This is a fascinating book–ahead of its time and prophetic. I first saw it when I was in the 8th or 9th grade. Then the local library put it in its DISCARD pile, and I grabbed this copy. Architectural critic Peter Blake wrote the text and assembled the photos, many of which show stark contrasts to dramatically make his point. Yes, there was a lot of “creeping ugliness” in 1964, but a lot of that so-called “ugliness” has vanished–and Blake himself could not have imagined what was yet to come . . .
On March 27, 1964 the Whippanong Library (Whippany NJ) purchased this book new for $3.00. In the succeeding 25 years, only six people thought it was worth checking out. (That shows you how little people care about what their country looks like). Then the book was unceremoniously discarded. Side note: I am very disappointed in the way libraries carelessly discard books. There are many books I remember checking out decades ago which I would like to see again, but they are no longer available, and I can’t obtain them because I don’t remember the titles anymore.
But let’s get to the book itself. You have to remember that in the early 1960s, the “Old America”, (before modern architecture and the automobile) was still in the living memory of many people. Cities and towns had a certain “Disney-like” picturesque quality, and rural scenes were pure and unspoiled. There was no such thing as the “asphalt jungle”–highways and traffic, gas stations, shopping plazas, large-scale industrial eyesores, and suburban sprawl. Particularly after World War II, the American landscape changed dramatically, and this was shocking and horrifying to people like Peter Blake.
Blake is particularly repulsed by tacky commercial signage and billboards, monotonous suburbs, junkyards, utility poles, and cities scarred by super-highway ram-throughs and poorly-conceived urban renewal projects. He claims to like “good” modern architecture, but 95% of it is “junk”. His book cleverly juxtaposes images of “beautiful” and “ugly” landscapes and street scenes, with ironic quotations by famous writers to really bring the point home.
Here are some samples:
I did a little research using Google Street Views to find out what some of the “ugly” places in Blake’s photographs look like today. To my surprise, the “ugliness” he railed so forcefully against has vanished!
Peter Blake was a pioneer in the Historic Preservation Movement. He led the protest to stop the demolition of the original Penn Station in New York. The grand station was demolished anyway.
Looking back on it now, Blake (being a product of his time) could not see the human-centered, if motley, charm of jazzy neon signs and buildings shaped like a duck. Nor would he have realized how temporary a lot of the ugliness he saw really was. But if anything, the uglification of America has in fact gotten worse since 1964, and has expanded in ways that seem almost unbelievable.
I have never been a fan of so-called “Modern Architecture” (more accurately called “The International Style”.) But I could at least respect the idea that it embraced the philosophy of “form follows function”; that is, its aesthetics were based on function, not artificially applied ornament. It was “honest” in that sense. However, some of these latest creations (abominations?) are not functional at all, and are in fact warped and distorted oddities with Bauhaus (Modern) overtones.
I’ll lift a quotation from God’s Own Junkyard: “[Architecture] must without doubt be directed by some sure rules of art and proportion, which whoever neglects will make himself ridiculous.” –Leon Battista Alberti
Then we have the problem of endless blocks of “remuddled” houses and buildings in our towns and cities– Victorians with a European sophistication slathered over with vinyl, stucco, aluminum and other “maintenance-free” surfaces.
I did find some recent buildings that are somewhat attractive and aesthetically pleasing that utilize modern interpretations of classical forms–while still appearing up-to-date:
I think this subject is important because I believe one’s physical surroundings have an effect on the individual. If you live in ugliness, you will have an ugly attitude toward life. If you are surrounded by beauty and elegance, it will uplift you. Such qualities are also a reflection on the civilization we have created.
It is also astounding that people over 100 years ago built such beautiful things, and we today–with all our incredible technology–usually build mediocre junk.
Peter Blake closes his book with these words: “For the truth is that the mess that is man-made America is really a caricature of the mess that is art in America . . . The inscription on Sir Christopher Wren’s tomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral contains the famous words: ‘If thou seek his monument, look about thee.’ God forbid that this should ever become our epitaph.”
And it’s not exclusive to the United States, Canada got its share as well from the photos I saw on Skyscraperpage forums.
Those muckraker writers in the ’50s were mostly wrong.
Tract housing was uniform, but the houses were built solidly, and they’re still holding up. Now the same subdivisions have much more beauty thanks to individual remodels. Later developments in the 60s and 70s had more surface individuality but vastly less quality. They are deteriorating fast.
Urban renewal was INTENDED to bust up neighborhoods that were worth living in. It succeeded.
Ugly factories gave ordinary men a way to be useful and earn good money. Now they’re gone, thanks to environmental “beautification”. They’re replaced by crack and oxycontin, which are apparently more “beautiful” to environmentalists.
Historic preservation helped occasionally, but now it mostly prevents renovations that could make a building commercially usable and thus worth saving.
Oh dear, in my opinion, you need to check your facts and assumptions. Tract housing was indeed uniform, but so was the culture that grew up with it, a culture of conformity. They were relatively well built because that was how everything was built, not because they were a special commodity. We were told there were rebels, commies, homosexuals and liberals under our very beds. I thank God ‘they’ were correct.
More recent structures are less well built because we are not willing to pay modern prices for the same quality. That’s it. Very simple.
Urban Renewal was motivated by little more than appalling greed. There was no other excuse for it. It was a national land-grab by wealthy and privileged thugs.
There were many excuses used to justify it, and governments’ use of eminent domain was the tool. In many cases, the interest banks earned on existing loans in old neighborhoods and business districts was much lower than the banks could earn on new loans for new development.
They recovered their money for new high interest loans through the use of the governmental process of eminent domain. Governments, usually cities, condemned the older buildings and neighborhoods away from their owners, as often as not financial and racial minorities. The aging loans were then paid back to the banks by the property owners or governmental entities, with the owners walking away with whatever was left after paying off the loans. The old properties now belonged to the cities, and more federal funds were used to demolish everything to clear the land for new development.
In other cases, developers and politicians wanted the land, but the entire process was basically the same. The result was wholesale demolition of entire neighborhoods. Literally tens of thousands of major American historic buildings were needlessly destroyed, many of them of national importance.
In Denver, for example, ALL of the office and commercial buildings built by the founders of the state from the 1870s onward, one of the finest collections of Victorian commercial buildings to survive in the nation, were destroyed through Denver’s Urban Renewal Authority, DURA. DURA fought very, very hard to make certain every single building was demolished.
In Newburg, New York, like endless cities across the nation, urban renewal scraped landmarks off the face of the earth. A major historic church designed by one of America’s great architects was to be demolished, while monies were to be spent repairing a whore house.
The director of San Francisco’s Urban Renewal Authority informed a national historic preservation conference that her agency had destroyed more than 10,000 of the city’s precious Victorians. She said they’d now sell their souls to get them back.
Your additional remarks on the environment are also, in my opinion, very wide of the mark, and I wouldn’t begin to recognize historic preservation from your vaguely dismissive remarks.
Please sit down and read some of the material available on any of these subjects. There are thousands of resources that can explain just how important historic preservation has become in the life of our nation
Once again, another terrific CC post has resulted in both time and money spent, as I just ordered my own used copy of this book. Thank you for this one, Stephen!
It looks to me as though the “un-remuddled” buildings in the last diptych (4th and 3rd from last pics) owe their improvements to the move back into the cities of the past decade. The facades were probably put up at a time when the neighborhood had emptied out and the apartments were used mainly for storage. They fetch good money now but need their windows to do that.
I think that I shall never see
a billboard as lovely as a tree
Indeed unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.
That’s actually quoted in God’s Own Junkyard!
Progress might have been alright once, but it’s gone on too long.
And perhaps it was Lady Bird Johnson to whom we most owe our thanks for this transformation of America: from Wiki: The Highway Beautification Act was informally known as “Lady Bird’s Bill”. passed in the Senate on September 16, 1965 and in the U.S. House of Representatives on October 8, 1965, and signed by the President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 22, 1965. It was the pet project of the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who believed that beauty, and generally clean streets, would make the U.S. a better place to live.
The act called for control of outdoor advertising, including removal of certain types of signs, along the nation’s growing Interstate Highway System and the existing federal-aid primary highway system. It also required certain junkyards along Interstate or primary highways to be removed or screened and encouraged scenic enhancement and roadside development.
Just a side note: Lady Bird Johnson was much, much more than LBJ’s wife. Robert A. Caro’s extensive biographies of LBJ provide the reader with many facts to support this statement.
Yes, thank you, RRJ.
I always thought Lady Bird Johnson was rather famous for that (cleaning up the roadside), but I guess fame always fades for the unmarketable. The fact that this book (1964) preceded that clean-up so closely is noteworthy, though.
Peter Blake, who made a career out of being former editor of the Architectural Forum, was never in doubt about his subjective opinions. IMO usually a good read but I often had quibbles with such declarations.
Also reminds us of a time when we patiently let critics tell us what was in “good” or “bad” taste.
Thank you for the great look at this book. I share your frustration with libraries that carelessly discard books… I always check the Discard racks at my libraries whenever I’m there, and our shelves are full of books that were found there.
Several random comments/opinions:
Suburbia: I generally find broad disparagements of suburbia to be irritating when coming from folks like Mr. Blake, because I find such comments focus on upper-class notions of nostalgia for the Good Ol’ Days (or what you note as the “Disney-like” quality of older areas). Many folks who found homes in postwar suburbs were raised in crowded, filthy urban areas or poor rural ones, and viewed the suburbs as an immense improvement over what they had known before. And then the upper class looked down on them with disdain. Could suburbs have been built better? Certainly. But I find broad commentary like equating suburban subdivisions to junkyards to be particularly grating.
Signage: A lot of businesses complain about modern municipal sign regulations, but in my opinion, these regulations have led to enormous improvements in streetscapes. Many communities now do not allow pylon (or pole-mounted) signs, and also tie the amount of allowable signage to the building or lot size. This is an example where gov’t regulation has overall been quite beneficial.
Landscape Architecture: I know many people will disagree with this, but I feel that landscape architecture is just as important, if not more so, than building architecture. I would prefer to be surrounded by uninspired buildings located in a pleasant setting, than by terrific architecture in a harsh or bleak landscape (i.e., greenery and open space is very important for livability).
Then And Now Images: I love the Then-and-Now comparisons here. Great job in finding these. And those Morristown townhouses are particularly nice because they’re well-designed, but are clearly new (i.e., they’re not trying too hard to be replicas of earlier styles).
There is a lot to think about here. We live in a place that has always celebrated the “new”. I think this book highlights some of the same trends I have seen in old houses in my area. Things are built – and they are new. People are proud of them.
Things age, styles change. There is an urge to update, whether by knocking down and building anew, or by renovation. Those renovations are almost universally praised – at first. And then styles change again. More time passes and we re-renovate, or knock down and build fresh.
Some people/houses/areas resist the trend, either by an inherent conservatism, or by lack of money. Eventually the old is appreciated and we miss it, and some things are restored to something like original. While we now hate and remodel everything that came later. The magnificent courthouse in my state capitol county was torn down in the 60s, replaced by a modern steel and glass tower called a “city-county building”. It is now considered outdated and much of government is preparing to move into a newly-built “government center” a few miles away, while people figure out what to do with the early 60s structure. Places with less money through the decades have kept and restored their old gem-like courthouses. Who is better off?
A lot of building decorations, gargoyles, and the such were weakly attached and for safety purposes needed to be dealt with. Owners took the cheap way out and just removed them.
Having said what I said in my previous comment, the subject overall is way to vast and complex for me to comment on readily. As you’ve made the case very well in your post, somethings have gotten better and others haven’t. That about sums up the whole built environment as well as the world in general.
Many mistakes were made; some of the most egregious ones is the building of urban freeways, almost invariably right through minority (usually Black) neighborhoods.
The thing about the human condition (and its built environment) is that it is invariably ever-changing. Trying to pin down any given time in the past as “better” or “superior” or “golden era” is a mistake, because it’s not seeing what happened back then fully. Vast traditional neighborhoods razed for the gentrification of Paris and London and other cities. Yes, the result may be appealing in some respects, but if you’ve ever found yourself in some of the old traditional neighborhoods with their crooked, narrow streets and passages that escaped the wrecking balls of the 18th and 19th centuries to create the grand boulevards (the freeways of the time), you might find them even much more appealing. I do.
As to suburbs, they were an inevitability in the US. City life has its charms as well as its challenges. The trolley and then the Model T along with cheap land and rising incomes made it so very readily possible.
‘Nuff said. I could go on all day about this subject. It’s one of my favorites.Thanks for stimulating some good conversation.
My previous comment, which was very long, just got eaten. Grrrr.
The short version: I like these modern buildings. They make me smile; they have humor, wit, irony and other qualities sorely lacking in traditional architecture.
Let’s not forget that the “great cities” like Paris and London were massive urban renewal projects in their own time, tearing down traditional neighborhoods.
As to those new “fake traditional” townhouses in New Jersey, that’s as bad as it gets. there’s nothing worse than that; they’re instantly recognizable as being fake.
Give me Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid anyday over that.
Just want to be sure I’m getting this right:
If there were no “Golden Ages”, no “better” or “superior”, then is that to deny that there are objective levels of quality; that there is no Golden Mean, no archetypes, no hierarchies, no divine inspiration; order and chaos are equally valid, there is no good or bad–everything just “Is”? That’s a leap into relativism that’s too far for me to make.
Having said that, while doing research for this post, I Googled “41 Cooper Square Interior”, and was fascinated by what I saw. It’s like walking through an undulating, sparkling-white crystal vortex which rivals any science fiction movie set. It must be a heady, surreal experience climbing those staircases and experiencing the changing geometric panoramas in real life! Whether this is the height of genius or folly I don’t know right now.
Re: the townhouses in Morristown–I would say the design is “derivitive”, not “fake”. However, when walking up close to them, you can see that the building materials are not up to true Colonial or Victorian quality. So they are “fake” in that sense. But I thought they looked quite nice in the picture.
As to “golden Ages” and such, it becomes a semantics issue. Of course human history has obviously had ups and downs, and the high points yielded all sorts of great accomplishments. No need to argue that.
But if you go back to any of those “golden ages”, there were also lots of negatives too. Do we need to discuss what life was really like in Athens or Rome for those that weren’t born into citizenship? Slavery. Etc..
So it’s not that great accomplishments and discoveries didn’t happen, and of course many of those accomplishments and discoveries were “golden” and that many have been key stepping stones i certain fields. But I’m not a fan of extolling these eras; just the specific discoveries, for the reasons stated above.
This process has never ended; great discoveries of all kinds have been the hallmarks of human civilization, but that doesn’t mean that the actual civilizations at an/all points along the way were all that “golden”. Slavery, endless petty wars, inquisitions, ethnic cleansings, etc…
That’s why I don’t see any period of the past as a “Golden Era”. Certain discoveries are not enough to make them that.
And obviously we’re not living in a Golden Era now, although there has been meaningful progress in human rights and other social factors, despite the obvious shortcomings.
I’m not very sanguine that there will ever be a true “Golden Era”, but I’m an optimist that progress can be made.
Getting back to architecture, while the great classical discoveries that led to their expression in architecture are major milestones, to be appreciated and learned from, it’s not something to keep repeating and repeating, or imitating.
The Golden Mean was a key breakthrough in human understanding, a it still has certain applications, but we’re always moving forward, trying new things, even if some of them look silly after 50 years. But without trying to push the frontiers forward, we’d be stuck. And that’s not a good place to be, even if the buildings all looked “classical” or “traditional”.
That’s been tried, by dictators, and the result was anything but “golden”.
I would agree with that. You can admire the Roman Colosseum while hating what actually WENT ON in the Colosseum.
If we are in the Golden Age of anything, I would say we are in the Golden Age of the Internet.
I’m of the belief that anything new in architecture and design be beautiful and edifying. And if we completely abandon the past, people will feel rootless and uncomfortable. That’s why most Americans live in houses described in real estate listings as “Colonial”.
We can fall into “What I like is GOOD; what I don’t like is EVIL.” But I think the problem is less about difference of opinion, and more about apathy. The educational system and the media almost never discuss the values of aesthetics, so as Peter Blake puts it, we have “people whose eyes have lost the art of seeing” and the rest of us “no longer care, or care enough.”
I agree with you there is was and probably never will be a societal golden era, however I can perfectly accept the colloquial usage of saying something like “the golden age of steam engines”.
Architecture is subjective just as all art is, I don’t particularly care for either approach here, buildings attempting to look old ones have far too many obvious tells and concessions to modern standards that the look is spoiled, much like retro cars for that matter, but Cooper Union is the building equivalent of wrapping a K-car around a telephone pole and making it drivable again almost as is, it’s more interesting and whimsical than driving around a box, and took some impressive fabrication skill to get it rolling under its own power again, but it still should go to the crusher after the brief fun has been had. Buildings last way too long to be a joke, jokes don’t tend to age gracefully.
The book “How Buildings Learn” by Stewart Brand contains several comparisons like these, demonstrating the evolution of commercial facades over decades. Worth looking up if you’re interested in this topic. Not so much signage in those, for what it’s worth.
Palo Alto is one of the more upscale suburbs in the SF Bay Area and is today some of the most expensive real estate on Earth. The signage in that photo is so shocking that I had to confirm that it was the correct stretch of El Camino. Turns out that 3980 El Camino in Palo Alto is still a mobile home park.
That strip of Admiral Wilson Boulevard outside Philadelphia was blighted for decades by strip clubs, liquor stores, and sleazy by-the-hour motels. Shortly before the Republican National Convention in 2000 it all vanished in the fastest, most comprehensive urban renewal project I have ever seen. Poof! What citizens wanted for years was finally accomplished to impress visitors.
Penn Station- How hard/impossible was that place to heat? By the time the floor area had any warmth was the ceiling air hot enough to cook a pizza?
I know back then people kept warm by wearing hats and by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, but in spite of looking stunning that interior does seem a bit impractical.
Good point. But probably no harder to heat than Grand Central Station…which soldiers on to this day in all of its glory.
Always loved The Big Duck! I live not far from it.
The Big Duck in Flanders NY!
A great local landmark, and something I talk about on WLNG 🙂
Sag Harbor NY is one of those places somewhat frozen in time by choice – it looks quaint now, but I’m sure the author would have hated it. When I worked in Morristown at WMTR/WDHA I liked the fact the town held onto its heritage while not feeling out of date.
Our house is in the Pittsburgh suburbs – North Hills to be exact, and was built in 1951. But we love it, the brick exterior is easy to maintain, and is just enough room for all of us.
It’s not a Victorian era house, but it beats living downtown like I’m sure we would have if it was 1925.
Off to order a copy of the book!
A great post and I too would like to read Blake’s book. I have to confess to having read quite a few things in a similar vein when I was younger as they were generally kicking around my house. My dad was an urban planner in the 1960s and 70s.
There are just so many angles to explore and think about related to how the built landscape has changed and been influenced over the past century. One which I’m surprised hasn’t received too much direct attention here in the comments is the impact that our American culture’s devotion to the automobile has had on the landscape, urban design, and the development of cities and suburbs. Giant topic.
I can’t attach that to my feelings of revulsion related to most buildings by Frank Gehry or the immense pleasure I get (contrary to Blake’s apparent feelings) from something like the Big Duck and its ilk.
Great post, Stephen!
The irony of this book is it’s infinitely more enjoyable to page through today as a time capsule into 1964 than it ever was as the scathing repudiation of American aesthetics in 1964 it was intended to be in its time. I personally don’t see the fuss the author has, he just seems to want to live in some very rose tinted glasses version of the 19th century and prior. I suffer the same problem with my wanting to live in the 60s but I’m not going to write a freaking book about it!
The drive down I-45 from IAH Bush airport is a perfect example of completely un-impressing visitors new to Houston. Just a continuous 10 mile stretch of run down strip centers, low end furniture stores, etc. So 35 years ago they built a toll road to avoid it that runs along the train tracks. They also passed an aggressive anti-billboard ordinance. So I guess that was a solution.
But there’s no sugar coating that people don’t come to Houston for the visuals. It’s just a patchwork of many neighborhoods sewn together with no real vision. We don’t have zoning either….
It’s only human to lament the passing of things that you remember fondly from your childhood. When I was a kid on road trips I loved gaudy signs and billboards every bit as much as my nature loving parents hated them. When we would enter preserved areas such as national parks I missed the entertainment.
Of course I also loved it when we hit patches of road construction. Lots of two-lane roads being converted to freeways at that time. While they fumed about the delays and worried if our Studebaker would boil over, I was enjoying the trucks, diggers, and open-flame torches that served as warning lights.
Fortunately Fred’s Place, shown in the El Camino Real photo, relocated to Mountain View and took one of its “horrible” neon signs with it. It’s one of the only real bars left in the area.
I haven’t lived there for a decade … is Fred’s Place with that big neon sign still on Old Middlefield near the garden equipment store and motorcycle dealership? On that commercial/industrial strip, that sign stood out in a good way. As for El Camino, even in ritzy Palo Alto, it’s still pretty bad though perhaps not as cluttered as in the picture shown in the book. To me, the modern American “junkyard” is the endless Target/Home Depot/Walmart/Panda Express/Petco shopping complex, seen by the sides of freeways from the PNW and to the Southeast and pretty much interchangeable.
Great Curbside Classic, both the article and the comments are interesting, a lot of good points. I’ve noted the book.
Other books on the topic: The “Geography of Nowhere”, James Howard Kunstler, and (I think), the “Life and Death of Great Cities” by Anne Jacobs, early/mid 1960s
In my experience Long Island suburbs built in the 1950s are not as pedestrian friendly as Detroit suburbs from the same era, which I find ironic. LI also has more traffic congestion.
Metro Detroit also has good traffic flow, for a large metro area. MUCH better for commuters than Long Island/metro NYC, Washington DC, LA, the Bay Area, Toronto, even Newport News VA. But, as noted in Paul comment above, those freeways where like daggers that ripped apart neighborhoods. In the Motor City, with the Big Three large and in charge, the freeways were going in.
And they didn’t always affect black neighborhoods. I’ve read that thousands, or tens of thousands, of working class mostly Jewish/eastern European and Italian Americans were displaced to build the Cross Bronx Expressway which was completed in the early 1960s. The area never recovered. The South Bronx became cliche for urban decay by the late 1970s. Conversely, public opposition to the “Lower Manhattan Expressway” killed it, ditto a freeway in downtown Toronto.
A lot of this depends on one’s perspective, and where one lives. I’ve concluded that it’s hard for motor vehicles and pedestrians to co-exist in densely populated areas. Either traffic congestion will be miserable, or it will be harder to walk.
I have a masters degree in architecture specialised in sustainable urban design. While I agree with a lot of this, there’s a whole lot I don’t. The US is still stuck in that car-centric private profit-driven anti-human mid-century mindset, and until that’s shaken these issues can never be solved. For example, the freeways and urban renewal plans specifically targeted primarily non-white neighbourhoods and worked best for the convenience of those not targeted by it, while corporate interests killed off the rest of the human-scale life in the city centre neighbourhoods that remained for the most part (some of this is covered in easy to digest ways by ‘Segregation by Design’). I did see the point of comparison between the bland awful suburbs with the junkyard. I could go on and on and on and on but I won’t.
I disagree about Cooper Union, the new building is incredible inside and that’s what matters. Also, the building of new stuff designed to look like the old stuff isn’t generally smart or inspired, it’s usually lazy pastiche and still built poorly, because almost everything is still thrown together on the cheap for as much profit as possible. But as I said, until the US and other countries are honest with themselves about how much the system and spaces they’ve created demonise regular people and make their lives unnecessarily worse (a lot of towns and cities no longer have anywhere for people to go and be that doesn’t require them to spend), things can never improve. Unfortunately, it looks like the opposite is happening for those in power, instead more deeply entrenching themselves in the mindset I noted above while punching down against anyone who recognises this and opposes it as being a variety of perceived negative things. I miss living in proper European cities.
Yes, El Camino looked that bad in 1970 over the entire stretch. You could say the same for El Cajon, University, Mission, and Garnet in San Diego back then.
That Copper Union building is hideously ugly
Mankind is not inherently smart.
Fantastic article and comments! The cover of Blake’s book, especially the utility poles, reminded me of R. Crumb’s series of illustrations entitled “A Short History of America.” (I’ve selected the one depicting the US just before the Depression.)
Oh, and I love the Big Duck!
I’ve had Blake’s book for ages. Agreed with what he had to say (or picture) mostly.
God’s Own Junkyard is less a critque of architecture than a critique of uncontrolled commercialization married to the automobile. Much of his message was hyped by use of the telephoto lens.
As human beings I think we relate most intensely with what other humans have produced with their own hands and to their own scale, and this includes the owner-built, village-built environments of old.
Not that modern and more grandiose efforts are emotionally stale. They can be magnificent. But to avoid going out of style they must, like the Parthenon, or the ’53 Studebaker, resonate with something fundamental to human perception. Christopher Alexander’s book, The Timeless Way of Building, goes into this.
The dichotomy between nice looking urban landscape and junky areas is nicely highlighted here.
It reminded me of the 1982 movie by Francis Ford Coppola called Koyaanisqatsi. You can get much or most of it on the youtuber now, in ten minute or so snippets. That movie highlights some great in motion photography or some beautiful parts of our earth, and, some not so nice places too. The in motion videos of the cars on highways are the best, evoking memories of slot car racing tracks.
For those of you interested in urban renewal and it’s effects, “City” by Douglas W. Rae is an excellent study of the New Haven renewal from the 1950’s onwards. I lived through that back then as a kid. I remember the wonderment of the new freeway, although it cut Grandma’s neighborhood off from the rest of a formerly majestic neighborhood along the river. It’s a great read.
In the UK we have a strange mix, this video explains how to this day s lot of major London developments still need to respect sight lines to st. Paul’s cathedral
As Picasso once said, “every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” While forms are subjective I think one point of agreement is we need to do a much better job recycling construction waste.
Koyaanisqatsi is one of my favorite films of all time. It was also my introduction to Philip Glass who is also one of favorite modern composers. It begins by focusing on earth’s landscapes and geological process ending up in a hotdog factory. A great visual commentary on Western society. The score with its slowly increasing cadence is perfectly synchronized to the images.
This post was picked up by the Old House Guy website, an excellent resource on historic home restoration and interior decoration: