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We should build intelligently with natural materials in the places we have found them
by Katy Purviance on 12/28/09 @ 10:32:07 pm
Categories: Architects, Articles | 541 words | 1587 views

I just read this article by Larry Wilson called “Architect speaks out against modernism.”

Most of us choose early on in adult life to pull at least some of our punches.

We’d rather not offend. Or we just don’t want to get into it with others. At its best, this human trait is based in modesty. At its worst, it’s indulgent of nonsense and needless mediocrity.

Urban philosopher Leon Krier would seem to have never pulled a punch in his life. Best known to Americans as “Prince Charles’ architect,” Krier doesn’t mince words about what he sees as the pitfalls of pledging allegiance to the more brutalist aspects of Modernism.

No one who champions, say, Spanish Colonial Revival for houses or civic centers would have the gall to believe that the style is the best for everyone everywhere.

Modernism’s danger, Krier says, “is that it thinks it should replace everything else.”

It’s not just Stalinist apartment blocks, though, that get Krier’s goat.

After he gave a talk Monday night at the Pasadena Center, Krier was among a group walking along the north side of Green Street.

I nodded toward the new convention buildings that now surround the Civic Auditorium, replacing those from the ’70s that were, in Charles’ own favorite term for bad proposals for London, a carbuncle upon the town. Many have praised them for at least attempting to honor the classic Bennett & Haskell building in their midst, and I asked Krier what he thought.

He merely shuddered, and turned away. “An abomination,” someone else said.

“Just like the ones they replaced, they’ll be gone in 30 years.”

Krier is clearly no mere reactionary. He thinks and writes deeply about the loss of connection with the human scale in today’s cities. You can argue with his attitude toward all skyscrapers - I mean, I’ll take Manhattan, for instance, and he hates it. But not simply for its style - he says that unlike other buildings, massive towers have to be “rewrapped” every few decades, “and to pay for that, they have to go higher.” Because they take so much energy to maintain - think of the elevators alone - he cites starchitects’ edifice complexes’ “profoundly criminal nature.”

It’s entirely refreshing to encounter such an original mind. More of his thoughts from his Pasadena speech: “If we don’t revise our architecture, we’ll be revised by it.” “When I started to work for the Prince of Wales, it wasn’t the way to win hearts and minds in the architectural community.” “Most avant-garde architects not only live in traditional buildings themselves - they go on vacation in traditional buildings, they send their children to school in traditional buildings. It’s good enough for them, but not for the masses.” “People don’t change size because they are in a large or small city - that’s a physiological fact.” “We should build intelligently with natural materials in the places we have found them.”

It’s the suburb/’scraper model that destroys community, Krier says. We are both too vertical and too horizontal. He envisions a pedestrian city, five floors max, 10-minute walks to everything, no soul-less zoning. If Krier is crazy, it’s like a fox.

Public Editor Larry Wilson’s blog is


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