I just spent some good quality time with the Ugly Belgian Houses blog. Its originator, who self-identifies only as “@hannes_BHC,” has only this to say to explain the blog: “Because most Belgian houses suck. Even mine. Seriously. My English sucks too. But i kinda like that. Fuckers.” It is all in caps, which is obscene and I refuse to post it that way. Go to his (I assume “Hannes” is a he) “About” page and here is what he says in its entirety:
Project by @hannes_bhc. If you want me to delete your house from my site, just mail me at uglybelgianhouses @gmail.com. No need for angry lawyer mails. They cost too much fucking money. If I can use your house in my book, let me know. You should also check my project #likemyride.
Well, his blog is a damn fine ride. The top photo at left was the latest on the site. The caption is “Batman returns. As an Ugly Belgian House.” All of them have wonderful captions. And his eye for the ugly is remarkable. Not that modern architecture has not made the “game” of finding the ugliest houses remarkably easy. Almost all modernist houses are ugly. And not that Hannes’s taste is incapable of fawlty radar.
About 95 percent of his targets are modernist but about five percent are what many very erudite classicists might call “bad trad” but which I consider experimental or, to twit my boss Andres Duany (I’m editing his treatise), “heterodox.” That is, they stray from a degree of correctness that many classicists demand in design, or even from the good manners upon which most classicism prides itself.
But I agree with someone named “awarmlight” who posted with regard to the first “bad trad” house to the left, “I would totally live there!” Hannes’s caption for that house was “Found another chateau … um, shitteau!” C’mon, Hannes! This is not an ugly house!
Trolling through the extensive archives of Ugly Belgian Houses, I’d have to admit that modern architecture offers a very large opportunity for creativity. But it is a degraded sort of creativity that does not even reach for beauty. Of course, beauty is looked down upon by modernists as some sort of bourgeois conceit that was finally jettisoned by modernism. In fact, Hannes’s captions are a very elegant example of what I have called the “derisive moniker.” I should add that his English is very capable. He selects the sort of silly simile by which most of the public targets most modern architecture, not just houses.
Hannes’s “bad trad” houses have many of the traits of good architecture: high style, proportion, symmetry (or not, if hetero), natural materials and many other aspects of good traditional houses. Those in his archive that qualify as “bad trad” are clearly head and shoulders above the “bad mod” of their archived colleagues. Am I suggesting that there are modern houses that aren’t ugly enough to make it onto this blog? I don’t say there are not. Maybe there are.
By the very nature of modern architecture, which unlike tradition requires genius, there cannot be many. Beautiful modernism is rare, very rare, precisely because modernism has abandoned almost all the tools architects used throughout most of history to achieve the qualities of firmitas, utilitas and venustas. Vitruvius’s words mean what you think they mean. Classicists look back through the history of architecture to find the best ways to achieve those goals in every building they design. Funny! They think that’s their job!
That’s why when people have a choice, as they do far more often about where they live, they generally seek to live in a traditional house, whether old or new.
By the way, I have only been through Belgium on a train, but I hope Hannes overstates the case when he says most Belgian houses are this ugly. But if they are, then the world may at least thank Hannes for sharing them with the world’s funny bone.