This summer we are posting a series of extracts from essays featured in “The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, our advocacy monograph published with The Architectural Review. To launch this series of extracts we have chosen an essay by the monograph’s Editor, Catherine Slessor, on the idea of place.
Called “Against Notopia”, Slessor’s essay touches on many of the ideas that recur in different contexts elsewhere in the monograph. Ideas about a growing ambivalence to the legacy of much of what the Modern Movement has achieved in terms of creating a successful, engaging and emotionally meaningful built environment. Ideas about how corporate forces have high-jacked the Modern Movement’s aesthetic whilst leaving behind its ethos. Ideas about how we might better reconnect with the very people whose communities we are designing. Slessor’s often provocative and always perceptive style offers a fresh perspective on these issues and adds a new dimension to the discourse on the notion of ‘nowhere place’ or ‘Notopia’ that has been examined on the pages of Architectural Review in recent years.
“Against Notopia” by Catherine Slessor – Extract:
“In an age of increased cultural and social homogenisation, the elusive and often contested notion of place has assumed a renewed importance. The current era is dominated by rapacious globalisation, the systematic erosion of difference and the commodification of culture. While representing material advancement and social liberalisation, these forces also invariably involve the destruction of traditional cultures and a disengagement with the past. What is now prized most by the multinational corporations who stalk the globe are universal systems of value-free exchange and profit.
Left to the mercy of market forces, the commercialisation of land has spawned the selfish city, as described in the AR’s recent ‘Notopia’ manifesto as being ‘disfigured by the interests of bankers and stillborn in vision and unable to cope with mass urbanisation … one building next to another does not make a place and many buildings do not make a city’. Notopia is ‘a warning sign that the metropolis as place of exchange dialogue and delight between diverse groups of people is being exterminated. Buildings alone do not support life.’
Architecture’s ambivalent relationship with modern capitalism and its growing dependence on arcane treatises and self-justificatory theories has also resulted in the neglect of a diversity of physical environments that have the potential to deliver empirical inspiration for art and invention. To an extent, architecture has become a marginalised freemasonry, its creative potential reduced to eclectic wrapping paper adorning slabs of dehumanised corporate space planning. From Dallas to Dhaka to Dubai, the outcome of this banal hegemony of the built environment is only too apparent.”