Léon Krier, the architect, planner, theorist and master cartoonist who hails from Luxembourg, has called upon the European Union to build itself a new capital so that a way out of the world’s gathering problems might be forged. He says politicians need to know more about cities, how they work, how they should be built, and why they should be friendly in their appearance.
Jane Jacobs, whose 100th birthday was observed on Wednesday and whose Jane’s Walk on the Providence riverfront I will lead at 1 p.m. today, was way out in front on all of this.
Krier’s piece in Building Design is called “Politicians would do well to show more interest in urban design.” It reflects much of what readers have read on this blog for many years. The design of buildings and cities shapes the mood of people in aggregate. It is the call of Jacobs, Prince Charles, Roger Scruton, Tony Brussat (see my post “Epiphany in Stuttgart” on my brother’s recent pensée), Andres Duany (at least to some large degree), Nikos Salingaros, Michael Mehaffy and many others. Krier writes:
I remain astonished by how few political and intellectual figureheads are actively interested in the final shape of our frantic development activities. Observing what happened to cities in the last half-century, there is no reason to be buoyant.
While classicists and traditionalists have the right idea on this very important matter, many of them spend their energy counting the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Traditional Building magazine recently gave precious inches to the idea that classicists should embrace even more of the dubious thinking that has led the world down the treacherous path toward a Blade Runner built environment.
Rather, they should be working to figure out how modern architecture’s grip on the design and development process from the local level on up can be countered. Evening the playing field for major commissions in cities will not happen by studying Foucault!
Krier wants to build a new capital for the EU – Eupolis – along classical lines. (I would ask why not Europolis, but that would be an angels-on-pinheads question, criticized above.) It is a good idea, but even more unlikely than his recent proposal for a new classical center for music in London. Modernists will squelch both ideas with an application of pressure from their pinky fingers. That is because of one thing: politicians are almost completely ignorant about the built environment and what ails it.
I believe that beauty, as traditionally conceived, should be returned to that environment. This will have major effects on social behavior. Since we still have an abundance of models around the world, and since the public vastly prefers traditional to modern architecture, it is a simple problem to solve. We don’t have to figure it out. It’s not like figuring out how to abolish poverty or improve education, yet it will make those vital tasks easier. We just have to do it. And traditional architecture and planning are far more sustainable than the modernist model that the establishment buys into blindly. The only real problem is how to reform the development process to give the public more input into the way we build cities.
Jane Jacobs, were she alive, would agree. Robert Moses would disagree. Let’s proceed forward from this basic distinction, this basic truth.