Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Modern Ugliness

“Not long ago the periphery of the city was untouched meadowland, stretches of bucolic peacefulness unlike anything else in Germany. This has been ruined by the depositing of hills of gravel, by the cutting down of the forests, by railroad spurs, and by monstrous industrial plants which the General Staff, with characteristic barbarian inability to understand that some things are irreplaceable, had finally brought here too.” [1]

So wrote Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen about Munich in the nineteen-thirties. Whenever I travel in Europe, I take my pre-nineteen-fourteen Baedeker guide-books. They are works of an old publishing art, bound in red leather, with gold-lettering on the covers, wherein can be found delightful maps, fine descriptions of old streets and buildings, prices for hiring one-horse carriages, and so on. Upon entering a town or city, I am enabled, by book and street-name, by old stone and eccentric regret, to bring a little of the old world back to life, yet not quite enough to dispel the sight of the modern ugliness that has grown up in such a place, and which surrounds the old centre like a besieging army. And when I reflect on what has happened, and what has gone, I feel myself becoming very counter-revolutionary.

[1] Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, 9th September 1937, Diary of a Man in Despair, tr. P. Rubens (London: Duck Editions, 2000) p. 64.


TGGP said...

If you're into quite old computer games, you might want to check out Darklands. It's supposed to be medieval Germany as its inhabitants believed it to be (so not giving money to a wandering friar results in a real curse that might be helped by praying to the correct saint on the correct day, there are still villages out there secretly worshiping Baphomet). From my perspective there was an insane amount of historical/geographic detail that would only appeal to the small segment of the population interested in such things and so it wasn't a surprise that it flopped. I could never get into it, but at the time I tried it out I was drifting away from games and so the same could be said of Civilization.

dearieme said...

When the Germans rebuilt their cities in the 50s and 60s, did they rebuild only the old stuff, or did they also rebuild too "the modern ugliness" of 1937?

A cynic might guess that it would depend on whether the rebuiding decisions were made by the folk or by an architectual cabal.

Magotty Man said...

Architectural Cabal: Nice phrase! I do envy those of you living in the older countries - here on the Canadian Prairie, 100 years is ancient. The oldest building in Saskatchewan is The Holy Trinity Anglican Church at Stanley Mission (http://www.historicplaces.ca/UploadedImages/6086.jpg) , built between 1854 and 1860.

At least I can see this (http://saskatoonlive.com/images/places/bessboroughfront.jpg) when I look out my office window - built between 1928 & 1932 by the CN Railway company as a hotel.

Deogolwulf said...


I shall have a look, not that I go in much for computer-games. Perhaps I should.


I doubt anyone regretted the loss of the modern ugliness of 1937, not even the architects who designed it. Naturally, all that destruction was very good for business, which is what matters to the architectual cabal. (Aldous Huxley once quoted an American contractor: "The man who builds a skyscraper to last for more than forty years is a traitor to the building trade.")

The Scylding,

Not too bad a building, that one.

TGGP said...

But without modernist architecture what would we use to terrorize the citizenry? The Sandsend blob can only be in so many places at once.

I think with Jane Jacobs dead the Machines For Living In will roll onward to a future where we live in brutalist high-rise public housing.

James Higham said...

Architectural cabal? Hmmm.