Paul Joseph Watson recently published a video titled “Why Modern Architecture Sucks”. In it he presents a compelling case about the political/sociological meanings embedded in modern architectural traditions. He convincingly links the “brutalist” and “modernist” movements to politics. Specifically, he links these movements to the social engineering trends seen in the West in the last century. He targets apartment blocks as especially villainous. Watson’s video got me thinking. I’ve never considered the political implications of architecture before, beyond the casual observation of the drab and bland masses of buildings found in communist countries.
To a large extent observable evidence makes me think that Watson’s case is backed up by empirical fact. There has indeed been a close link between architectural trends and political transformational projects. These movements haven’t been limited to country borders, similar trends are seen all across the Western world. Concrete monstrosities are found not only in the UK, but also elsewhere. I can most confidently talk about Norway, since that is where I live and am from.
Looking out the window I can see the numerous concrete structures littering the landscape of Oslo. They first emerged after the war and their adoption as the favored human habitat was closely linked with the left-wing political dominance seen after the liberation from the Germans. Not only did concrete apartment towers go hand in hand with the left-wing societal transformation of Norway, the lifestyle of the residents is also more communitarian than society at large. Block residents have block “boards” to oversee matters of mutual interest, they arrange “dugnad” a social event in which the residents come together and fix/perform maintenance on the public areas, together with a social meal/socializing component. You are also more closely surveilled by your neighbours in apartment blocks compared to detached houses.
Immediately in my mind following the video a link between these architectural trends and the US Supreme Court popped into my head. I believe we can look at the architectural trends as a societal equivalent to the Supreme Court. Lifetime appointments to the court are the norm, an appointment has long-term ramifications for society for decades to come. So does architectural choices. The brutalist/modernist movement has successfully cemented their progress in transforming the nature of man in society with their concrete buildings. They have in a sense “occupied” society with their political thinking through their buildings. An equivalent example would be the construction of mosques in the United Kingdom.
Buildings usually last for a long time, to the rapid and expansive construction of mosques in the UK can be viewed as a physical manifestation of the islamification of the country. This is one of the key reasons why mosque construction is such a politically charged issue. Political gain can be secured in the physical realm. Political winds can change back and forth, but structures endure. If these buildings hadn’t been there, a reversal would be much easier.
Watson also brings up the dimension of local, national architecture versus global architecture (modern architectural buildings look remarkably similar stylistically). This is a clear manifestation of the wider battle between nationalism and globalism. The next time you see a modern building or hear about a proposed construction project, perhaps you should think about the wider long-term ramifications of this movement in architecture.