactionary idea the idea that they are rejecting something. In rejecting something in this way, I would say you validate it in a certain sense and so this idea that you can start from year zero and reconstruct society is doomed to failure. It is doomed to failure for that reason as well as for many other reasons.

This is the transcript of an unscripted talk given by Peter Kellow on 10th November 2009 at the Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University, Sweden. Peter Kellow’s essay
The Ideology of Architecture
published in 2006 on the INTBAU website was one of the papers for a course entitled Architecture and Ideology run by Professor Lars O Eriksson, Philosophy Professor. Peter Kellow began by speaking about some of the ideas in his essay and then, in order to give them a wider context, gave a brief introduction to the ideas in a book in progress entitled Architecture, God and Nature

The Ideology of Architecture

Architecture, God and Nature

Peter Kellow

1.The Contemporary Scene: Modernism
2. The Contemporary Scene: Traditionalism
3. The Modernist Ideology
4. What is the Modern Age?
5. Machine Architecture
6. Abstraction in Building
7. Platonic Idealism
8. Architecture and Nature
9. Architecture and God
10. Regionalism
11. The Metaphormosis of Buildings
12. Endpiece: Stockholm City Hall

Prof. Lars O Eriksson We have the honour of a guest, Peter Kellow from England, born and educated in England and now lives in France. He is an architect and had an architectural practice for a number of years but he is also an architectural theoretician and those of you who are following the course have read his paper The Ideology of Architecture which is the theme for Peter's lecture today. He is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and he is also Communications Secretary for an architectural group within the Royal Institute of British Architects. And firstly,[to Peter Kellow] I am very happy that you are here and that you wanted to come all the way from Brittany in France to give us this lecture. Peter wanted to start with a few slides I think, and we will do as we always do. Peter goes on until he is finished and then we have a short break and after than we can have a discussion. So the floor is yours



Thank you, for welcoming me here today. The first thing I should say about my essay The Ideology of Architecture, which is probably obvious, is that it is a polemical essay. It is not what you might call a neutral academic thesis that carefully evaluates different points of view in order to come to an impartial conclusion. It is written for a specific purpose, although, of course, I hope that the judgments and comments that it contains are objective. Others may disagree with its point of view. I would like to start by explaining what that polemical purpose is. Perhaps we could start with the first slide.


1.The Contemporary Scene: Modernism

As Lars explained I am a member of a group of architects in England. We call ourselves the Traditional Architecture Group. Now the title the Traditional Architecture Group is a deliberate claim that we are representing something quite different from Modernism. Modernism in Britain, as in Sweden, is today's primary architectural style (from my discussions with Lars perhaps this applies even more so here). Modernist architects get practically all the major commissions, such as national art galleries or major commercial buildings. Modernism is the dominant style and this is emphasised by its control of the architectural schools. Consequently the education that young architects are receiving teaches them how to build Modernist architecture. This applies in practically every country of the western world. Modernism defines for many what architecture is and very few architects have any understanding of anything that could be presented as an alternative.  Traditionalists have to try and set out what we believe. As people who are opposed to the Modernist orthodoxy we need to say what our position is and why we are holding it.

Now this building is called the CCTV building - 2 - and is in Peking. It was built by a Dutch architect, called Rem Koolhaus. He is a very big name (although you may not know his name) in architectural circles and he has built far and wide throughout the globe. Now you may have a reaction to this building. You may like it, you may not like it but I am putting it forward as a building that typifies so much that is wrong with architecture today. The whole concept is really I would say inhuman. It is not beautiful. It is not even impressive as a piece of powerful design. It is rather badly designed I would say for there is no logic to building a building in this form, with these awkward cantilevers at the top. It is very difficult and expensive to build this kind of structure. But it is an example to suggest how traditionalists see that architecture has lost its way. You can see there are a few people down here at the base of the building but they hardly relate to the structure.

Another photograph of the same thing - 3 -.  Peking is largely a modern city now having regrettably lost many of its interesting historical buildings. The CCTV building sets out to make a very strong statement within its context, seeking to draw attention to itself. It is a very egotistical building.

These are buildings, - 4 - , - 5 -, by Zaha Hadid who is another internationally known architect and she works from Britain. She also has this very expressionist style. This - 6 - is an interior - an interior that people are expected to live in. The interesting thing about a lot of these buildings is that as places to live in and work in they provide a rather unsatisfactory environment.

We may ask the question: if Modernist buildings really fail in the way that I am suggesting they do, how is it that Modernist architecture maintains its grip on the culture? I think one of the ways we can answer this it to point out that it has got what I would describe as a cinematic quality. And so, it has a quality that film makers can use in their films. If you're constructing a narrative then you can use such buildings as part of your narrative. But films represent a context wholly different to the real life context where people have to live and work and hopefully from which they can gain some kind of inspiration. But that is one of the strategies that I believe is behind these buildings.

I would emphasise that all the buildings that I am showing you are very recent. They are not, as it were, historical Modernist buildings. They are buildings that are now holding centre stage within the architectural world. This is the architecture that architects are creating for the people here and now.

This building - 7 -, - 8 - is in a rather different vein from the others. It is the new so-called City of Justice in Barcelona on Spain and is built by a British architect, David Chipperfield. Now this building you have to remember is about justice. It is about delivering a sense of fairness and civilised values. But I would ask the question: does that building represent in any kind of sense what you could call civilised values? If I were going into a court room to be judged in a judicial procedure in that building would I feel happy? Would I feel that that building was reassuring me that the creators of the judicial system were interested in justice and civilised values? Well, I'm not so sure. I think I might be absolutely terrified.

I think this is an example of the way that the vocabulary of Modernism looses touch with society and looses touch with the values that our society is trying to promote - or should be trying to promote. It has its own particular agenda which runs parallel with the society within which it is operating. I would say that is it really failing to connect and deliver an environment within which people will feel that their own values are reinforced - an environment in which they feel that the architect is trying to create architecture that is going to satisfy them and that they will find beautiful.

But again these buildings can look very good in cinematic context. If you want to weave a narrative around that building you can, but as place to live in as a place to deliver the values that mean something to us, well, I would say it is questionable if it does that.

This is another Modernist building - 9 -, - 10 -, this time by Jean Nouvel a Paris based architect. This building is again in Barcelona. It is clearly making a very strong statement within its context. Its actual form i would say is really quite unsuitable for a large building. It is in the shape of (shall we say?) a cigar. A cigar is a small object but this is a trick that Modernist architecture often uses. It takes a small object and blows it up into a huge form thereby gaining an effect, gaining a rhetoric. Whether you find it satisfying and beautiful you can decide for yourself but for me it is very lacking in the kind of values that I consider important.