News

The ‘dark side’ of practical buildings

By Paul Carrier ’14

February 14, 2014

On Feb. 10, architecture critic and President of the National Civic Arts Society Justin Shubow gave a talk entitled “A Glance at the Dark Side” in the Kennedy Auditorium. The talk was funded by Student Assembly and arranged by the Undergraduate Fellows of the Alexander Hamilton Institute.

Mr. Shubow’s talk focused on the ways in which modernist architecture compromises aesthetic in favor of austerity.  He emphasized the prominence of modern architecture in government buildings across the West, challenging the audience to consider why governments would embrace such harsh designs for their buildings.

Outside of academia, Shubow argued, architecture is the field in which deconstructionism has achieved the greatest success: buildings that vandalize our cities and monuments that subvert the very ideals they are supposed to represent. The effect is to disorient, threaten and demoralize the public who cannot prevent being exposed to such structures.

Shubow’s lecture prompted individuals in attendance to question the implications of deconstructionism in architecture: If architecture is the embodiment of a civilization, what does such existing nihilism portend for the future?

To illustrate his point, Shubow mentioned disturbing alliances between Modernist architects as well as both Nazism and Stalinism, asserting that adherence to such ideologies has not tarnished the reputation of architects the way it has for writers like the famous Hamilton alumnus, Ezra Pound.

Mr. Shubow also highlighted the role of architecture in shaping human emotion. Specifically, he contrasted Cameron’s Modernist house in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  with Ferris’s beautiful, traditionally designed mansion. He then emphasized the discrepancy between Cameron’s stilted and awkward character and Ferris’s easygoing, and sociable nature.

The comparison was apt, and increased the audience’s understanding of both his criticism of Modernist design and how architectural surroundings influence human life.

Mr. Shubow’s lecture, however, presented the opportunity for opposing opinions of architectural styles. Mr. Shubow characterized several examples of Modernist architecture as “harsh” or “ugly,” but these opinions were considered subjective to those audience members who found such architecture aesthetically pleasing.  Some found this discrepancy predictable, as Modernism is such an important architectural movement with many disciples. Thus any characterization as broad as Mr. Shubow’s could be inherently flawed.

Despite its subjectivity, Mr. Shubow’s lecture on the harmful nature of Modernist architecture was both striking and relevant.

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