Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City


The London Architecture biennale is underway, and it's already managed to set a depressing new low. 'Proclamations for a Beautiful City' is an 'installation' by Alain de Botton. Apparently it is 'questioning the role of the architect in creating beauty in the city. The series of proclamations are posted on the outside of the Yard Gallery, directly onto the street.' Get that - directly onto the street! how raw! Actually, it's a few quotes from his tedious new tomb 'The Architecture of Happiness'.

The installation itself looks worse than Costcutters, the neighboring discount supermarket. Perhaps there is in an intended irony: chastising architects for forsaking beauty whilst using cheap and ugly design. I wouldn’t bet on it though, as it is written without humour but with the tone of voice of a sanctimonious shitcock.

Take this for example: “The duty of the architect is to make it beautiful”. Who on earth would use the word ‘duty’ in relation to a job in the 21st century? Does this ridiculous pseudo-intellectual imagine himself to be in the 18th century? What fantasy does this cotton-mouthed pundit live out? And why are the letters made to look like they are 3D, suggesting eternal profundity - though thankfully this will be in the bin before the month is out.

What is it about architecture that attracts such ill-informed opinion? Institutions such as the RIBA and the Architecture Foundation are so star-struck and crippled with self doubt that they let self appointed gas bags – like Alain, or hammy TV presenter Kevin McCloud - onto their stages, into their events calendars as a kind of bait to attract genuine ‘members of the public’.

My objection is not that it is comment from outside the profession. Quite the reverse, as these characters seems to come across as though they were pretending to be an architect – acting out a hollow parody which only serves to re-enforce the most clichéd of ideas. These always believe that architectural concern should be some kind of vague poetic guff: ‘light’, ‘space’ ‘form’ – rather than a whole range of other things. It re-affirms the lie that architecture is somehow separate from everything else.

I would argue that most architects don’t understand what architecture is supposed to be about, but at least they appreciate and understand the process. These self-appointed outsider experts often argue that their ignorance, their ill-informed position is an advantage as it mirrors the man-in the street. It’s simply a fraudulent way of dressing up their personal likes and dislikes as something more universal, of trying to add weight to their opinion by adding meringue.

They also act as though they have stumbled upon an unremarked culture, like an Elizabethan explorer reporting back to court. They don’t know that architecture is perhaps the most comprehensively dissected of professions: thousands of magazines and journals, from the archi-porn of Wallpaper to obscurist Marxist pamphlets. It certainly isn’t something you can pick up by leafing through a couple of Sunday supplements. Alain de Botton suggests that Herzog & de Meuron are worth watching. No shit, Alain. But he also thinks Calatrava is great – which is where he reveals the moronic level of his understanding, and his inability to avoid being sucked into simply regurgitating half digested current mainstream opinion, PR puff, and in-flight magazine froth.

It’s the sheer vacuity of these pronouncements that is astounding.
Fundamentally, at its heart is mean hearted conservatism: nosey, interfering and obstructive.

At least we won’t have to put up with this hack-philosopher, this airhead-eggheads homilies-dressed-up-as-erudition for too long. One can bet that Alain is only here to promote his book, carpet-bagging the current vogue and interest in architecture before he flits off to milk another unfortunate sphere of life.



Posted by sam at June 20, 2006 1:21 PM

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