Knight of Númenor says that the prevailing architecture of our time fails to convey meaning:
A building could look like a Cathedral, but if you go into the inside, it might be a dance floor. Most skyscrapers are built in a Brutalist manner, which gives little insights [sic] into what the business offices inside are trading, unlike buildings of yore: the townsmen knew this was a church, this was the Lord Mayor’s office building, and this was the merchant’s guild.
The first example is of the repurposing characteristic of ‘postmodernist’ architecture: whether through ironic appropriation of elements that don’t belong according to the historic vocabulary, or through retrofitting of a building for a purpose entirely unlike that suggested by the structure and ornamentation, such changes are superficially original but betray, underneath, a lack of both originality and a true sense of architecture. I am not a trained architect, but it only takes someone with common sense and some informed sensibility to know that such anti-architecture, undertaken not merely as a concession to practical constraints but rather with prætensions to artistic value, is the mercantile work of charlatans.
Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The second example is of ‘modernist’ architecture, and of Brutalism in particular. Skyscrapers built in this manner, Knight of Númenor says, tell us little about what they are used for, unlike more traditional buildings that signal in a variety of ways what is a temple, what is a municipal office, and what is a merchants’ guild. Architecture of this character, one may say, is faceless.
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
Both examples show a certain disorientation; both examples speak to the need for genuine social connexion rather than the social alienation we experience in the West, as Knight of Númenor describes:
Atomized individuals waddle through cities, among a sea of constructions, not having much connections to one another, unlike cities of old in which citizens knew the history and ideals of the city they live [sic] in.
What I mean by ‘the West’ is what Aleksandr Dugin articulates about Europe v. the West:
I consider myself to be an anti-Western ideologist in the fullest sense of the word. But I distinguish between Europe and the West. I believe that these are two different concepts. Europe is an historical territory where different peoples, traditions, and states have existed which highly interest me. I have written a series of books called Noomahiya (‘Clash of the Nomoi’) in which I discuss the logos of Europe, Germany, France, Italy, and Greece. I have the deepest reverence and respect for the logos of European culture. I study this logos together with the languages, literature, philosophy, and cultures of Europe, which I love. But I think that the path that European society has gone down over the last few centuries, beginning with the epoch of the Enlightenment and ending with liberalism and modern Anglo-Saxon liberalism, is not Europe, but Anti-Europe. And this is precisely what I attribute to the concept of the ‘West’. The West is sunset, the fall, the descent, which is precisely the etymology that the word has in Russian. I am against the West and for the East, for ascent. The West is the decline of Europe.
This is where, in opinion, I think I part company with Knight of Númenor. He is a cheerleader for the West, and I a partisan of traditional society; he champions the modern structures that have the veneer of tradition but are in fact whitewashed tombs that protect the degenerations of bourgeois society – or, should I say, bourgeois antisociety. This error is not unique to the papists, but I cannot help thinking that this is one form ‘reaction’ takes among papists and some Anglicans; what is needed is not an unconsciously modern reaction, which actually protects the degeneration that has insinuated itself into the system and into our very psyches, but a reasoned, and biblical, response to the changes of the past few centuries. A true classicist will respect tradition, which by the experience of men through the ages shows the wisdom of the Holy Ghost, but he will not look back to a single golden age as a time to return to, any more than Cicero would have tried to return the Roman republic to the way it was under King Numa Pompilius.
Kagawa Præfectural Government Office, Kagawa, Japan (1958).
Shown above is a well-known Brutalist design by Kenzō Tange 丹下 健三. Tange’s work here is certainly modern, in that it uses modern materials and its creator was strongly influenced by Corbu (the French modernist architect Le Corbusier), but it also has an unmistakable national character, drawing as it does from the Japanese tradition. The building’s protruding horizontal beams suggest the rafters of Japanese temples, but the number of levels and the massing suggest a Japanese castle. The construction is modern but traditional in the best sense, fitting for a government office.
The way is not merely to sigh, ‘Sic transit gloria mundi,’ nor is it to dream of the inevitable ‘Great Reset’ espoused by the (neo)reactionaries – which, unlike the General Strike (against capitalism and bourgeois-controlled ‘class collaboration’) of Georges Sorel and the syndicalists, is a bad myth, bad because it is neither true nor effectual. No, the way is forward, both ad fontes and excelsior: to the ancient sources and ever higher.