28 Mar 2006
James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesores…
We all love James Howard Kunstler. Even if we might not always agree with him, his dry and ascerbic take on the world is one of peak oil’s more entertaining voices. He has single-handedly elevated peak oil cynicism to an art form. I just spent a side-splitting and eye-moistening half an hour going through the”Eyesore of the Month” feature on his website. As one who shares his revulsion with most modern architecture, I really enjoyed his sharp wit and ‘take-no-prisoners’ assault on all that is worst about 21st century architecture. One of the things we will be able to celebrate about a post peak society is that these outrageous masturbatory ego totems will no longer be able to blight our built environments.
Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (see left) Kunstler slates as being “a theme park on angel dust”. It is an extraordinary structure, one I struggle to imagine any planner approving. Some of the finest examples of Eyesores of the Month are the playhouse no-one can play in, New Seattle Public Library, an appalling student housing complex, and the Airbus. Do check them out, Kunstler’s commentaries are wonderful.
One of my favourites is the Peter B. Lewis Building for Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management (see right), of which Kunstler writes;
>If your dog had a tumor like this the vets would just shake their heads and put him to sleep. The design follows the logic of cancer: invade and overwhelm the host organism. It’s appropriate that this building houses the business school, because it aptly expresses the disfigurement of American economic practice in our time: banality meets pathology in a tragic duet.
Of one particularly banal house he drove past and photographed near New York he writes:
>Notice the use of the classic base-shaft-head motif and the rigorous symmetry. The dual picture windows make a bold statement: “watch us have sex inside!”. A better color than monkeyshit brown might have improved the overall effect, but why be picky? Excellent location for serial killers.
What is foisted upon us as modern architecture is, in the main, an insult to our taste and our intelligence. I was in Bristol the other week walking around in the new business district near the docks, all these huge ‘statement’ office buildings, mostly half empty, wondering what will we actually do with these spaces when they are no longer required for offices? They would be almost totally uninhabitable, with no usable ground left around them. We would have to abandon what was once thriving dockside communities as useless.
I mean, if people wanted to live in them, how would you even think about heating them? People in the future will marvel (with no doubt a high degree of entirely justified resentment) at the ego driven short termist society that produced these cathedrals to bad taste. Sitting here in the UK I can snigger at some of the more outlandish US examples, but the UK of course is similarly awash with bad taste building, most of it just not on quite the same scale (with a couple of notable exceptions). I will keep my camera with me, and share any particularly offensive examples I see.
Over my years in Ireland I accumulated a collection of slides of some of the most appalling examples of post-Celtic Tiger tastelessness (unfortunately I don’t yet have the gizmo for being able to scan slides..). My favourites are a house near Kinsale which looks like Elvis Presley’s Graccelands rebuilt in minature in concrete block, and the house on the Dublin road out of Cork that looks like Ken and Barbie’s dream home. On the left is a picture that is one of my favourites, in terms of simply how banal a building can be, and how one single house can destroy the myth that PVC cladding is ‘maintenance free’. Thank heavens for the wit and the poison pen of Kunstler, prowling the land, bullshit detector in hand…