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(un)Kind Architecture

March 12th 2014

First notes and points on (un)kind Architecture

While working on the L series drawings and the text Catch on a Datcha I had a goal in mind of merging the figure into its surrounding. ‘L’ for Landscape. A landscape describing a human condition.
I came across the story of the Lobby of concrete manufacturers - that was while doing the video job for a talk-show during ‘Architecture day’. How this lobby was influencing and determining the planning of Rotterdam in the 70es. With some massive results. The contrast between enriching the sky-line with monumental erections on the one hand and the Dutch longing for cosiness: small houses with a sober and peaceful rather dull style- on the other.
I was drifting during that talk-show into visions as to how Rotterdam will look like after all lobbies have done their job, capital runs out as well as most of the inhabitants. Shortly put, how shall I write down an apocalyptic picture of the city in which creatures walk around as hybrids, half digital half human, still longing for some authentic communication and the question mark still flickering as to the essence of why we’re here and what on earth has happened.
As an art student back in 1995, I chose to write one of the papers on Socialist Architecture, especially concentrating on the roots of it: early thinkers and city planners who believed in guiding or strictly educating the people by placing them into newly constructed dormitories often paired with a living schedule and set up tasks.
In the film of Alberto Cavacanti Coal Face seen on the Genk biennale 2012 I learned about the housings put up for the British coal miners in the 20es. Those where built for the workers and their families. A whole life was planned according to the offers and demands of the mine management. As soon as mines were shut families would lose their homes as well as their livelihood.

The aspects of emptiness, deterioration, the gloominess of an outdated style – its loss of charm, remind one of the tediousness of everyday-life and the ever existing injustice between rich and poor.
I’ve written down some points returning to that subject of early socialist architecture (not meaning the coal mines). Plan is to continue on this line and draw other lines emerging from this points.
With the goal of condensing ideas, scripts and stories out of this text.
Defining the position of the individual both within a socialist and within a capitalist scheme and drawing a picture of how this buildings work while the figure is almost absent. What kind of monstrous or wonderful ideas circle around these cubicles?

The aspect of realism, social realism and super realism is a fascinating one to follow. Why is it so appealing? why is it the favorite style of the late socialists, the communists as well as the Neoliberals not to mention dictators and fascists? I guess it’s the instant magic and clear illusion, cleaning up the picture of any hint of dust. Simple, clear and non complex. Heroic and not demanding any further effort. But there’s a lot more to write about this one.
Another dimension of realism lays in the pragmatist approach of the Enlightenment later to be followed by Socialism as well as the Atheist version of Capitalism. A soberly clear analysis of economy and human conduct not ‘bothering’ with any extra transcendental dimension of reality. ‘What you see is what you get’.

It would be interesting to see what kind of utopia’s are rising up these days and what can one expect to see and hear in the future.

Some naming of thinkers of socialist utopia’s from the 18th and 19th centuries: Saint – Simon, Owen, Fourier, Cabet, Francis Bacon, John Locke,
Descartes (rationalist), Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Francois Noel Babeuf (early communist)
Scientific utopia: Rousseau
Morelly: An Enlightenment thinker. His idea was creating an exchange market instead of a trade market. The idea for his Cités and Code d’agricoles was to introduce a working day consisting of only a few hours. The Cités is a place which is self supportive, its main resource is agriculture and contains all necessary institutions. There were a few Cités planned. Those which were to be set on barren land were intended to be dealing with the fine arts.
Babeuf: was pleading for leaving the corruptive city for village life. A life circling around holding Cattle. The design of the construction is sober. Splendor is kept for all communal buildings.

Enlightenment, which was the ignition for the French revolution, repositioned the individual within society and with it the notion of labour. Labour gained a value as a tool for self-development, a way to find individual freedom. See how such positive notions got later on such dreary usage by the fascists. How atheist clear way of thinking turns sour as stiff ideology and a very sarcastic slogan.
The way British worker’s dormitories of the the late 19th century were planned in a quite similar structure as the accommodations of Asian workers nowadays: no individual facilities, rooms emerging from long corridors as niches or cells.
The need to come up with solutions for accommodating workers emerged as expected round the 1890es and the industrialization. It wasn’t purely due to a concern over their well-being and empathy with the common, it was mainly an emergency plan for avoiding social chaos.
The first buildings to be built in Great Britain had similarities with hospitals and even jails. Those buildings proved non functional as they were brooding alcoholism, prostitution and criminality.
‘Is the past connected with the future?’ Enlightenment introduces history as a continuous process, a linear story containing periods of rise and decline. Surely a vivid dynamic picture compared to the rigid religious one. The French Utopists have harked back to that religious state of mind by introducing again a theory of highpoint and end-position. Viewing the future as a point one reaches and fulfills just as the religious concept of salvation.
How to answer this question from an existentialist, anarchist and other theories – point of view.
The city is introduced by the (early ) socialists as the epitome of Capitalism – and so to read – a negative phenomenon. While seeking equality between people, the city stands as a thorn in their side. A place full with lazy artisans, priests and the bourgeoisie.
Typical to the style of early socialist architecture is the simplicity of the form. Just as a task within labour is clear and pure. No unnecessary decorations or ornaments on buildings. Creativity is all to be invested in labour itself.
In the view of the planners was the new modern viable society to be first compared with a complex machine that would not tolerate any unprepared actions or manipulations.
The basic approach to this ‘machine’ – the new society- ought to be well prepared and fully controlled. Work and energy must flow in the right channels.
The new cities can maintain a stable social cohesion only through participation of its inhabitants and their devotion to its livelihood. Here I would like to conclude that indifference and the lack of empathy that seem to be the by-products of Neocapitalism are most probably the causes for deteriorating social structures happening nowadays.

Labour nowadays is defined through market demands. Work and especially labour bares less a connotation of self fulfillment, rather it is a good which depends on fluctuations of the market. Even more, a bulk of unemployed is a necessity in maintaining the actual system.
Industrialization was seen as the way to freedom, in fact as later happened it has turned into a system in which individuals function as tiny screws within the apparatus of labour.
‘Freedom comes about for those who take liberties’ .

Recent source :
Architecture of the Industrial Age 1789-1914 / Francois Loyer AR c.06.1 18304p 108
Form and Function, a source book for the history of Architecture and Design 1890-1939 / Tim & Charlotte Benton with Dennis Sharp AR.06.1 7436 p 10
Voor volkshuisvesting en stedenbouw / P. De Ruijter SH A.02 16667 p 26
Particuliere Plannen / Len de Klerk SH A.02.2 265769 p 121
Toonbeelden van de wederopbouw Marieke Kuipers AR c.06.2 32870
A hundred years of dutch architecture 1901-2000 trends highlights S umberto Barbierei & Leen van Duin AR c.06.2 33882
20th century urban design in the Netherlands Hans Ibelings SH A.02 28760 p 104
Op zoek naar de ideale stad / l. a. De Klerk/ 1980/ Van Loghum Slaterus bv Deventer/ 3666 229G06 p 90, 96