Printing now in Britain at Oxford University Press is James Stevens Curl’s jeremiad against modern architecture, called Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism. A review copy is on the way. As I informed Professor Curl in requesting a copy, I plan to write a book on the same topic, and since no one apparently has done so before him, I will be happy to draw on his observations. But how can I possibly outdo his title, which includes both dystopia and barbarism?
Professor Curl, whose academic career includes two stints as visiting fellow at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, is the author of 40 volumes, including the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (1999; 3rd ed. 2016). Making Dystopia is his 41st. It is vividly described in an Oxford University Press release that recently made its way into my inbox:
Drawing on prodigious personal research and a wealth of supporting materials, Professor Stevens Curl traces the effects of the Modernist revolution in architecture from 1918 to the present, arguing that, with each passing year, so-called ‘iconic’ architecture by supposed ‘star’ architects has become more bizarre, unsettling, and expensive, ignoring established contexts and proving to be stratospherically remote from the aspirations and needs of humanity. …
While this combative critique of the entire Modernist architectural project and its apologists will be regarded by many as highly controversial, Making Dystopia contains salutary warnings that we ignore at our peril and asks awkward questions to which answers are long overdue.
By the way, the photo atop this blog shows one possible environment for a dystopian novel. It is from a post at nyeditors.com about how to write such a novel. The author astutely notes that dystopia can take many physical forms, not excluding the beautiful. (Recall the movie The Truman Show, which was filmed at Seaside, Fla.) So modern architecture is not absolutely required for a dystopian world. Unfortunately, it does appear easier for the totalitarian mind to imagine. On our nonfictional Earth, modern architecture makes up the backdrop for the world toward which we are heading. As Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”
You can read about how to create a fictional dystopia while you are waiting to read about how we are creating a real dystopia.