There it was. Sitting on my stoop. Wrapped in a plain brown postal envelope.
I picked it up.
Oof! It weighs a ton. It is not big but it is heavy. A brick of gold.
Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism, by James Stevens Curl, just out from Oxford University Press, had arrived.
This was yesterday. A review is to come but for now, from the preface, here is a passage summarizing what the author has gleaned from decades in the groves of architectural history:
This book is inevitably filled with regret, but it also contains critical examinations of what seem to be absurdities that have been supinely adopted as bases for what is happening in the world of architecture. What is needed now, perhaps more than ever before, is a surgical, thorough, methodical exposé of the ideologies for an environmental and cultural disaster on a massive scale, and no punches should be pulled when compiling it.
This is that book. Since 1970, Stevens Curl has written two score volumes of scholarly elucidation largely devoted, judging from their titles, to cherished arcana from Britain’s past: City of London Pubs: A Practical and Historical Guide (1973); The Londonderry Plantation 1609-1914: The History, Architecture, and Planning of the Estates of the City of London and its Livery Companies in Ulster (1986); The Egyptian Revival: Ancient Egypt as the Inspiration for Design Motifs in the West (2005); Spas, Wells & Pleasure Gardens of London (2010); Funerary Monuments & Memorials in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) Cathedral of St Patrick, Armagh (2013), to name five of 17 listed in Dystopia.
Stevens Curl has written a dictionary of architecture for OUP. He has addressed several other architectural topics more generally than the above. Perhaps somewhere in these books he lays out what he really thinks about modern architecture. I suspect not. I suspect he has kept it mainly inside. So I can imagine that over the decades a bolus of anger and misery at the fate of beauty in his beloved land has grown and festered in his soul.
Herein that bolus, that boil, is lanced. I expect to enjoy his revenge if in these pages modern architecture gets, as I am sure it will, what it deserves.
This book is available over in Britain, where it is already gathering splendid reviews. Here are two excerpts:
“Curl opens our eyes to the cult-like fundamentalism of the Modern Movement and the blind devotion accorded to its chief propagandists, namely Gropius, Mies, and Le Corbusier, who we discover was a self-promoting Fascist ideologue with a puritanical obsession concerning personal hygiene.” — Dr. Frank Albo.
“A storm is brewing in the world of architecture thanks to James Stevens Curl’s lightning bolt of a
book … Essentially what he is saying … is that smooth talkers and various freaks, thugs and oddities with no design abilities managed to destroy a continuous tradition of history and craftsmanship.” — Jonathan Glancey, The Daily Telegraph, 28 July 2018.
Strong stuff indeed! This should give a flavor of what US readers can expect. Those who are usually sympathetic to your posts will be thrilled, whereas the régime will tremble and shake to its roots.
I hope you are right, Nikos. James’s book needs to shake the world out of its lethargy regarding architecture and city-making. Living on earth can be much nicer if we can only stop degrading and start improving its civic beauty. It is through our eyes that we most directly enjoy or suffer our experience on this planet.
Go, James! We Earthlings are with you!