If you've ever wondered how it is that Sir Ridley Scott has managed so consistently to make awe-inspiring movies - Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, etc. - wonder no more: the man is quite simply brilliant, as this interview with Wired magazine reveals. Not only does Scott display a wide-ranging knowledge and understanding of both the history of (and the contemporary developments in) architecture and the various arts, but his in-depth explanations of the rationale behind some of his directorial decisions serves to convince you that virtually nothing is left to chance with a Ridley Scott film: if something in a movie of his happens to strike one as particularly clever or subtle, it's nearly certainly the case that this is because Ridley Scott wanted it so, not merely because a happy accident occurred. Think I'm exaggerating? Just read the article in full and see for yourself.
If you claim to be a student of modern architecture and you've never heard of Kisho Kurokawa, you probably either dropped out of your courses early on or have been in a coma for the past few decades, the guy is just that internationally famous. How stunning, then, to learn of his threat to enter the Tokyo gubernatorial race unless our favorite racist windbag Shintaro Ishihara gives up on seeking re-election. I don't see Ishihara being the sort of person capable of being shamed into leaving office, as he's much too fond of the limelight, and Tokyo residents don't seem to care what nonsense Ishihara might have said about foreigners when they stand in the election booth, but even so it's nice to see someone of such eminence as Kurokawa taking a public stand against this tiresome loudmouth.
Communist architecture has acquired a well-deserved reputation for ugliness and inhuman scale, with the DPRK's menacing Ryugyong Hotel being arguably the most notorious example of the genre,
Cenotaph for an ideology of death
but what might prove astonishing to some is that compared with even the "wedding cake" people's palaces and monotonously drab housing apartments which are the architectural legacy of communism, the things which didn't get built are even more revolting in their bombast, gargantuan size and (strangely, for supposed "revolutionaries") stultifying conservatism: just consider that these plans were being drawn at the same time that the likes of Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe were near or at the height of their creative powers. This is no accident, however, as communism's incompatibility with the human spirit is revealed not just in its practical failings but even in the dreams of its architectural planners: the glorification of the state through gigantism inevitably means the reduction of the individual to insignificance, and the centralization of decision-making in the hands of a few unaccountable individuals is a surefire guarantee of uniform bad-taste, perhaps rising to at most the level of mediocrity on the odd occasion.
Or how about this one? (Someone's got his panties in a bunch, eh?)
You know, despite the associations these pictures have with a certain dystopian take on the future, the funny thing is that I actually like what I see, and I suspect I'm far from being alone in this regard, which would explain the great appeal of a supposedly "pessimistic" aesthetic - far better that the future look like this than some godforsaken industrial landscape riddled with drearySovietblocks.
It would be easy to get the impression from what I've had to say about certain trends in modern music and art that I'm one of those hidebound reactionaries who can't wrap his head around anything that came along after 1900, but that really isn't the case, especially where architecture is concerned. I've long held to the theory that good art is a product of the tension between the restrictions of a form or medium and the creativity of the artist, and architecture, by the sheer necessity of having to cater for practical concerns like livability and so forth, is less liable to go off the rails in the manner exemplified by much of modern experimental music and performance art; in the hands of capable architects, the products of new thinking can often be stunning - and by "stunning" I mean the term in a positive, aesthetically pleasing sense, rather than as a euphemism for "jaw-droppingly awful."
The reason I say all of the above is that Frank McGahon's nearing completion of his own self-designed private residence, for which he's put up some pictures for us all to see. I think you'll agree that the place is looking very nice indeed, which is both a testament to his skill and an illustration of the assertion that "modernism" needn't mean "ugly", at least in the world of architecture. Now, if only this lesson would filter down into the world of "high" art, so we could be rid of the endless gimmickry and childish provocations celebrated by Charles Saatchi and the Turner Prize ...
The Associated Press is carrying a writeup of Philp Johnson's life that casts some light on just how major a figure he was in 20th century architecture. How many people realize, for instance, that he was the one to coin the phrase "The International Style"?
Also well worth reading on Philip Johnson is this New Criterion post on his impact; as it rightly notes, Johnson was not a man for rigid ideological stances, especially if they stood to get in the way of self-promotion: to quote the words of the man himself,
"I do not believe in principles. . . . I am a whore and am paid very well for building high-rise buildings."
He may have been a whore, but he certainly had his technique down pat, and besides, even whores have a useful function to play in society.
Let me say right off the bat that I think Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the towering figures of 20th century architecture (an assessment I'm sure is uncontroversial), and in my judgment he was a far better practitioner of his trade than Le Corbusier or most of the other Europeans who are worshipped as gods of modernism, for the simple reason that he never forgot the importance of aesthetics, and never bowed to the false idol of "form follows function" that led to monstrous brutalist structures that have scarred many an urban landscape.
Now, having said all of the above, I hope I can be forgiven for saying that contrary to what architectural historians might imagine, not every Frank Lloyd Wright building deserves to be preserved simply because he happened to have designed it. The man was a genius, yes, but he churned out his share of clunkers too (sacrilege, I know).