Atlantis: Krier’s ideal village

Computer rendering of Atlantis, proposed by Leon Krier for the island of Tenerife. (Click to enlarge.)

In February, the architect and urban theorist Léon Krier, famed for planning Prince Charles’s new town of Poundbury, sent me a video about his proposed academic village on a hillside at the island, off of North Africa, of Tenerife, long owned by Spain. Commissioned in the 1980s by the celebrated gallerists and art collectors Hans Jürgen and Helga Müller, Atlantis was to be an academic village designed according to Persian, Greek, Roman and Christian civic precedents, inviting, as Krier himself puts it, “meritorious individuals who excel in their fields of science, humanities, arts, ecology, crafts, philosophy, farming” to extend their studies and mix it up – that is, dialogue – with resident intellects.

Atlantis was never built; Krier’s wealthy clients were apparently rattled by criticism from hidebound modernist architects and critics, failed to raise the money, and ended up building something by the late 2015 Pritzker laureate Otto Frei, who specialized in tents (I kid you not!). Atlantis envisioned five hectares (12.3 acres) comprising some 100 buildings, 31 streets, 19 squares designed in Krier’s inimitable style, which is essentially classicist.

A lovely 22-minute video of the Atlantis proposal by Krier, who won the Richard H. Driehaus Prize, hosted by the Univeersity of Notre Dame, in 2003 (the program’s first laureate) is here. Assembled  by video artist Patrice Elmer, it has text in English and French, paintings by Driehaus laureate Carl Laubin, drawings and models of Krier’s designs, and an enchanting score, on piano, by Ralph Zurmühle.

But first a couple of words about Krier’s “style.”

His brother, also an architect and urban theorist, like Léon raised in Luxembourg, was recently criticized in a comment to my post “Rob Krier wins his Driehaus.” An anonymous writer complained:

What on earth has [Rob] Krier built of note? Just as it was starting to look like the Driehaus jury was beginning to break away from its early, shameful love for mediocre postmodernists, we get a resurgence of this junk. Meanwhile, the Pritzker continues a splendid streak of acknowledging architects who actually know how to make beautiful, humane buildings.

I replied:

FYI, “Anonymous,” the judicial complex in Luxembourg is better than all buildings designed by Pritzker laureates since its founding. Maybe recent Pritzker laureates design buildings that are more humane than those of earlier laureates, but that is a very, very, very low bar.

I am not exaggerating about Rob Krier’s judicial complex. The differences in the beauty, the humanity and the timelessness of these two opposing and embattled styles of architecture are extreme. In response to a question about whether Atlantis is valid today, Léon Krier asserts in a May 2021 interview that

[t]he project is valid and can be built anywhere in similar geographic and climate conditions now or in the future. Traditional architecture and urbanism are independent of fashions. They satisfy permanent human spiritual and material needs and most importantly, they transcend political, gender, race, income, class, language, religious and age barriers.

Krier’s “style” – he might object to the word – is generally a simplified version of classical precedents, mainly from ancient Greece and Rome.It has become de rigueur, and not just for modernists, to sniff at the idea of style, and assert that architects should exclude it from their designs and their vocabulary. That would simply be impossible. Every architectural design has a style, for better or worse. It may or may not reflect the culture or context of its setting, but it has a style, deny it or not, and its style is intrinsic to its quality and its appearance. (See this video of a panel on Rhode Island architect David Andreozzi’s “Architectural Delight.”)

You might say that Krier’s style draws from the common man’s image of his ideal home town, as expressed in Western culture from time immemorial, all the way down to the expression of civic ideals, of archetypal cities, that once sprang, say, from the mind of Walt Disney, reflected in Disneyland’s Main Street and his entire oeuvre. In a way, Krier’s architecture is cartoon architecture, without the irony and stupidity embraced by the postmodernism of the 1980s, which allowed classical elements to be tacked onto the usual modernist glass boxes, with a wink to those supposedly “in the know.” Krier’s designs hark back, instead, to his witty but serious “cartoons” that explain graphically why modern architecture is intrinsically inferior to classical architecture.

Watch the video and try to imagine any modernist, celebrated or obscure, designing anything as alluring as Krier’s Atlantis, or anywhere near it. It cannot be done. Enjoy the luxurious imagery of the video.

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.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Art and design, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Atlantis: Krier’s ideal village

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t see how anyone but a ideologically blinded partisan could call Rob Krier’s Cite Judiciaire complex better than anything built by a Pritzker laureate. It’s true that the Pritzker jury had a long streak of recognizing flashy starchitects whose work may or may not have lasting value (though in the last decade or so, they’ve begun to recognize subtler, more classical architects like Grafton or Diebedo Francis Kere, who even an anti-modernist ought to be able to appreciate). But it’s plain to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Classical principles that Krier’s work has no value whatsoever.

    All of the classical architects that I know were aghast at this year’s award. There are many, many classical architects who do legitimately good work. Krier is not one of them. Why not recognize a real genius like Craig Hamilton, or the up-and-coming duo Timothy Smith & Jonathan Taylor, who are making great strides in developing the classical tradition? Why would you give the award to someone like Krier, who’s holding us back in the dark days of mediocre postmodernism?

    Like

    • It’s easy to do. Just mouth the words. You also must understand the principles that describe the differences between classicism and modernism. If you understand those, you will realize what I am saying. Obviously you don’t agree, but then you probably don’t understand the principles to which I refer. Humanist vs. machine is one of them, the most basic. Design based on natural vs. unnatural processes, design that evolves slowly via the work of architects and builders on the ground, over generations and centuries. I could go on. No modernist would understand. They are the ones who are ideologically blinded.

      Perhaps sensitive modern architects are moving toward a more classical outlook. That is good. Someday, design and development processes will evolve away from the tilted playing field that keeps traditional work out of major commissions. Then the public will see that classicism is not some sadly lost phenomenon of the past. Then modernist firms will have to hire classicists, and perhaps someday, human nature will tilt the playing field for commissions toward more humanistic work, at which point modernism will evolve or die out altogether – which, as you (whoever you are) have suggested, may be a process that is already under way.

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve got it on pretty good authority (I’ve met many recent graduates) that most of the young classical architects being trained at Notre Dame and CUA are all really interested in the modern styles, so it’s doubtful that you’ll ever see it die altogether. Having actually studied classical architecture, they understand the natural development of modernism from classicism, and they really like it!

        It’s really the crusty postmodern theory of the Krier brothers that’s actually dying out. Duany and Stern seem to see the way the wind’s blowing, kudos to them for being open to the authentic beauty of modernism!

        Like

  2. Colum Mulhern says:

    @ “Lazy Reader“……. You first have to build a city before you can manage it. Much of what’s wrong with cities these days are the parts that aren’t planned but just happen, like Sprawl. There is more than 30% social housing in Poundbury and you cannot distinguish it from private. Make a visit and see before passing such judgement.

    Like

  3. LazyReader says:

    Fail, fail fail.
    Master planned communities often do.
    People can easily come together when the going is easy and fun. Community-building without a deeper root, however, can easily splinter during rough patches.

    The attempts by the urban planning profession to house the poor has gone thru several generations. First generation was they put them in high rise housing projects. But in less than 15 years it turned into graffiti covered, crime infested ghettos. Then the next generation, thinking they’ve learned their lesson, the urban planners came up with a new approach. Instead of building high rises they built mid rises (less than 10 stories high) and incorporated more plazas and park/play grounds but it too turned into a slum. So then they tired low rises (no more than 5 stories), more trees and landscaping and it still turned into a ghetto.

    In the mid-20th century, Modernist architects were notorious for trying out social engineering theories on projects for low-income people. Many of these experiments were ended by dynamite. Every year the government blows up the very thing they touted as the solution to public housing problems.

    Jane Jacobs did more for the Gentrification movement than it’s opposition. I’ve written on the focus of good architecture before. But even I recognize you need “ugly” areas for the sake of the impoverished. A sad but necessary truth. When you walk into a poor part of town, you find straight away that it is not particularly attractive. But why? Surely nobody wants to live in an ugly area, so why should it be that way? This question may seem so easy to answer that you might consider it rhetorical. A poor area is ugly because the residents do not have enough money for upkeep, so it’s subject to the decay and fall into ugliness. As simple as this sounds, so does the reply. Why does the city not help with the upkeep of neighborhoods? After all, some paint, planting trees and flowers is not that expensive. And this is where it becomes strange: they can not do it and it is not because of the money.

    If the city pays for the maintenance of an area, beautifying it, the area will become attractive to gentrification. The new arrivals bring along new demands for a certain type of shop, schools and so forth. The people who used to live there will be chased out by the increasing cost of rent. So implicitly, by trying to make people’s lives more pleasant, the municipality will have chased them out of their neighborhoods.

    Some kind of middle way can of course be found to balance out the possibility of housing everyone, but it does imply that a municipality has to be sparse in its brushing up of an area and embrace ugliness. A peculiar price to pay to keep the city diverse. Even though no world class city wants ghettos on their post cards.

    Krier is another urban planning shill…who thinks he knows what’s best……..the best cities are never planned, they’re managed

    Like

    • Embrace ugliness? Lazy, your discourse continues to pursue the ridiculous. Colum is right. You must build a city before managing it.

      Like

      • LazyReader says:

        Cities are the way they are due to the evolutionary circumstances that made them. Geography.
        New York is an Island near water, Baltimore has a harbor, some cities exist in valleys where they were well protected from invaders, blah blah blah. Economics didn’t matter until they 20th century. By then, the economies of scale already had a workforce, technologies, infrastructure put into place.
        Cities in Japan are picturesque despite lack of classicism…

        It’s streets are clean, sidewalks swept, buildings are immaculate well maintained. Even it’s alley’s are places of commerce, despite looking like the set of blade runner.

        From a culture that takes every square inch seriously…

        Embrace ugliness…aesthetics come to mind when people who cant plan well, bring up defense why. Cities need lower taxes, crime abatement, clean streets, fixed infrastructure more than they need pretty buildings and if aesthetics are issues to good value, they can be adopted by owners. Wonderful thing about private property rights, is you can build largely what you want. Master planned communities always fail.

        A “Village” is a largely sufficient community smaller than towns and cities; Krier’s designs remind me of the drawings he makes of overexaggerated buildings he often condemns.

        Like

        • Embrace ugliness? That doesn’t work well, Lazy. Your sentence as written does not even make (or convey) sense. Beauty in cities is mostly the result of private individuals erecting beautiful buildings. Cities help when they plan trees and gracious street furniture and sidewalks. Cities often don’t know the difference between beauty and ugliness, and just want to raise tax revenue. Cities may succeed without beauty, but are more likely to succeed, or please even in failure, when beautiful.

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.