A Splinter in your Eye

In the Autumn 2012 edition of The Salisbury Review, Dalrymple criticizes the aesthetic assumptions of Italian architect Renzo Piano, co-designer of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and of London’s new skyscraper, the Shard:

The argument in favour was as follows:

To its supporters, it [the Shard] is a jolt of the modern – the moment London truly joined the 21st century.

This argument is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is its assumption that jolting is an appropriate aim for architecture, that it can and should act like a bad examination result for a pupil who is gifted but not trying his best. The second is the evident failure to realise that modernity is the most fleeting of qualities, and hence utterly useless for assessing the worth of anything. Fascism and nylon shirts were once modern, but no one would now call them the finest flower of the human mind or spirit. The third is the assumption that modern is best, something necessarily to be aspired to, irrespective of its other qualities. On this view, what comes after is always better than what comes before, presumably because of some principle of progress immanent in the world. Technical advancement, for which gigantism is often a metonym, is mistaken for improvement in all respects. This is like taking a modern kitchen with all its many appliances as a guarantee of good cooking.

The fourth, and perhaps the most dispiriting, reason is the assumption that modernity – by which is meant, presumably, keeping up with technology in order to be as rich as possible with as little effort as possible – is a matter of externals such as the presence of modern buildings. There is an aspect of magical thinking in this…

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One thought on “A Splinter in your Eye

  1. Jaxon

    I aesthetically do actually rather like the Shard but I agree with TD… I’d say, like much of Dubai, it’s built on ‘sand’ which is enormously problematic – buildings like that should probably only exist in films like Bladerunner or Lord of the Rings.


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