Sunday, 13 March 2011

M/M Radical Classicism


Image of the State Rooms, 10 Downing Street, London Erith & Terry Architects courtesy of Quinlan & Francis Terry.

An architectural perspective editorial by Nicola Linza

Architecture is about environment and today our entire environment has become a key issue globally. The built environment affects the quality of our personal and professional lives. HRH Prince Charles has expressed similar sentiments for decades now. He hasn’t been wrong. What we do and the quality level to which we achieve is in direct correlation to a certain degree to our environment both our physical and psychological surroundings. I will paint a picture for you as an example of environment and community and why I am so wrapped up in Classicism.

My family has always held architecture in importance with a great sense and respect for traditional Classicism. I too, of course, nonetheless, have always felt the mass-media pressures of what "they" claim is current or stylish about Modern against what we know is great and sustaining about Classicism. There is a huge difference!

In my case, I find it most satisfying to be in a humanistic beautiful environment one that embraces the timeless traditions of the past while moving into the future. Therefore, in my position, am I a Young Fogey? I would say in some circles that may be spot on, at least as I understand it.

Whatever the general mood or trend of the architecture establishment is at a given moment does not interest me. My outlook is long-term and based on traditional design because Classicism has sustained itself (and refreshingly coming into its own for those with the ability to view it fresh eyes.) It is proving once again to be the style of choice for both public and private buildings of considerable taste and value. What is ironic though is that those of us today both young and old who are focused passionately on Classicism are the same ones the media are now claiming to be positively avant-garde.

The human aspects and impacts of Classicism are enormous, especially when compared to the alternatives. Look, the fact remains that there is a certain degree of elegance in simplicity, but I speak of elegance in a mathematical sense. There is no elegance, nor human aspects, in most Contemporary works and especially Deconstruction, and no amount of Conceptual talk, media hype or worse pseudo-intellectual posturing they often resort to can make it otherwise. The reason far too many fell for any of it in the first place is that most so-called designers today have come out of cult-like programs that push it, such as the so-called "Decon" with no real skills or historical references to substantiate it.They just make it up as they go along.

Students aren't exposed to the sad reality that what they have paid for to attend such schools results all too often is simply nothing more than a good talk up by failed professors who themselves are victims of the system they are now a part of promoting. They graduate lacking the proper level of mathematical skills and constructional understanding let alone historical reference to honestly appreciate and recognize architectural flaws (just scan the media for lawsuits against Decon buildings by over-hyped or shall we kindly say well-known figures to prove it.) This is just not sustainable.

The media and the masses in design have such an insecure desire to be constantly new that they resort to all sorts of trickery to advance their ridiculous positions. Whereas we do not have to resort to trickery. We can advance our Classical position as both Eco-friendly and sustainable with science and mathematical truths. Whereas they do not understand the language. They try to use it nonetheless and by doing so bastardize to promote their anti-architecture, especially with the fashionable term "fractal" (which they use often out of context without a shred of intellectual understanding of its actual meaning or definition.) They can lie to themselves, and each other until the cows come home, but at the end of the day it is all worthless.

That is not the case with traditional Classical design. It is proven and honest. It is inherently dignified, Eco-friendly and sustainable. It is humanistic. If one designs and builds in the Classical tradition, then one builds solidly to last with local, quality natural materials. It is a skilled sustainable form of design, and a style that is conducive to humanity - and this is what "green" is all about. So if we speak of sustainability? Classicism once again has proven itself.

The most talented and fearless architect I know is Quinlan Terry. He is an elegant friend and a great supporter of our Classicist position. Mr. Terry is also a true gentleman architect. One who has stood his ground for traditional sustainability and quality for decades. He is the author of what I consider a significant paper outlining the importance and Eco-friendly aspects (and sustainable nature) of traditional building Designing A Sustainable Future. Mr. Terry's career has produced structures that in 100 years are not only going to be still standing, but are still going to be stunningly beautiful.

This has made me consider what particular book on architecture I would consider my favourite. One, say set of books, on architecture? I would have to say it would be The Four Books on Architecture, by Andrea Palladio, brilliant then, brilliant now. But then, one may ask, what specific elements of Classicism compel me to favour this form architecture. It is just like a perfect square and I can sum that up in four words: Order, Sustainability, Beauty, Longevity.

Why is it important that a traditional approach to structural design be sustained and what impacts do I believe this will have on modern living? It is a matter of continuity. It is a matter of quality. It is a matter of having a human connection.

When I started to study art, architecture and design in the academic settings Modernist academia tried to disconnect me from all I knew and respected. However, after a period of sowing my wild oats in the end I came right back to traditional classic forms in art, architecture and design. They did not succeed in any form of disconnect, if anything they brought me closer to Classicism.

The more I experienced firsthand the pathetic and often pecuniary nature of the people behind Modernism, Contemporary and Deconstructionist art, architecture and design as well as the type of people drawn to it and selling it! My Lord, it made me run like a bat out of hell. Living should be quality living with life and light. As an abstract analogy to make my point clear quality living is not living as a frozen fool in an empty room where one cannot leave his glass cube for sake of leaving a footprint (that may be criticized as a stain.) That is not human, that is simply an insane and insecure unrealistic hell.

If we speak of modern living, as in being of today that does not necessarily mean Modernism. A designer must realize that true contentment is timelessness and that does not reside outside in hype or trends as contentment comes from within when one comes to terms with what truly makes man feel human, honest and alive. In addition, when one understands the core principles of sustainability and longevity that come from seeking light and truth in one's environment they may be utterly surprised where they find themselves, both physically and mentally, and what they are then may be able to accomplish.

I was asked not too long ago, “As far as the future is concerned in relevance to community, what are your thoughts on the importance of architecture and its development?”  My response was, "Architecture must develop with quality, timelessness, and beauty not pecuniary interest. Consider the fact that that structures of 500 years or more may have taken 100 years or more to build, and are still standing beautiful. The built environment of the past 100 years, (and yes, sorry to say to them that Modernism is both technically and historically antique already,) has been allowed to sink into a pit of darkness. Poor design through the use of unproven technologies, concepts, scales, materials and methods of construction has failed. This has allowed greedy developers irresponsible ways to build cheaply and I can tell you, cheap is not only cheap yet it is always unsustainable (not to mention just plain ugly.) There is no meaning, value, or honest ROI to such structures."

My position holds that Classicism or Traditional Architecture done properly is timeless and sustainable. No, it is not inexpensive, yet it is an expense that in the end is not expensive at all. I am not only trained as an architect but also hold a science degree in environmental studies. I believe in science as it applies to design, but science that is not abused, or bastardized. It is from abuse of science that results in architectural development being ultimately expensive and destructive to the environment.

So one may also ask what my thoughts are that these facts I outline will be called Fogeydom. It may well be a valid reference to my position that architecture should support Universal Laws and higher mathematics and science and have a connection to history in its final design. Fine, if it defines one rejecting foolish trends that have no shelf life sobeit. Alternatively, because one does not have the insecure need to feel new or put another way is secure enough not to be overly troubled by what others think, that is a perfectly acceptable definition. Studying under Dr. Nikos Salingaros confirmed my belief that anti-architecture is neither beautiful, nor good.

I ask you, do you know anyone who truly has a burning desire to live and work in an environment that is ugly? Say a structure that looks and feels like a garbage can exploded? I certainly do not. Is that simply Fogeydom? So then, this takes me back to the beginning of this article, and I ask myself if it is dangerous to call this position avant-garde. After careful consideration, I recall Oscar Wilde who once said "All great ideas are dangerous."