The Mehaffy/Salingaros way

Fractal image. (lbc9.com)

Fractal image. (lbc9.com)

Here is a set of related passages from my early reading in Design for a Living Planet: Settlement, Science and the Human Future, by Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros. I will offer a more comprehensive review when I’m done reading it, but for now this can stand as the essence of their new book. Of course I cannot yet say how they proposed to move forward. I can guess, but that would not be appropriate (at least not here).

Art’s profoundly important role in design has become corrupted, and turned into novelty packaging, which has created a dangerous form of cultural clutter. The essential contribution of art to communication, to legibility, to elucidating meanings, is now exploited as a kind of “Trojan Horse” for those who would profitably industrialize the built environment, without regard to the long-term consequences. …

It is understandably fun to engage in the edgy, attention-getting art-novelties of our consumer-based design culture. But it is silly to suppose that this approach is an any genuine sense progressive, sustainable, or “modern.” In fact, it is only reactionary orthodoxy clinging to a nearly century-old, outmoded conception of industrial modernity. True modernity lies in the embrace of new models of global growth, embodying evolutionary pattern, organized complexity, and adaptive morphogenesis. It lies in a different way of thing about what it is to design for the full participation of all human beings, for living systems, and for a living planet. …

And yet, we designers have been exceedingly stubborn in taking on this lesson. Under a misguided theory of environmental structure that confuses simplicity with order, we have been stripping away the critical connected scales and fractal relationships within our environment. We have replaced a world of richly connected urbanism with a disordered geography of artfully packaged, catastrophically failing art-products.

Perhaps this query should be directed at their publishers, who may not have read the book, but why, on the cover, are the initials of the authors’ middle names rendered without periods? Who do they (the pubishers) think they (the authors) are, Harry S Truman? The book is about how modernism has stripped much of the information out of our built environment. This stripping out of periods – treating the two names as an “art-product” – is an example of that.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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