Mirrors & Modernism
Perhaps it is hard today to fathom the radical impact modernist architecture had on the world (albeit the built one) when it was just starting to get applied onto our earthly canvas. Not seldom was it utilised in contexts where societal naissance was focused (Israel is perhaps the most striking example) – but also more widely across continental Europe and the US. Britain, however, was not as easily convinced.
Young architects arrived en masse in Israel, and contributed to what to this day remains an astounding collection of buildings in the Bauhaus, or international, style, even though far from all of them did not wish to associate themselves with the Bauhaus label.
The unique, albeit very criticised idea that to a large extent underpinned the modernist venture, was the idea that architecture could be optimized, brought into the realm of science and the betterment of human lives. For sure, architecture intrinsically remains human from beginning to end, but what the modernist venture did was to quantify it, bring in calculations relating to everything to optimisation of sun exposure, and in many instances a paternalistic ideas of how people ought to live their lives.
This can in part be explained by the confluence of architecture and urbanism under the modernism umbrella, perhaps most poignantly illustrated by Le Corbusier’s ruthless conditions to his propositions – he famously drew up a plan to raze down the entire old city of Stockholm but refused to push ahead with the plans when city officials could not reconcile themselves with the idea of tearing down the imposing Royal Castle. Parallels to Rand’s héros Roark in The Fountainhead beg to be made.
Fast-forward to today and an interesting dynamic is at play between the current renaissance of modernist architecture in the preservationist sphere / general appreciation (oh, so you also like brutalism?). The modernists (let’s call them that for ease of reference) imagined the objects that were to fill their creations in the future, developed their buildings through the prism of what life was going to look like in the future. From this end, ironically, we are per definition part of that – we are those objects they imagined – but conversely things didn’t turn out quite as linear and we now find ourselves looking back on modernistic ideas as subjects, parallel to being the imagined objects of that very theory.
Mirrors and lights, attempts at communication. What we are trying to achieve? Perhaps not the revival of an aesthetic purity of the sort the modernists strived for – probably to save a heritage that isn’t yet fully recognized from meeting a fate it doesn’t deserve. I guess with it comes some leeway with telling everyone at a yo-pro dinner how much you love brutalism (especially Goldfinger).