Last week I mentioned Jeffreys and Scrutons "The future is classical". It contains so much with which I agree --- it's a very worthwhile read --- that I feel it would be churlish to raise any fundamental objections.
But I do think that their essay mixes up architectural style with site planning. The two are different. One can have a pleasant, urbane street built with "far out" modern materials; one can build a suburban "power center" with columns. Site plan trumps architecture. Unless I entirely misunderstand their essay, I suggest that Scruton and Jeffreys misstate the problem. The classical vocabulary is very pleasant but it does not dictate a certain type of city, only a certain type of building.
To back up a bit, I am not positive I understand what the authors mean by modernism or classicism. in terms of town-planning.
When they speak of "modernism" are they speaking of an/any architectural style which does not take
as its central idea, the column, symbol of standing, bearing the architrave with a visible upthrust of rooted strength. The column can be repeated; it has an internal grammar, derived from base, shaft and capital; and also an external grammar, derived from the relations between vertical and horizontal sections, and the correspondence of part with part in a colonnade.Or are they speaking of a form of psychological governance over the building process based on star-architect artistes?
Modernism and post-modernism wrongly identify the task of the architect in terms appropriate to the private arts of painting, poetry and music, where endless experiment, and the elite culture which endorses it, are entirely natural. Nobody can object to Schoenbergs experiments in atonality or to Boulezs crystalline sound-effects, since people do not have to listen to them if they do not want to.Or do Jeffreys and Scruton think of the modernism/classicism distinction in relation to "site planning"? But their essay does not mention that concept directly. They do state:
But their experimental and defiant outlook is not acceptable in a public art like architecture: indeed, it violates the fundamental premise from which all good architecture begins, which is the connection between building and settlement.
The starting place for better development and planning must be a sea change in architectural aesthetics. Modernism should be abandoned and a return made to the classical values that created the first cities of our time.Is their call for "classical values" to be taken to mean a "classical site-plan?" Are they calling then for getting rid of cars? A "car-free" city? Such a call is not unknown. See Carfree Cities, for example. But they make no mention of such a dramatic idea.
The only plausible definition of "classical site-planning" would, I surmise, be a city built around the Three Rules of urban design in which the building enfronts directly on the street and opens on to it with doors and windows. Jeffreys/Scruton may be getting at this when they say
modernist buildings violate the skyline, the street-line, and the urban texture of downtown areas, with few if any compensating advantages.The classical city as I can tease it out of their essay is merely the pre-automobile city --- which is what we almost universally hold up as the ideal of "cityness." That ideal pedestrian-oriented city is not defined by architecture but by site-plan. Classical cities simply did not have to deal with the problem of the automobile. When forced upon them parking is either/and on-street or "elsewhere." The bad, "tower in the park" city of Wright and Corbusier can have columns galore.
But building good walkable cities has nothing to do with architectural style per se. One can build such a "classical site plan" with the most modern materials. The classical grammar is not essential. I like classical buildings but what I like most of all is a pedestrian-oriented street and that can be designed using totally modern materials (so long as one observes the Three Rules).
To put it more vividly, would a suburban strip-mall built using the classical vocabulary be better than the kind of nondescript garbage we usually see? I think not. I do agree it would be unusual and perhaps, if it didn't look too weird, it might be visually attractive. But what makes our modern cities so objectionable is not that lack sufficient "base, shaft and capital" but they are built around the automobile and ignore the Three Rules.
While agree I with so much that Jeffreys and Scruton say, their critique of modern urbanism is ultimately flawed. Rather than arguing for classicism based on "architectural aesthetics" --- which is always arguable --- I suggest that what they are really after is a "classical site-planning" out of which flows measurable and empirical human behavior e.g. people walking on the sidewalks.
I think I agree with Jeffrys/Scruton (as with Katherine Knorr in the earlier post on Paris) about the symptoms. But I don't hear a remedy. Well I do, come to think of it, and the remedy troubles me some for it is a remedy of religious conversion. The problem is not a matter of insufficient adherence to particular abstractions, the problem is a rather mundane one of, as I like to put it in the most banal way possible, putting the parking lot in the wrong spot.
These are indeed adverse comments. I offer them because the task of city-building is indeed so important. It is critical that criticism be practical, that the reader take away some notion of "what to do." Indeed, modern land use governance offers tremendous opportunities for public comment. Such comment must go beyond a demand for classical columns.
Or let me put it another way and this is indeed a serious question for the authors: In what way are classical columns a 'pattern generator' for a city?