Raiders Of The Lost Arts

We all know how Roman underfloor central heating was forgotten and had to be re-invented. It is not the only example of architectural amnesia, with the consequence that all we seem to be good for now is the erection of “sick buildings”. The traditional South-East Asian house, for example, was built on stilts, and therefore looked unfamiliar, quaint, and “primitive” to Western eyes. As far as I know, no one builds like this now, but in the modern way direct on the hot and humid earth, thus giving themselves unnecessary problems of heat, damp, and creeping things. Having invited such problems by ignoring climate, we can always throw more and more money and technology at them; all this patching and re-patching will generate employment and stimulate the economy. Two thousand years ago or so, there were houses in Baghdad that could create a temperature difference of at least 20°C between the lower and upper floors by architectural design alone, and wind towers in the desert city of Yazd that captured and channelled cooling winds with no moving parts. Nowadays we achieve the same effects by burning fossil fuels. Cui bono?

It is not just a matter of the insistence on closed windows on sunny days, so that we are forced to breathe in Legionnaire’s Disease and whatever else dirty air-conditioning systems see fit to serve us; it is a blindness to what effect various spaces have on the human nervous system. These things were once common property, and architects used known ratios to achieve both visual and experiential harmony. And then we forgot it all, and decided to rebaptise a hideous clash as a “dynamic dialogue”. Instead of learning to design buildings that please the human mind, architecture students seem to be taught a weird variety of English whose sole purpose is to make ignorant ugliness and careless dysfunction sound impressive and therefore remunerative.

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 11:54 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, The Futurist Fever-Dream

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