a smugly hermetic milieu…?

A most intriguing and bizarre diatribe has appeared in the English newspaper The Guardian, normally a paper known for its careful and thoughtful dissection of architectural themes and discussions. Yesterday, however, it printed a page or two out of a book by Jonathan Meades, now available to buy: “Museum without Walls”. I’m not that keen to buy the book, down to the simple reason of sentence length alone – the man seemingly knows nothing of the common rules of punctuation, with one of his sentences in the article clocking in at a staggering 219 words. I’ll include it here, so you can write in and tell me what he is on about:

“A writer, at least this writer – and I am hardly alone – sees entropic beauty, roads to nowhere whose gravel aggregate is that of ad hoc second world war fighter runways, decrepit Victorian oriental pumping stations, rats, supermarket trolleys in toxic canals, rotting foxes, used condoms, pitta bread with green mould, polythene bags caught on branches and billowing like windsocks, greasy carpet tiles, countless gauges of wire, flaking private/keep-out signs that have been ignored since the day they were erected, goose grass, shacks built out of doors and car panels, skeins of torn tights in milky puddles, burnt-out cars, burnt-out houses, abandoned chemical drums, abandoned cooking oil drums, abandoned washing machine drums, squashed feathers, tidal mud, an embanked former railway line, a shoe, vestigial lanes lined with may bushes, a hawser, soggy burlap sacks, ground elder, a wheelless buggy, perished underlay, buddleia, a pavement blocked by a container, cracked plastic pipes, a ceramic rheostat, a car battery warehouse constellated with CCTV cameras, a couple of scraggy horses on a patch of mud, the Germolene-pink premises of a salmon smoker, bricked-up windows, travellers’ caravans and washing lines, a ravine filled with worn car tyres, jackdaws, herons, jays, a petrol pump pitted and crisp as an overcooked biscuit, a bridge made of railway sleepers across duckweed, an oasis of scrupulously tended allotments.”

Got that? All architects faults apparently, that the rotting foxes and used condoms have been cleaned away. Not, of course, the cleaner, the council sweeper, the developer, the engineer, the builder, the quantity surveyor, the project manager – no, none of these. It’s all the fault of those terribly beastly people, “Architects”, with their big plans and their hard hats and their eternal driving of Porches in the face of poor pedestrian Jonathan Meades. One gets the sense that Jonathan, with his pink, sad eyes, was heavily bullied at school by someone who went on to become an architect in their later life. Possibly Meades was passed over in his bid to become an architect – perhaps he failed at Architecture School when he was a young man, and now all he has is his pen, with which to write unbalanced, vitriolic hack…

…because the sad thing is that he is wrong. Totally absolutely sadly wrong. Architects have sadly nowhere near enough power, I say, and they should be given way more. Power to tell the mindless bureaucrats at the Council to get stuffed when they ask for meaninglessly trivial pieces of paper that add nothing to humankind. Power to make the hordes of suburban decramastic roof dwellers to paint their boring little houses some colour other than various shades of beige. Power to convince the demolition squads destroying Christchurch that, No, actually, you do NOT need to demolish the Cathedral / Town Hall / Arts Centre / Cranmer Courts / MLC building, etc etc etc ad infinitum. He credits the architect with way more power than they have ever been given. Here he goes again:

“Architecture, the most public of endeavours, is practised by people who inhabit a smugly hermetic milieu which is cultish. If this sounds far-fetched just consider the way initiates of this cult describe outsiders as the lay public, lay writers and so on: it’s the language of the priesthood. And like all cults its primary interest is its own interests, that is to say its survival, and the triumph of its values – which means building. Architects, architectural critics, architectural theorists, the architectural press (which is little more than a deferential PR machine) – the entire quasi-cult is cosily conjoined by mutual dependence and by an ingrown, verruca-like jargon which derives from the more dubious end of American academe.”

So far, there have been 103 comments, ranging from the frankly imbecilic (Architects all get paid too much – hah!), to the astonished (Who is this man Meades and where does he get his wacky ideas?). We’re interested in your comments here as well.


3 responses to “a smugly hermetic milieu…?”

  1. Something a bit wrong with the link to this post – not sure why…. Sorry.

  2. aaah, fixed now. In a similar vein: Mr Moon, an architect in Korea, has this to say:
    ““Before, individual houses were for rich guys. It would cost you $100,000 for the architect alone plus $1 million for the house,” said Mr. Moon, 44, who has a master’s degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Then came the book, which explained how to build in wood, which is much cheaper.”

    >> so if building in wood is soooooo much cheaper, why are houses in NZ so expensive?


  3. I find this article to be an odd mixture. There are parts that resonate with me (“architects’ lack of empathy”), and some that make him sound positively deluded (“Le Corbusier’s l’Unité d’Habitation […] instruct[s] us in what genius is”); the later actually being a great example of the former.
    The problem of course is that this is overly generalized and simplified in that it focuses on just one group.

    When it comes to giving architects more power, your remark that they should have “Power to make the hordes of suburban decramastic roof dwellers to paint their boring little houses some colour other than various shades of beige” only confirms that would not be an entirely good idea.

    I agree that Meade’s article is not much more than a diatribe and does not really contribute anything useful.

    “why are houses in NZ so expensive”
    The answer to that, I would really like to know. In particular given their appalling quality.


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