Charles Siegel Hates Post-Modernism

The website for INTBAU, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture, & Urbanism, (patroned by none other that his Royal Highness The Prince of Wales) posts an new essay, written by Charles Siegel. Siegel is the Director of the Berkeley-based Preservation Institute, and it shows. In this essay he praises New Urbanism, rejects the avant garde, and predicts a “post-human” future brought about by the union of high technology and architecture. Overall, a fun read for Friday.

An Exerpt:

“In architecture, also, we need to reject the avant garde’s pursuit of novelty and its belief that new technology should sweep away the past, in favor of design based on enduring human values…Different cultures will use different forms of traditional ornamentation to symbolise these enduring values, but in the West, only the classical style can symbolise a revival of the human values that were disrupted by the industrial revolution.”


3 replies on “Charles Siegel Hates Post-Modernism”

But do you get tired of phrases such as “…enduring human values…”?
They strike me as nebulous; one can interpret them architecturally any way you like. No?

I agree completely. I think the desire and drive to progress, both socially and technologically, is an “enduring human value,” that the author conveniently ignores.

Two sentences stand out from Siegel’s essay: one that you quoted, particularly the “only the classical style can symbolise a revival of the human values that were disrupted by the industrial revolution” part (my italics), and two, “but if we follow the post-modernists’ lead, if we do whatever technology makes possible without thinking about what it means in human terms, then by the end of the coming century, we can expect ecological crisis and widespread use of biotechnology to reengineer nature and human nature.”

In the first quote, the author views the industrial revolution as a hiccup in the classical tradition that will resume when people snap out of their progressive delusions and realize that only doric, ionic and corinthian columns are appropriate for Western architecture. His assertion that the classical style is the only style for the West isn’t even backed up by any reasoning or examples, nothing. It’s a huuuuuge statement but one that lacks any depth or even background so we can sympathize with his argument.

In the second quote, Siegel takes a humongous leap from novel architectural forms, a la Frank Gehry and the like, to ecological crisis and humans and nature being reengineered. Is this the real argument here? Is architecture and urban plannning merely a facade for his religous-sounding convictions about biotechnology and apocalyptic doom? Or is he just trying to scare the shit out of people, figuring that’s what works these days?

And I can’t help but point out the logical flaw in the second quote. He’s basically saying “if a then b”. “Doing whatever technology makes possible without thinking what it means”(a) leads to “ecological crisis, etc”(b). This is a sound (though definitely arguable) statement. But he taints this by saying that (a) IS THE SAME AS following the post-modernists lead, as if that’s the only way they (and who exactly are these post-modernists anyways? is there a club?) will lead us, and as if there’s no other forces or people who could lead us down this dark path he imagines. I think he’s doing this to manipulate the reader who will probably find it hard to disagree with his main arguement, but now the reader thinks that post-modernists will lead us to this calamitous doom. A bad argument that makes his essay more like a negative campaign ad than a positive expostition of the ideas he believes in.

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