Steven Semes, head of the Rome program for the school of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, and the author of The Future of the Past (one of my bibles) has written a long and, I am sure, brilliant essay about the vandals at (or inside) the gates of Paris. I am posting it before reading it because I know it will be good and readers should have it asap. I may add a comment or two about it later. “Preserving the City of Tomorrow: The Best Way to Improve Our Cities,” published in The New Criterion, was sent to me by Andrew Reed, nephew of the late Henry Hope Reed, who essentially led the Classical Revival for half a century.
Semes’s essay recapitulates virtually the entire debate raging in the fields of architecture and urbanism today. Here is one passage, which opens with a reference to “architecture of our time,” the mantra of what modern architects and their camp followers say cities need:
This aggressive aesthetic of “our time” is conspicuously at odds not only with our historic cities, but also with the real and pressing imperatives of our present conditions: climate change, urbanization, and the need for a sustainability that actually allows us to live together without foreclosing the quality of life for future generations. The building technology celebrated by modernist architecture—with its reliance on inherently unsustainable glass and metal exterior envelopes—and the urban development models of superblocks, isolated towers, and automobile dependence are principal contributors to our current energy crisis. Preposterously, the architects and their political supporters insist that we continue, even accelerate, the practices that produced the environmental crisis in the first place, while the obvious remedy lies all around them in the historic city.
Semes goes on immediately to quote a report of the Council for European Urbanism, essentially suggesting that if sustainability” is key to the future of cities, then why not try “what has already been sustained”?
Nah. Makes too much sense. Click and read this great essay.
It should also be noted that Semes credits Mary Campbell Gallagher of SOS Paris with voicing many of the arguments over skyscrapers in Paris. He quotes her regarding the David vs. Goliath aspect of the battle, adding, “One hears echoes of ‘La Marseillaise’ in those words!”