Earlier this week, I went to my local Citizens Advice Bureau, their offices are based upstairs in my town’s (Fareham) library. As I sat there, waiting for an adviser to usher me in, I looked out of the window, at the vast array of concrete buildings, built between the mid-1960’s to the early 2000’s. Directly opposite was the imposing grey council building, fashioned in the typical Brutalist style of the 1960’s, to the left is the local arts centre, a brown monstrosity built in the late 70’s and to the right a procession of offices, including a Job Centre and the backend of a shopping mall, buildings which had been experimented with, on and off, since the 1980’s.
“What a fucking ugly mess!” I thought to myself.
These buildings, like many across the world, are soulless, hyper-efficient, unedifying constructions, devoid of taste, warmth and heart. They tell us nothing about the beauty of humanity, of man’s creativity; they’re just there for one purpose – work. The same can be said for many dwellings built in the last 50 years, from homes for the poor to homes for the mega-rich, their sole purpose is just to exist it in, not live, exist.
What the hell happened to human civilisation, that one day we woke up and decided “I know, let’s ditch personality, creativity and all the warmth and wonder that goes with that, and embrace ultilitarianism.”
Utilitarian elements in architecture are fine, in small doses, there are some instances where we need a bit of efficiency, a bit of uniformity in order to keep our businesses, our societies running smoothly, but let’s face the facts here, we don’t need our towns and cities to be fashioned strictly on the lines of utilitarianism. It doesn’t make any sense. In fact this whole love affair architects, town planner’s et al have had with efficiency since the 1950’s is a joke gone too far.
I’m sure some of you reading this will be scoffing at me, saying “Oh! I know where this is going, you want us all to live in Tudor mock town houses and work in gilded Baroque offices, right!?” Well, no I want us to live and work in places that energise us, that complement our personalities, as either individuals or as a group, I want us to live and work in places whose purpose is giving hope and confidence in ourselves and our communities.
Here are some examples, there’s a Catholic church close to my parents house, if you walked passed it quickly, you wouldn’t know it was a place of worship; it’s essentially a pile of bricks with a giant wooden cross at the end. How is that meant to inspire faith in God, faith in Catholicism? The simple answer is it’s just a piece of architectural excrement, it’s not built to praise God, it’s built to satisfy the architect’s narcissism.
It’s the same thing with a local mosque in Portsmouth, it doesn’t inspire believers of the faith, and again it’s purely built to satisfy the architects inflated sense of importance. It’s particularly heart breaking, because both faiths talk specifically about replicating paradise on earth i.e. embracing the beautiful aesthetic. Compare these two drecks with St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, or even any small church or mosque built where beauty is the focal point of inspiration.
It is up to architects to tap into the collective consciousness of a society and create something that will give comfort and inspiration to the people, this means incorporating elements of heritage, an array of aesthetics, the masculine and the feminine, but above all refinement.
There’s long been a noxious stench of elitism and snobbery in the mindset of contemporary architects, the same too of many contemporary artists, and this is manifested in their derision of the past. You can’t draw inspiration from what has gone before; you can’t create something purely for the purpose of beauty they say.
In their misconceived quest for efficiency and egalitarianism, the modern architect, instead of helping society progress, has stifled its emotional development and spat on beauty from a great height. Many towns and cities across the world are now shadows of their former selves, left in limbo, surrounded by tombs not fit for human purpose.