Frank Gehry Comes to Brooklyn

Charles Taylor in Dissent:

Screenhunter_07_jul_29_1232Like many utopian visions that someone is crazy enough to attempt to realize, modernist architecture has always contained an element of fascism. It wasn’t just that a cuckoo notion like Le Corbusier’s “radiant city,” those celery stalks of lone skyscrapers surrounded by a verdant wasteland, was meant to simplify life, but that it was in some basic sense meant to replace it.

The light and space essential to early modernist design were a response to the darkness and claustrophobia of Victorian architecture in which so many poor were imprisoned. But the modernists’ own language suggested that the masses would simply be serving a new master. You can’t describe a dwelling as a “machine for living,” as Le Corbusier did, without having abandoned what most of us associate with the word “home”: comfort, refuge, freedom from regulation, a respite from routine. If a house or a high-rise apartment building is a machine, those living in it must be the cogs. The ultimate fulfillment of Le Corbusier’s vision might be like a Prozac version of the workers trudging off to the mines in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, drudgery tidied up and narcotized.

It’s no accident that the fascist potential in modern architecture has been clearest to those who saw it firsthand. Writing about the shift in Britain from the semi-detached suburban homes of the 1930s to the anonymous blocks of estate housing built after the Second World War, the filmmaker John Boorman said, “Le Corbusier’s manic followers descended like shock troops bringing more destruction to England than Hitler.”

More here.