Visions of Space
January 11, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

In Visions of Space, Robert Hughes tackles the work and lives of three remarkable 20th-century architects: Antonio Gaudi, Albert Speer and Mies van der Rohe - whose work did so much to shape the modern world. Hughes looks at how each one used space in different ways to express our response, respectively, to the power of religion (Gaudi), the power of the State (Speer), and the power of the corporation (Mies van der Rohe). Antoni Gaudi: God's Architect 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Mies van der Rohe: Less is More 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Albert Speer: Size Matters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
posted by vronsky (15 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm, i was just looking at that wondering if it was worth watching.
posted by empath at 3:37 PM on January 11, 2010

GODAMMIT. Why come Amerikuh don't get no quality programming like this?

Srsly. A+
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 3:43 PM on January 11, 2010

Albert Speer did much to shape the modern world? I could suffer through all 7 of those YouTubes to find out, but I doubt it. And Gaudi? Interesting but peripheral. Mies, as the creator of the ubiquitous glass-shrouded skyscraper, is really the only one of the three with "world-shaping" influence.
posted by beagle at 3:58 PM on January 11, 2010

Oh, and this would be a better link than your first one, which is some old dead blog.
posted by beagle at 4:11 PM on January 11, 2010

I could suffer through all 7 of those YouTubes to find out, but I doubt it

It's kind of funny how we "suffer" through a bunch of YouTube links, for something that's just a one-hour BBC documentary. It's like it takes more work to watch something on the computer.
posted by smackfu at 4:56 PM on January 11, 2010

I used to spend a decent amount of time in one of Mies' buildings, the MLK Library in DC. Jesus, what an ugly, poorly functioning building. The District government deserves its share of the blame for its total failure to keep the place up, I suppose - the rumor was that mosquitoes would breed in the pools of standing water that built up in the HVAC system. I was flabbergasted when they put that eyesore on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mies really seems to me to exemplify all of the worst and most dehumanizing tendencies of Modernism. All those repetitive right angles and reflective glass. It's like he was always trying to create some kind of monument to some implacable, perfectly rational and pefectly abstract force that doesn't care about the individual at all, any more than you would care about an ant. No wonder so many corporations do their headquarters in his style.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:45 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Very interesting, thanks.
Seeing Speer's plans for Germania always makes me shiver, the thought the architecturally rather mediocre city I live in nearly turned into such an monolithic monstrosity.
I often find Berlin somewhat ugly and depressing (especially in the winter) but thank god for the patchwork of often stylistic influences now shaping the face of the city, and good riddance to Speer's visions of grandeur.
posted by ts;dr at 6:12 PM on January 11, 2010

minus the "often" before stylistic...
posted by ts;dr at 6:12 PM on January 11, 2010

Beagle, I'm not sure if you are drunk or just enjoy making an ass out of yourself on the internet but both of your comments are simply wrong. If you don't like this post there are plenty of other threads on mefi in which your boorish behavior would be more appropriate, and better appreciated. Might I suggest that you do us all a favor and adjourn yourself to one of those?
posted by vronsky at 6:25 PM on January 11, 2010

I think I recognize some of the scenes from Mies work in this.
posted by delmoi at 6:58 PM on January 11, 2010

Mies really seems to me to exemplify all of the worst and most dehumanizing tendencies of Modernism.
I've never understood what people mean when they say things like that. What would be an example of a humanizing (or less dehumanizing) style of architecture?
posted by Human Flesh at 4:39 AM on January 12, 2010

Well let me quote another modernist architect whose work I despise almost as much as Mies', Le Corbusier. "The despot is not a man. It is the . . . correct, realistic, exact plan . . . that will provide your solution once the problem has been posed clearly. . . . This plan has been drawn up well away from . . . the cries of the electorate or the laments of society’s victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds." If that's not dehumanization, what is?

Look at Mies' Seagram Building in New York for instance, though I suppose that wherever on Earth you live, you're not too far from a basically indistinguishable building.

It's a huge, monolithic structure, which isn't really decorated in any way except by endless repetitions of the same rectangular geometric form. There are no concessions at all to its location, to the uses it might be put to, or to the human scale or ideas of beauty at all. Mies even specified that the window blinds could only operate in three positions so that the building would maintain a uniform appearance. That's a good example of dehumanization, I suppose: the complete subordination of individual desires to The Plan.

Sticking just to modern architecture, I find Art Deco to be a lot less alienating than the International Style. Certainly Googie architecture isn't dehumanizing, though it can tend to be pretty kitschy.

The ellipses in the Le Corbu quote are not mine but from the Theodore Dalrymple essay I pinched the quote from.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:47 AM on January 12, 2010

I really detest modernist architecture. When it's beautiful, it's useless and when it's useful, it's ugly.
posted by empath at 8:50 AM on January 12, 2010

Gaudi is lovely, though. If I could build a city, it would be all Gaudi and Giger.
posted by empath at 8:51 AM on January 12, 2010

That's a good example of dehumanization, I suppose: the complete subordination of individual desires to The Plan.

Is subordination necessarily dehumanizing? The ability to submit to the dictates of complex plans seems to be one of the hallmarks of humanity.

There are no concessions at all to its location, to the uses it might be put to, or to the human scale or ideas of beauty at all.

I guess there's no accounting for taste, because I like the Seagram Building. I see beauty in repetition. What sets us apart from other animals is our powerful intellect, not our capricious and erratic behavior. It seems to me that humanity is best celebrated by honoring our intelligence instead of our whimsy.

If you were a 12th century French mason you wouldn't have had the ability to emulate styles of architecture that were popular in the distant past or styles from far off lands. Builders once worked with tools and knowledge that seem very limited when compared to the standards of today.

By the end of the 19th century, however, books and blueprints had become affordable. Photographs could be taken and reproduced. Information networks had become considerably more robust thanks to well-funded postal services, libraries, universities, and transportation technologies. Material science and engineering had been liberated from the sclerotic grip of the guild system. Victorian architects and structural engineers had the power to emulate pretty much any style from any part of the world that had been built in any previous time.

The industrial revolution yielded an avalanche of kitsch. Railroads and factories reduced the price of consumer goods considerably. The assembly line and economies of scale reduced the cost of labor while increasing the efficiency of individual workers. Cheap materials and labor allowed our ancestors to slap gingerbread adornments on every conceivable surface. Some of them showed the amount of visual restraint that you might expect to find on a teenager's bedroom wall or MySpace page.

A Robber baron could satiate his taste for shoddy grandeur by commissioning spiny Gothic eyesores. His neighbor could build a Mission Revival manor. Perhaps he'd like a pied-à-terre for his mistress. Why not tart it up like a Beaux-Arts palace? Historical styles were not the only source of inspiration for victarian pomp. Art Nouveau designers took cues from nature to pile on the aesthetic clutter.

Eventually people tired of living in buildings that were dolled up like halloween costumes. The Arts and Crafts movement and later the International Style were natural reactions to the ocean of chintz and gilded age tat that spewed forth from the industrial economy and its vast network of international trade.

Some people respond well to simple geometric repetition and elemental forms. Walter Gropius wrote "The fear that individuality will be crushed out by the growing 'tyranny' of standardization is the sort of myth which cannot sustain the briefest examination. In all great epochs of history the existence of standards — that is the conscious adoption of type-forms — has been the criterion of a polite and well-ordered society; for it is a commonplace that repetition of the same things for the same purposes exercises a settling and civilizing influence on men's minds."
posted by Human Flesh at 6:04 PM on January 12, 2010

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