I’ve often told others that most of distinctly 20th century art is immoral and serves atheism. Sure, I’m trying to be stark and pejorative when I say this, but I’m also serious. The subversion of mystery, love, grace, and beauty — the decidedly non-codifiable principles of life — are the leitmotif in the modernist teasing of analytic form (reason without transcendence). Classical architecture is natural, an expression of the forms intrinsic to a created reality and, thus, sits well with the rest of creation; modernist architecture is contrived and absurd, precisely in its reduction to function over and against form as a transcendental category. Now, I can happily increase the acumen of my antimodernist rants, thanks to Roger Scruton’s fascinating piece in City Journal on urban architecture and, specifically, the work of “antimodernist,” Léon Krier. It turns out that modernist architecture even fails as expressions of “function,” rightly understood. There is much, much good in this article. Here’s a bit:
Traditional architecture produced forms expressive of human interests—palaces, houses, factories, churches, temples—and these sit easily under their names. The forms of modern architecture, Krier argues, are nameless—denoting not familiar objects and their uses but “so-called objects,” known best by nicknames, and never by real names of their own. Thus the Berlin Congress Hall is the “pregnant oyster,” Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles the “madhouse,” the new building at Queen’s College, Oxford, the “parking lot,” and the UN building in New York the “radiator.” The nickname, in Krier’s view, is the correct term for a kitsch object—for a faked object that sits in its surroundings like a masked stranger at a family party. Classical forms, by contrast, result from convention and consensus over centuries; they earn their names—house, palace, church, factory—from the natural understanding that they elicit, with nothing about them forced.
Modernist forms have been imposed upon us by people in the grip of ideology. They derive no human significance from the materials that compose them, from the labor that produced them, or from the function that they fulfill, and their monumental quality is faked.