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Old 10th December 2009   #1
HSG
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Join Date: July 2005
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Default 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.

[. . .]

His ahumanity makes itself evident also in his attitude toward the past. Repeatedly, he talks of the past as a tyranny from which it is necessary to escape, as if no one had discovered or known anything until his arrival. It is not that the past bequeaths us problems that we must try our best to overcome: it is that the entire past, with few exceptions, is a dreadful mistake best destroyed and then forgotten.

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.

Modern architecture physically eradicates the masterpieces of history by demolishing them and building atop their rubble. The modern fashion world similarly obliterates any trace of the voluptuous female physique by starving away its curves until it fits into the modern flat, minimalist paradigm; or, failing that, by rendering it invisible (by banning it from magazines, runways, and advertising). As Dalrymple reports, when describing a Corbusier exhibit:

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.

[. . .]

His mode of writing is disjointed, without apparent logical structure, aphoristic, and with frequent resort to the word “must,” as if no sentient being with an IQ over 50 could or would argue with what he says.

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.

Just as the seeming professionalism of the architectural trade creates an illusory distance between draftsmen and the public, so does the seeming professionalism of fashion create an illusory distance between designers/photographers/editors and consumers, giving a false impression of the Modernists as having access to knowledge to which the public is not privy:

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.

The sheer oppressiveness of the Modernist imposition is so overwhelming that the public is cowed into impotence before it:

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.

Contrast those deadening feelings with the pleasurable sensations wrought by historical architecture that is governed by timeless ideals of beauty:

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.

The Grand Canal in Venice, with the dome of St. Mark's in the background

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.

[. . .]

Presumably, the humans will be where they should be, out of sight and out of mind (the architect’s mind, anyway), in their machines for living in (as he so charmingly termed houses), sitting on machines for sitting on (as he defined chairs).

Do modern fashion designers not consider models mere "machines for walking," "machines for parading fabric"?

Further on the issue of inhumanity:

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.

Or consider this:

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).

Dalrymple's summation of Corbusier's career provides an epitaph for modern fashion and its practitioners:

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.

The title of Dalrymple's article is "The Architect as Totalitarian." One could as easily write an article titled "The Designer as Totalitarian," or "Photographer," or "Magazine Editor." But the most insidious aspect of the fashion industry's totalitarianism is that individuals who fill every one of these positions are complicit in its oppressiveness. Thus, with such a monopoly on culture, such a tyranny of bad taste, only government intervention will be able to overthrow this tyranny, making possible a restoration of the timeless ideal of beauty, both in architecture and in female aesthetics.

Just as the ugliness of Modernism in architecture and fashion go hand in hand, so the timeless ideal in building, with all of its sensually curvaceous surfaces,

The Frauenkirche in Dresden; destroyed by Allied bombs in WWII, recently rebuilt

harmonizes with traditional, rounded, feminine beauty.

Anna Loukachenets; click to enlarge

- Click here to read article


Last edited by HSG : 3rd July 2010 at 02:26.
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