Mittell: Ukraine the beautiful

Damaged church in Mariopul, Ukraine. (Voice of America/AP)

My friend and former colleague at the Providence Journal, David Mittell, has sent me a timely guest post about Ukraine. He speaks of the beauty that could arise in rebuilding Ukraine after this awful war. His post brings to mind the statement of Prince Charles, who in 1987 said, ″You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.″ Mittell urges Ukraine not to repeat the error.

I say timely above because we (our family) has decided to re-cover our dining room chair seats, one of which serves (upstairs) as my desk chair. They were taken away on Tuesday. So I am sitting on a very uncomfortable foot stool, the only seat that could be carried upstairs. It serves as a disincentive to writing.

***

Ukraine the beautiful

By David A. Mittell Jr.

Politicus No. 1,456

What do Athens, Lisbon and Venice have in common? The answer is that each was flattened by an earthquake. Survivors were left with no choice but to rebuild, and their embrace of beauty is the main reason we know these cities today.

The underlying lesson is that ordinary people, acting freely, are good and reliable creators of public beauty.

***

If you take the sleeper train from Lviv, Ukraine – itself a beautiful city – to the national capital in Kyiv, as I have done several times, you will not be in for a good night’s sleep. Western Ukraine is dotted with train stations where men and women of all ages wait on platforms, seemingly patiently, for the return of their beloved.

Are they still alive?

Have they survived Russia’s cruel and mindless bombing?

One prays they have survived, but will never know.

***

Awakening after a couple hours of fitful sleep, this passenger notes that the train has reversed its direction. The way forward is now the way backward! We are in the northern suburbs of Kyiv and wend our way through a seemingly endless progression of urban sprawl. Beauty is not to be seen. Finally, we pull into the since bombed (in 2022) railway station in Kyiv.

But from this account of Russia’s cruel and mindless bombing arises true hope. If those who have survived the bombing can be free to create beauty where sprawl has heretofore ruled, the world will be enriched.

By this I do not mean a diktat from on high. That is what we, whatever our nationality, are against! What I mean is if there are, say, 10,000 buildings that have been damaged or destroyed, they should be catalogued, then turned over to their former residents to design the buildings’ future beauty as they conceive it.

“As they conceive it” is the key. Does this mean that what we will call “the house next door” will be different from “our house”? It does. Ours is a seemingly radical idea that from Duxbury and Jamaica Plain, in Massachusetts, to Llandudno Junction, in Wales, has informed every beautiful place this writer has known.

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 Mittell: Ukraine the beautiful

  1. John the First says:

    What do Iraq and Ukraine have in common: destruction by the beasts of war. Though Iraq wasn’t ‘mindless’, it was a beastly beating and destruction for the sake of democracy after all. Another difference, the US and NATO used radioactive explosives which still produces newborn humans which are ‘architecturally’ deformed.This is only Iraq, we are not even talking about the other beast wars of the same imperialist nature, applauded for by the Western media and elites.
    It is best not to do politics on a blog about architecture, the West being morally bankrupt, it easily starts to smell. In case of people being impartially against all these wars, including the wars initiated and stoked by the Holy Western Democratic Empire under the supervision of the warmongering country number one, the US, this blog would turn into a war journalism blog.

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    • The Iraq and Afghan wars, John, were won and then victory was thrown away in poorly conceived nation-building schemes. I can’t say about the Vietnam war, nor do I have any idea what other wars you refer to, but all wars are beastly, obviously. Of all dominant nations in history ours has probably been the least “imperialist.”

      I fail to understand your displeasure with democracy. Ours is far from perfect, but what form of government do you suggest instead?

      David Mittell’s guest posts have not been political, including this one, which was architectural and aesthetic. And they are run here as a favor to a dear friend who has needs that surpass my meager ability to provide, so at least I can satisfy a desire of his in this way. Do not worry that this blog has turned or will turn into a “war journalism blog.”

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