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Theodore Dalrymple
The Vandals in Retreat « Back to Story

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THe medieval city of Den Bosch in the south of Holland has a river the "Dieze" running right through the city, and Den Bosch is "veined" with little canals, sometimes meandering for more than 100 yards under old medieval houses, those waterways were used for transport, often for the little breweries dotting the city.
Then, in the sixties it was decided that everything would be concreted for roads and parking lots.
But the ordinary people revolted and founded a political party called "Knillis", a medieval hero.
THe eds of it was that all those ancient canals are lovingly restored to their old magnificance, and tens of thousands tourists visit the old city of Den Bosch to view those old canals, and those old houses flanking those waterways have become rather priceless.
So yes, determined people can make a difference.
I believe that le Corbusier, and Gropius are architects who belong to the fascist- communist complex of the 20th century.
I attired in b be committed to Verizon's Palm Pre Added to and can't appear to see any flash videos on the browser. I've tried to download adobe jiffy actor but it won't seem to subside me. Anyone comprehend what to do?
It often seems to me that even the ugliest Victorian pile or the least harmonious Georgian building is less stressful to my brain (and spirit) than almost any very modern building. To be imprisoned in a harsh raw concrete building would be, to me, a more miserable punishment than the same term served in a robustly welcoming Victorian public building - one would crush me while the other would give me something to think about besides my own misery. I would prefer to be left with only the Bible and Shakespeare than 500 of the newest avant-garde novels.
Typo in sub-title: discovers

Good read.

Perhaps Mr. Dalrymple and my fellow readers will find some comfort in this delightful bit of trivia:
Apparently Ian Fleming named oo7 lead villain,"Auric Goldfinger" after architect "Ernő Goldfinger".
Apparently Fleming took umbrage at Goldfinger's substantial role in as you say, "mass desecration of Britain’s architectural heritage...".
If Wiki is right, they were also uneasy neighbours - yikes !

God bless Mr. Fleming for the pebble he put in Mr. Goldfinger's shoe and for bringing us that wonderful bit of fiction.
Read all about it by looking up Ernő Goldfinger on Wikipedia. WARNING ! Pictures of his *ahem* "work" are included.
Our friend T.D. on the "triumph" of Gropius 's Modernism in post war Britain. Interesting. Hope you're doing OK this morning!
Is it too much to hope that the hints of sanity appeaering on this front will manifest it in,say, fine arts and elsewhere?

Louis M
I've sent this fantastic article to an appreciative, refined, elegant grandmother now living in a converted 17th century water mill overlooking River Derwent on 3 sides and surrounded by ancient woodlands - 'near the centre of Newcastle'. Lucky grandmom!!!
Sad and exactly true.
It's deeply ironic that British architecture has transformed English city centres into places that very much resemble their German counterparts, given that the latter had to be reconstructed following the destruction wrought by the Royal Air Force.

The intended demolition of Birmingham's Central Library, however, would only continue the denial of heritage which has proven so devastating. It's a prime example of brutalist architecture and should be preserved as such. What's currently being built as its replacement, the Library of Birmingham next to the Rep Theatre, certainly looks bland and commonplace by comparison.
I think the worst development for cities has been the 'urban planner'. Cities such as Sacramento, where I grew up and still live have wonderful neighborhoods where people clamor to live, and have housing prices to match. These are not neighborhoods of modern homes, with their careful urban planning, but neighborhoods from the 1910s and 20s, primarily. The homes are all different; the lots were bought by homeowners or small builders, and California bungalows, Arts and Crafts, and Art Deco homes built. They have steep pitched roofs, classic architecture, and are packed in together on relatively small, city lots.

Sacramento is still under the sway of the central planners. Near one of the classic old neighborhoods of Curtis Park, the old railyards are being developed. A 'corporate design' firm was hired, and a cookie-cutter development with planned attractions is being built.

Why not duplicate the existing neighborhoods, and sell individual lots to prospective homeowners and builders?

I guess it's just foreign to liberals to let individuals decide for themselves what to build.

Thank you for this elegaic but hopeful article. You've reminded me of the horror I felt on a recent visit to the Natural History Museum in London - its beautiful spaces have been chopped up with makeshift walls, rather like an old townhouse subdivided into bedsits. To add insult, there are little windows that let the visitor glimpse some of the architectural details. But eventually all of this shoddy stuff will be removed.
As always, whether writing about politics or culture, Dr. Dalrymple succinctly hits the nail on the head. Gropius, van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, et al ought have been tried for war crimes against the human spirit.

As a child growing up on Long Island, I spent as much time in NYC as possible. Architecture always fascinated and delighted me, and I had a visceral reaction against the Seagram Building, the UN complex, MoMA and other sterile 'masterpieces' of the International Style. At the same time, the early skyscrapers like the Woolworth and Metropolitan-Life buildings made my spirits soar. It wasn't until I read Tom Wolfe's 'From Bauhaus to Our House' in the mid-70's that I fully and intellectually understood why. Ornamentation is and remains the key to beautiful inspiring architecture. Less IS less.

Like political liberalism, modernism in art, music, literature and architecture is an elitist ethos which has undermined Western culture, eroded its soul. It is instructive that the 'unwashed masses' understand this while their intellectual and cultural betters do not.
We can only thank God the Luftwaffe couldn't reach New York or we might now have to deal with the wholesale urban destruction Dr. Dalrymple describes in Britain.
But alas the developing destroyers are still furiously at work. One has but to look at Victoria Street in London between Westminster Abbey and Cathedral.
You should at least tip your hat to Prince Charles, who did a lot to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
to rehabiliate our cityscape there is a strong case for funds not to be spent restoring old buildings, but to demolish the worst of the new.

and yes, for those who sneer at the americans, its worth remembering that the night-time streets of most american cities are paragons of civilised virtue compared to the mongrel rabble of the old country.
Richard Burnett Carter December 24, 2010 at 11:22 AM
I particularly enjoyed this essay. My great grandfather, Charles Emmett Cassell, was a notable Baltimore at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. His work was, alas, eclipsed by the Sullivan school out of Chicago and so is nowhere as well celebrated as it should be.
I was appointed the Archivist-Historian for The Baltimore Chapter of The American Institute of Architects a number of years ago, and while there, I wrote a series of position papers which I think Dr. Dalrymple might find of interest.

Thank you again for the essay.
Prof. Richard Burnett Carter (Ret.)
Another great thinker
Thanks for celebrating even these tentative steps away from ugliness.

Will Fitzhugh
Ah, gaslight. It is making a kind of comeback too, as those bright tungsten filament bulbs are banned by our new government in Brussels and replaced by dim green 'energy' bulbs.
I think Theo that it was a bit more complicated than your version of events (as ever only the loud pedal being used). There was a great deal of change going on in Britain after the war, especially as the sense that we seemed to have lost a great deal, in spite of the victory, began to grow. Planners and local authorities were not immune to the zeitgeist and not all victorian architecture was worth saving, bomb damaged or not - but I agree that some bad mistakes were made in the name of progress. However I don't agree, as you seem to imply, that these were deliberately malevolent acts. You seem to have forgotten that this was still a time when people on the whole trusted authority to act in their best interests amd most councils thought that they were. There was then (still is) a class divide on conservation. In the 50s and 60s I don't think that many working class people were that concerned about saving heritage, they wanted houses (the fact that they were built too cheaply and managed badly does not negate this). In any event the Victorians themselves were enthusiastic modernisers and re-imaginers of history. They were also quite content to demolish the historic if it did not accord with their view of progress.

As for the inevitable rant about alcohol, behaviour and cities. I lived and worked in Birmingham for five years recently and was in the city centre (a retail led regeneration that actually works) frequently at all hours. Yes parts of it are crowded, noisy and, as the evening progresses, increasingly inebriated, but most of it isn't. The centre is also full of decent bars and restaurants, cultural centres like the concert hall and (still) fine victoriana architecture like the Council House and the financial district. Take your American friends there too, Theo.

In any event the reason why so many, primarily northern, cities have strong "party" cultures is because of history, economics and the Thatcher Goverments. By the 1980s most English northern cities were in significant decline. Like the Rust Belt in the USA, the economic activity that had sustained them had largely gone. Tory policy accelerated the decline and it wasn't clear what would replaced heavy engineering, shipbuilding and so on. Cities were turning into doughnuts, decaying centres with increasingly detached suburbs being fed by edge of town retail developments. Around this time the concept of the "evening economy" came along and because there was nothing better on offer, local authorities began to encourage clubs and bars to open up in the centre. Public Health doctors at the time questioned the sense of this, but they didn't have alternatives, no one did. I think now that there is regret that this happened, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. At its worst its piss and vomit and violence and profoundly depressing. Last Halloween I stepped out of the theatre in Newcastle, with three hours of the Royal Shakespeare Company ringing in my ears, into what felt like the biggest street fancy dress party in the world. It isn't always (often isn't) as bad as Theo paints it.
Rome wasn't destroyed in a day either! Great article! I think I'll send it to my Brit ex pat friend, in Tasmania, who's an accomplished astronomer; the fogs were probably just one of many reasons he left Leeds, 40 years ago!
Theodore Dalrymple's writing is amazing, enlightening, even entertaining. What a treasure!