Destructive Creation

In New English Review Dalrymple identifies the reason for much ugly modern architecture…
Modern man’s religion is progress: what comes later must be better than what went before…
But aesthetics are not science: aesthetics do not show the same inbuilt tendency to improvement. From the aesthetic point of view what comes after is not necessarily better than what went before, and is often worse, even much worse. Particularly in an age of progress, however, men are reluctant to admit that they cannot do better than their forebears; to admit it is to admit the heresy that beauty’s arrow, unlike that of time, does not fly in one direction only. A return to the pattern or design of the past – dismissed as pastiche, the worst of all architectural crimes, far worse than destroying an immemorial townscape – would indicate a deficiency of imagination, inventiveness and originality, all the qualities that make the artist, at least in the romantic conception of the artist. And architects, in their own conception, are above all artists: artists, moreover, when it is widely believed that the purpose of art is to challenge, to question, to transgress, never to celebrate, to harmonise, to console, to give meaning.
…and proposes a solution:

There is actually no reason at all why old designs cannot be reproduced, albeit with mass-produced materials. Indeed, in London recently a housing authority did precisely this; it copied precisely the elegant early Victorian buildings (still of Regency inspiration) of three sides of a residential square in restoring the fourth side. It did not use Victorian methods, but it used Victorian designs, with triumphant result, far, far better than any residential architecture of the recent past.

But there is a great deal more than these topics in the essay. As usual with his pieces in this publication, it is well worth a read.

6 thoughts on “Destructive Creation

  1. JKE

    Rarely is one met today who doesn’t embrace the myth of progress and hence isn’t a shameless chronological snob. Moreover, point this out and they’ll be baffled. Such is today’s processing.

  2. Kevin

    There may be some hope in the increasing popularity of higher quality prefabricated houses. Many, including those in my New York City suburb, look down their noses at pre-fabs as cookie cutter. I, for one, would much rather live next to a pre-fab then some of the nightmarish “dream homes” that have been built in recent years. Maybe we could do with a little less individual expression in residential architecture.

  3. Clinton

    Well put, Kevin. Steve and I are in the NYC area as well. There is certainly an infatuation among the hipster communities with all that is artisanal and individually crafted, which is all well and good except that it is not generally affordable for most people.


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