More on beauty via Expedia

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Mini Me of Fourth Grace spits in the face of Liverpool’s Three Graces. (Expedia)

After posting the Expedia video on Budapest yesterday “Nine minutes in Budapest,” and after noting that the link to the Expedia video continued a chain of links to other destinations, I continued along that chain. Without suggesting that a video visit compares to a personal visit, the videos do seem to be produced in a manner that fosters comparison.

The London video seemed, however, to ignore the city’s many modernist buildings in a way that the Paris video did not, so London was made to seem lovelier than it is, where Paris’s minimal quotient of modernism was not as understated. The same, alas, may be said of the video of Liverpool.

Long ago, in 2005, I attended a symposium, sponsored by the Royal Society of the Arts, that compared efforts to revive Providence and Liverpool, with the famous Three Graces on its Mersey riverfront. At the time, a “Fourth Grace” was to be added. Among the symposium’s panelists was the British starchitect Will Alsop, whose Fourth Grace proposal had been selected in spite of being the least favorite among the Liverpool public of several competing proposals. It was cancelled the year before the symposium. Still, the city fathers did manage to built a Fourth Grace, a National Museum of Liverpool that spat in the faces of the Three Graces just as vigorously as anything Alsop could have done. I did not learn this until viewing the Liverpool video yesterday.

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Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI, in Rome

(The Liverpool museum seems to be a copy of the late Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum outside Rome. A smaller building even closer to the Three Graces seems to be a Mini Me of both museums. It is in the image atop this post. It seems to be a museum of music focusing on the Beatles.)

Needless to say, the Liverpool waterfront has been disgraced in the same way so many other great cities have been defaced. Of the Expedia videos, the most beautiful cities are those which have done best to avoid this fate. Paris, Venice, Prague, Florence, Rome, Bordeaux. Most, like Paris, have districts characterized by modernism but they are separated from the beautiful sections that, again, as in Paris, dominate the city. Rome so far has kept modernism at arm’s length. The video of Venice may be the most evocative because it has so little modern architecture. It teaches lessons that are too late to learn in places like Liverpool or London, and which even Paris seems eager to unlearn.

The ancient Romans treated change in their city as an opportunity to add new buildings that strengthened the collective power and virtuosity of what was already there. Many cities took that lesson to heart for centuries, building up to greatness. Civic design sought to climb to a crescendo of beauty, as did each twist and turn in the buildup of a great symphony, or as successive peaks of a mountain range arise to the exclamation point of an Everest. Nature builds its biodiversity through the repetition and evolution of form. That form is the melody of biology. Nature would never insert an atonal passage in a symphonic progression of biological change.

Cities do not grow naturally in quite the same way, but civic leaders over time can approach the model of nature or of Rome or retreat from it. The reigning strategy of urban development today is to embrace retreat. But it need not be so tomorrow. Aside from traveling to city after city, there may be no better way than watching successive Expedia travel videos to examine the do’s and don’ts of civic enrichment.

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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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2 Responses to More on beauty via Expedia

  1. petervanerp says:

    How soon before they realize that the upkeep of a POS like that isn’t worth it, despite the sunk cost? (See: Fogarty Building)
    I’ve been to MAXXI, though just to attend a conference in the auditorium. What I most remember most is the paving between the entry and a cafe in a reused building opposite, part of the same complex. The obvious path from the entry to the cafe crosses a series of gravel stripes in the paving, so that Dame Hadid forces you to follow her design and go far out of the direct path. You can see it here.

    Like

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