Beauty vs. ugliness in architecture and fashion
A few months ago, Emily posted a link to a short but interesting article by Dr. Theodore Dalrymple. The same author has published an essay in the most recent issue of the City Journal which is also worth noting here, as it dovetails with the theme of this site.
The article discusses the Modernist architect Le Corbusier, the man who is as much responsible as anyone for the ugliness of modern architecture, with its flat concrete surfaces, glass-and-steel composition, and brutal minimalism.
Here is a typical Corbusier apartment block, looking more like a prison than a domicile.
The parallels between the blight of modern architecture and the horrors of contemporary fashion are striking. Just as the modern fashion world put an end to two millennia of Classical beauty, so Corbusier intended for his brutalist architecture to eradicate the beauty of the past:
Like [the dictator] Pol Pot, [Corbusier] wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.
Like most Post-Modernists, Corbusier didn't wish merely to supplant the past, but to eliminate it, make it vanish--just as the modern fashion world has eliminated all traces of the Classically proportioned figure.
The exhibition played a 1920s film showing Le Corbusier in front of a map of the center of Paris, a large part of which he proceeds to scrub out with a thick black crayon with all the enthusiasm of Bomber Harris planning the annihilation of a German city during World War II.
The comparison with the Allied devastation is distressingly apt, for just as bombers left nothing behind them in World War II but the ruins of cities,
so today's fashion models possess the mere ruins of bodies:
There was an imperative thrust to Corbusier's work, a tyrannical insistence on itself that closely mirrors the practice of the modern fashion industry, in which designers, advertisers, and magazine editors insist that their way of showcasing clothing, on their brand of emaciated models, is the only presentation possible, and that the public is not qualified to challenge this approach.
Le Corbusier wanted architecture to be the same the world over because he believed that there was a “correct” way to build and that only he knew what it was.
How often, in fashion writing, does one encounter that same imperative tone, the language of "must"--e.g., in those noxiously offensive "rules" about hiding so-called "flaws," or wearing body-shame shades of black, or disguising supposed "problem areas." All of these "rules," all of these "musts," are decreed like the revealed truth of a religion. But they are only the weight-bigoted, narrow opinions of thin-supremacist individuals whose curve-o-phobic attitudes are absurd or irrelevant. These aesthetic dictators might as well say "Grass must be red," but that "must" doesn't make the statement any more true.
If most architects revered Le Corbusier, who were we laymen, the mere human backdrop to his buildings, who know nothing of the problems of building construction, to criticize him?
Even people within the fashion industry who recognize its degenerate nature, its criminal promotion of anorexia, are too timid to criticize the "great" editors, or the "genius" designers, whereas all of those supposed luminaries are really, like Corbusier, merely hacks who have publicized themselves into an undeserved status.
Two ladies [with whom Dalrymple discusses Corbusier] mentioned that they lived in a mainly eighteenth-century part of the city whose appearance and social atmosphere had been comprehensively wrecked by two massive concrete towers. The towers confronted them daily with their own impotence to do anything about the situation, making them sad as well as angry.
Similarly, the general populace, no matter how much they despise modern fashion, feel powerless to do anything about it--as if they were standing before a concrete wall, wishing that it could be knocked down, but resigned to its immovability and inevitability.
Has anyone ever stood, overlooking, say, the Grand Canal in Venice, and thought, “What I need in order to understand this is the missing piece of the jigsaw with which only an architect can provide me, and only then will I understand it”?
The architecture of the past, like the Classical feminine ideal, was in tune with human impulse. It didn't pride itself the degree to which it shocked or appalled the public--as if shock were an end in itself. Rather, it flowed naturally from the human spirit, and harmonized with natural tastes. Its beauty was accessible to all, even as its subtleties delighted the most refined spirits.
Behind Corbusier's vision, as behind the impulses of modern fashion designers, is a basic contempt for humanity. The hatred of the natural female figure, of a human ideal of beauty, is evident in the way in which the fashion world sees any trace of human flesh as a "flaw," and fetishizes the mechanical notion of a model as a "hanger"--a mere device, a painted automaton. Corbusier shared this vision:
A terminal inhumanity—what one might almost call “ahumanity”—characterizes Le Corbusier’s thought and writing.
Do modern fashion designers not consider models mere "machines for walking," "machines for parading fabric"?
Le Corbusier’s hatred of the human went well beyond words, of course. What he called the “roof garden” of his famous concrete apartment block in Marseilles, the Unité d’Habitation, consists of a flat concrete surface in which protrude several raw concrete abstract shapes and walls.
Is this not exactly what the modern fashion world idealizes--the vision of an androgynous frame of "flat surfaces"? And consider how the fashion world raves about "angles." A naturally luscious female figure has curves, not angles. But "abstract shapes and walls," of the kind that Corbusier built, have angles--and this is the form into which the fashion world wants to distort the female body: a hollowed-out, flat frame consisting of abstract shapes and angles.
It is as if he wanted the sun to shrivel up the human insects who dared to stain the perfect geometry of his plans with the irregularities that they brought with them.
Those same "irregularities" are equivalent to the undulating curves of fullness, the seductively dimpled flesh, that goddesses acquire as they grow more luscious--and it is precisely these sensual "irregularities" that the modern fashion world sees as "flaws," to be hidden, disguised, or erased with Photoshop. Corbusier employs practically the same language that the fashion industry uses when it bleats about curves "distracting" from the clothing (as if the clothing were more important than the humans wearing it, and were better not to be worn at all; just as Corbusier's buildings were seemingly best if they were not inhabited, but stood like empty shells).
He possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends.
One would hardly go so far as to call any modern designer or photographer a man of "genius"! However, they may have some talent in terms of lighting, accessorizing, etc. But all of those gifts are used to promote an inhuman, soulless standard that is a blight on the world.
harmonizes with traditional, rounded, feminine beauty.
Re: Beauty vs. ugliness in architecture and fashion
A fascinating read, thank you! The similarities between barren modern architecture and modern fashion are striking. It's incredible to think that society has allowed such ugliness to control our culture for so long.
A contempt for humanity. This is perhaps the most perfect way to describe Modernism; the epitome of its aesthetic aims and ideals. A similar theme can be seen in Modern theatre- Bertolt Brecht, for example, seeked to use his plays to alienate the audience and prevent them from feeling any emotion whatsoever. Modern artwork is the same- Pollock's masses of randomly splattered paint without any real or human element whatsoever- as well as the alien cacophony of most Modern music. We could also say they had a contempt for Beauty itself, as Modernism seems to want to eliminate all harmony, colour and joy from their work, until nothing is left but an empty shell...a machine.
But machines can't provide comfort or solace in times of need. They can't express human emotions, intelligent thought or spirituality. Machines can't enrich our lives, and they most certainly cannot create Beauty, the beauty so essential to human life. Whether through the harsh ugliness of Modern architecture or the emaciation of high-fashion models, Modernism and its offshoots seek to eliminate the beauty and ideals of the past and put empty ugliness in their place. It's crazy to think than anyone could prefer Le Corbusier's monstrosities and the flat, hard angles of starvation over the life-giving beauty of the timeless ideal.
Re: Beauty vs. ugliness in architecture and fashion
I'd like to believe that maybe a revolt against the modernist tyranny is finally gathering steam. Just the other day, according to the following article, the Washington Post named the grotesque steel-and-glass addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto "the world building of the decade":
And apparently, a travel site listed it as 8th among the 10 ugliest buildings in the world.
Writes the Post:
Here's how one commentator describes the addition:
In case you haven't seen it, consider yourself lucky. Here's the beauty of the original ROM, which indeed exhibited great architectural purity:
Now, here's what this modern monstrosity looks like. All I can think of when I look at it is, "I bet the fashion types would praise it for its 'angles'." Ugh! It looks like a collapsed warehouse.
And just think -- this obscenity was accepted as the structure of a museum -- a museum (!), the repository of the greatest artifacts of beauty from Western history. It's as if the exterior structure is designed to devalue the beauty of the objects within it. Welcome to the 21st century.
But as I said, it's encouraging to see at least some writers denouncing this kind of architecture. And even more encouraging to see a city like Dresden rebuilding its glorious Baroque past rather than trying to impose a blight like this.
Re: Beauty vs. ugliness in architecture and fashion
Collapsed warehouse? I would go farther than that and say it looks like a junk heap. Like all the windows in someone's house were shattered and thrown in one large broken pile.
In many ways these so-called great architects help the fashion industry impose their standard. If you can go into a lovely classically built house every night, you have an escape from the horrors outside. Surrounded by the truly beautiful, the brainwashing cannot penetrate your inner sanctum. But when you have to live in the modern world, and then come home to an inhuman, spartan house, there is nowhere to go. Ugliness and hard angles surround you.
And this is their goal. That at some point you do not even have a choice, for them to have total tyrannical control. Just like there are no full-figured-fashion magazines, they want all houses and buildings to be devoid of humanity, minimalism at its worst. And once again, with no other choice but to leave society and roam in the wilderness, you must live every second in this cold, barbaric world with not a splash of warmth or a curve in sight.
But if we protest this with our pocketbooks, for we still can, the true aesthetic will be restored and the fashion industry will have nothing to hide behind. And these people will be exposed for what they are, and no longer will be allowed to rule society.
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