Salingaros on archiCULTure

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Le Corbusier believed his 1925 plan to rebuild central Paris was serious. (Business Insider)

Architecture today, at least establishment architecture, is not so much a profession as a cult. Call it archiculture. That fits. Nobody understands this better than Nikos Salingaros, whose thinking on cults and other subjects helped James Stevens Curl write his bombshell new book Making Dystopia. “Salingaros put it very well,” wrote Stevens Curl in the book, “when he described this process as a ‘rewiring of the students’ neuronal circuits.'”

For that’s what cults do: they replace normal perceptions of reality with false perceptions of reality. Students of architecture are brainwashed. They are taught to reject their intuitive respect for beauty. When they have become architects, the journals they read, the associations they join, the colleagues they meet at their firms or at conclaves of fellow professionals are structured to isolate them (along with individuals and societies who must put up with their buildings) from competing ideas about architecture. When the leading institutions of the field are all controlled by the cult, the job becomes rather easy. And so architecture has for almost seven decades been – as recently described by Sir Roger Scruton – a closed feedback loop.

Now, with the publication of Making Dystopia and the increasingly sustained exposure of the public to unsavory facts about modern architecture – such as Le Corbusier’s plan to raze and rebuild central Paris, and Philip Johnson’s Nazi past – reaction against it has become as intense as it was when Prince Charles attacked its “carbuncles” in the 1980s. Now the cult is beginning to leak: keeping the feedback loop closed has grown more difficult.

Below are passages from “Twentieth Century Architecture as a Cult,” which is Chapter 7 of Salingaros’s book Anti-architecture and Deconstruction, whose fourth edition was published in 2014, though it first appeared as an essay in the November 2002 issue of the journal of the International Network of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU). That is almost halfway between Charles’s 1984 attack on modern architecture and today’s attack triggered by Professor Curl’s book – subtitled “The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism.”

Architecture [writes Salingaros] is not set up to be stable to received input in the same way that science is. In science, there exists large-scale and long-term systemic stability. By contrast, contemporary architecture, like any other belief system not founded on rationality and experiment, is susceptible to catastrophic system collapse because it cannot tolerate minor changes.

This is good news, and we can see that this is beginning to happen – in part because Salingaros’s perceptions about architecture as a cult are becoming more evident to the public. Here is how Salingaros sees the end game:

The moment when society decides to abandon architecture as a cult, and replace it with architecture as a field based on logical reflection, the present architectural power structure will cease to exist. A new power structure composed of new people will be supported by a new educational system. [But for now,] establishment architects realize that their continued prosperity depends on prolonging the current system, and are doing a marvelous job of reinforcing its hold on society.

Not for long. Read the entire essay and you will better understand “the strange rise and survival of architectural barbarism.”

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, 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 Salingaros on archiCULTure

    • Interesting piece, Duo. But as in so many of your very well written productions, it remains evident that you are reluctant to choose between history and the rejection of history as the prime influence in architectural design. You can call classical or modernism a style (though we both know they are equally a mode of thought) or whatever you want, but there will be this immutable distinction, each with its particular types of diversity, whether we want to wish it away or not. Anybody who prefers Corbusier’s Plan Voisin to Yale’s new colleges has been brainwashed, plain and simple. The sooner that modern architecture is rejected and the world picks up the traditional way of building where it was interrupted almost a century ago, the better. Nobody of intelligence and humane sensibililty can deny that, and those who cannot make up their minds are simply too dim or to cowardly – or too attached to their personal interests – to challenge the status quo. There it is, Duo. What say you?

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