Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Saturday, August 4, 2012


A scene from the movie Dreams, by Akira Kurosawa. Google Images

I've been reading the article by Dr. Nikos Salingaros and Mark Anthony Signorelli, The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism, that is a strong critique of the validity of the modern movement in the present, and I would like to share it, also expressing some reflections that emerged from this controversial reading. 

The first thing that came to my mind was an anecdote of students at the university. We had to analyze a house, we chose one of my girlfriends’, old colonial style. The resulting drawings infuriated her, because she would not accept to openly show the antiquity of the doors, the windows, the tiles.
In his article Architecture, Patterns, and Mathematics, Dr Salingaros quotes Loos and Le Corbusier and here I reproduce some of its paragraphs as an illustration of my anecdote:

The Austrian architect Adolf Loos banned ornament from architecture in 1908 with these preposterous, unsupported statements:
The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects. ... not only is ornament produced by criminals but also a crime is committed through the fact that ornament inflicts serious injury on people's health, on the national budget and hence on cultural evolution. ...Freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength. 
This hostile, racist sentiment was shared by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier:
Decoration is of a sensorial and elementary order, as is color, and is suited to simple races, peasants and savages.... The peasant loves ornament and decorates his walls.

And so, the love for the parents’ house or the immigrant grandparents’, is overshadowed by the terrible feeling that being “artisanal”, carrying the builder's concern based -- almost only -- on the manipulation of materials, is poor, and so, in pursuit of the evolution of culture and snobism we immerse ourselves in full adoration of modern architecture.

Long years must be spent for the architect to understand this situation and keep in mind that his/her designs are dedicated to users with their own habits and identity.
I must admit, that only a few live in modern houses, and I consider that Salingaros and Signorelli’s statement is very valuable, the article helps us to fight against our own ghosts and fears.

However, I will not deprecate the modern style in its traditional conception. To recognize the architect’s expertise in the lines, even in the smallest detail, fills us with emotion. The encounter between walls, the guardrail and the wall, the perfection of a window, the selected view to the sea, the pure white against the green landscape, does not escape the trained eye and is worthwhile of admiration. As an object that can be walked around while enjoying it. From the outside.
(As an example, I recall the Rolex Center by SANAA, it hardly passed the handicap issues). Sometimes, the esthetic experience replaces beauty and/or functionalism.

Rolex Center. Picture downloaded from

I have had the opportunity to feel the nausea when walking in the uneven subtlety of Gehry’s walkways, on the ramp of the Guggenheim… alas!, the experience in these public buildings was fun, in a certain way, my body became part of the building, like a strange reminiscent of the Gothic, when gloomy buildings were transformed into monsters that were hiding the torture chambers in their wombs, which in turn evoke the prisoners’ bodies that were rotting in the dungeons. Body and architecture, they were one in themselves.
Modern architecture lacks this condition, unless we come across with the design of a connoisseur.

Walt Disney Center, by Frank Gehry. Los Angeles. Picture by Myriam B. Mahiques
Yves Klein, IKB 191, 1962.

In his book The Visual Dialogue, Nathan Knobler says that in order to understand art (in general terms, including architecture), the observer should have a knowledge of the item. The exhibitions of Duchamp may or may not affect us, but it is important to note that the massive commercial exposure of an image is, in time, accepted by “ordinary people” and results in a form of understanding. Regrettably, investors and politicians, who are not experts in arts (in the full acceptance of the word) are the dictators of fashions and tendencies, in their “lust for financial gain”.
 (“a dominant elite producing and promoting an art of hatred controls the market today”).
A few people would be surprised today at Yves Klein’s blue painting. Whether we like it or not, is another story.

The authors mention literary examples, but I wonder, what do the masses read? Stieg Larsson, Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, among others found at the isles of supermarkets; I’m not sure how many know Geoffrey Hill and John Ashberry. What they refer to as “abuse” is only shared by a few intellectuals, the other half is not aware of the modern tendencies and keep on reading Neruda, which is nice…

I believe that with the cinema, the situation is different, and other spaces are investigated. I have noticed that the movies are increasingly dark (maybe lack of budget?) and the digital tridimensionality leads us to new ways of interpreting space, that introduces us to the amorphous, and the indefinite; on the contrary, we don’t find the rigidity of Modern forms here. Unless, we take an intellectual movie like Dogville, with abstract planes where the emphasis is given in the plot (boring!). On my side, I prefer the poetics of the images in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams.

A scene from Dogville. Written and directed by Lars Von Trier. Google images
A scene from the movie Dreams, by Akira Kurosawa. Google Images

Music. Only the same styles can be evaluated, because we should not generalize, it is impossible to say that one style is better than another, there are compositions better or more complex than others within the same range, regardless of the epoch, since primitive man hit his palms together, up to the current computerized music.

If we speak about stylistic poetics, I’m against the mere copies of historical buildings, and I agree with the authors that the designer must understand that:
“Artistic styles, and the traditions which perpetuate them, do not emerge from an abyss, but rather grow out of the deep philosophical convictions of their practitioners.”

And of course:

“Not that we ought to return to the past, but to use the accumulated wisdom of discovered knowledge to finally move forward.

Beyond our stylistic preferences, what I wish to see rescued is the artists’ intellectual pursuit over the years, traveling different roads, although some products are not pleasant for us.
But where is there a limit? I was reading in Green Prophet that modern batteries will in the future be made with mucus, blood and milk. Disgusting, but after all, they’ll be good for the environment.

Let’s begin reading the article:

We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism. The modernist aesthetic, which dominates our age, takes a variety of forms in the respective arts — in architecture, a lack of scale and ornamentation combined with the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete; in the plastic arts, a rejection of natural forms mixed with an unmistakable tendency towards the repulsive or meretricious; in literature, non-linear narrative, esoteric imagery, and an almost perfect lack of poetic form and diction. Yet common now to the practice of all these arts are certain primal impulses which may be said to form the core of the modernist aesthetic — a hostility and defiance towards all traditional standards of excellence, discovered over millennia of craftsmanship and reflection; a notion of the artist’s freedom as absolute, and entirely divorced from the ends of his art; and, as Roger Scruton has so clearly demonstrated, a refusal to apply the category of beauty to either the creation or the estimation of artwork.


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