There is nothing unique, these days, about an architect who loves to throw ugliness in the eye of the world. There is nothing novel, alas, in architecture by those who keen to a sado-masochist ethic. I refer to Jean Nouvel, who is first in line to put up a skyscraper inside the Périphérique, in Paris, and who has committed other crimes against the eye as well. Anthony Daniels, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, defenestrates Nouvel with max aplomb in “Architect of Himself” in National Review:
No one can be blamed for the fact that nature did not make him handsome, but blame attaches to the insistent pursuit of personal ugliness, and M. Nouvel’s shaven head and adoption practically always of jet-black casual clothes make him look like an informal SS man, or perhaps a villain from a bad remake of a James Bond film who wants to dominate the world by his evil. A man who self-consciously presents himself thus to the world is not to be entrusted with a task, such as architecture, that requires taste; his appearance is a deliberate slap in the face to others, more appropriate to the doorman of a nightclub with a reputation for violence than to a man practicing a public art that, like stuff, refines — or coarsens — you.
Daniels, after spending most of his essay parsing the meaningless and stupidity – and lies – of the Nouvelian aesthetic, turns to the building where Daniels lives in Paris.
What a relief it is to turn from Nouvel to the building in Paris where I have taken a flat! Built not long before World War I, it is neither original nor wholly derivative. It blends perfectly with the urban environment around it. It is graceful and grand without being overweening. It does not scream “Look at me! I am the work of such-and-such a great name, an Ozymandias of architecture!” True, as with other such buildings in Paris, the name of the architect is carved on a small stone plaque, but he was an architect of civilization, not of gimcrack, sixth-rate ideas, or himself. He is forgotten, no one looks at such plaques, but it probably never occurred to him that he should be remembered. For me, he and many others like him are as forgotten heroes, the architects of the kind of urban civilization that we no longer know how to create.
Imagine how beautiful the world would be if architecture had never stopped being this way. It might not mean there’d never again be Hitlers, but at least there’d be an end to Nouvels.