Bad trad and good trad

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New town near Mudurnu, in northwestern Turkey. (

Two articles fished from today’s indispensable, the thrice-weekly free compendium of anglospherical articles on architecture, edited by Kristen Richards, show the use and misuse of classical traditions on opposite sides of the world. Guess which is which, above and below.

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Part of Huawei’s Shenzhen campus. This cluster, one of 12, resembles Oxford. (

The misuse is on top. It is in Turkey, and all 732 of the little castles are ridiculous, even though the architecture itself does not seem all that bad. Indeed, it is less ridiculous than most ugly and stupid modernist housing developments in the United States and other mostly western countries. Imagine a neighborhood consisting exclusively of the modernist Philip Johnson’s Glass House, which offers privacy only in the WC.

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Philip Johnson’s Glass House. (Arquitectura e interiorismo)

To be sure, Johnson didn’t sleep in his own famous house in the woods of New Canaan, Conn. He only threw parties there but slept in a brick outbuilding near his house. A neighborhood of Glass Houses would be a Peeping Tom paradise, whereas those living in the newly created neighborhood of 732 single-family castles in Mudurnu would be well protected from prying eyes – prying sidewalk eyes in the out-of-doors if not those snooping through their computers’ Google accounts. This neighborhood looks monolithic, but give it a few years and each castle might sprout its own personality, as did the famous Long Island tract houses of Levittown, N.Y. Rival landscaping, additions to the structure and other personal features can work a world of diversity into even a betowered tract development in Turkey. Actually, the whole place is unoccupied today – the victim of Turkey’s contracting economy.

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Another cluster of Hauwei campus.

The more inspired use, second photo, is the new campus, in Shenzhen, of Chinese corporate megagiant Huawei, maker of the third most globally popular smartphones after Apple and Samsung. Its new campus consists of 12 clusters, each inspired by a European city. To judge by the photographs in an article on All Tech Asia, the work is of high quality, not pure copies of past designs, so far as I can tell. Maybe I should add it to my roundup of the “Best Trad Buildings of 2018,” since the campus opened last year. Of course it goes without saying that the campus has been mocked by the usual suspects. The All Tech Asia story, “Huawei’s new campus in Shenzhen gets ridiculed for copycat architecture,” starts with this paragraph:

Chinese architects and netizens recently performed a collective facepalm after Huawei Technologies revealed the new design for its smartphone division headquarters near Shenzhen. Unlike tech giants like Apple, Google, and Alibaba, which gained attention with their futuristic buildings, Huawei decided that the best way to show how innovative they are is by copying 12th to 19th-century European architecture.

The facepalmers do not bother to climb out of their mental boxes to consider that a bolder imagination might well consider beauty to be a more useful response to the needs of the corporation and its workers than the sterile clichés that characterize the so-called “futuristic buildings” that all the other technology firms in China and elsewhere seem to have on their architectural save/gets. No big surprise. They are good at technology. Art and humanity are probably above their pay grades.

The Turkish bad trad reminds me of an office tower, in the postmodernist stye by Philip Johnson (again), along Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. Its ranks of Palladian windows in the middle section of the tripartite building are a less elegant version of Mudurno, Turkey. Huawei’s supposed bad trad in Shenzhen, China, represents good trad with a bad rep because it copies the past. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – unless you are a mod-symp nudnik. Perhaps this does not fit in China – whose premier called for more culturally sensitive architecture not too long ago – but it does seem to be an advance over most other developments in the Middle Kingdom, not excluding the towns in suburban Shanghai that are more direct copies – and generally bad ones – of Paris and other European cities. Let alone Koolhaas’s uber-modernist CCTV HQ, in Beijing, which should be called the “Crush the People” Building. If you ask me, Huawei’s workers have opened a very nice fortune cookie, and now they will get to work in it. Good on them!

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Philip Johnson’s 1987 One International Place, Boston, with its ridiculous Palladian windows.

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Architect Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters in Beijing, known as Big Pants. (Pinterest)

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, 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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3 Responses to Bad trad and good trad

  1. Pingback: Battle with Huawei and Nikken. Practical copyright infrigment dispute | Victoria Balva

  2. Steve Mouzon says:

    David, the first image from Turkey reminds me a lot of the trulli of Alberobello in Puglia, except for the fact that they’re much further down the Vernacular-Classical Spectrum.


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