Hypocrisy of the modernists

In the 21st century, imported labor with chisels is not required to produce elegant  ornament. (Photo by David Brussat.

In the 21st century, imported labor with chisels is not required to produce elegant ornament, such as this at Providence College’s Ruane Center, recent winner of a Palladio Award. (Photo by David Brussat)

A good friend who is also, by turns, a modernist sent me an old critique of his from when the Ruane Center for the Humanities, at Providence College, was dedicated. I referred to the center in a post today, “Take modernist bull by horns,” and he kindly revisited his criticism upon me. Here is his diatribe, published in “New England Diary,” and here is my response:

The modernists (in which category I place you for purposes of criticizing this piece of writing) call for new materials and techniques but, as here, you complain when they are used. Stamped detail and buttresses and arches that are not structural are a good example of that.

One can rail against PC for producing a building that is in many ways of the 21st rather than the 19th century, but PC did not promise to produce a 19th century building. It was not necessary. And it would have been too expensive to hire Eyetalians imported from Rome to carve its elegant lettering, and yet elegant lettering is what it has.

Your hypocrisy is appalling. You may be right that this is “faux Gothic,” but by complaining about it you reveal a depth of understanding that is inferior by far to the understanding that PC deployed in producing a building of this type.

Is it perfectly satisfying? No, of course not. Is it satisfying enough? Yes. Is it more satisfying than any modernist alternative would have been? A million times so, even if it had been crafted to perfection by the ghost of Mies himself.

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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.
This entry was posted in Architects, Architecture, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Art and design, Providence and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Hypocrisy of the modernists

  1. Anonymous says:

    Providence could never build a 19th century building – as the school was founded nearly 2 decades into the twentieth.


    • Huh? Oh, I guess you meant Providence College could never …
      Well, of course, I was not talking about the school taking a time machine back to the 19th century but about designing a building that reflects architectural principles prior to modernism, say, akin to those prevalent the 19th century.


  2. And…may I add, that the heralded Brutalist Phillips Library by Sasaki, Dawson and Demay was an albatross, of sorts, on the campus, to the students it primarily was to serve. Foreboding, mysterious, unfriendly, with dark corners of concern to female students walking at night (remembrances of being the first class of women on campus). It’s pretty to look at waffle coffers held dirt and grime, and the occasional birds’ nests. The large pains of glass were always streaked by a metallic water stain – visible both outside and in. The entrance was a depository of leaves and debris. My least favorite building on campus! Feeling as though it was plopped into an otherwise faux Oxford envelopment amidst this urban encroaching community. Perhaps it would have best been served to hold the infamous Rathskeller? The first hard liquor license holding college communal vestige in America! Now that was Brutalist, indeed…

    But for academic pursuit, reading existential fiction, pondering navels, and such – give me Gothic expectations – faux and all.


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