A building can be both an attack on the soul and beautiful

Western Traditionalist says:

Brutalism is an attack on the soul.

And whoever Western Traditionalist is, he or she illustrates this opinion with the following photo, of a building and a sculpture:

This building is the Torre Velasca in Milan, and it would appear that Western Traditionalist found the above photo of it at Wikipedia, where you can learn more about what I think is a very handsome building.

As “brutalism” goes, I don’t believe that the Torre Velasca is especially brutal. I recall liking this building very much, when I was trying to become an architect myself, half a century ago.

But I want to assert an idea that is perhaps rather individual. I agree that “brutalism” was indeed an “attack on the soul”, in the sense that its purpose was, aesthetically speaking, to batter people into accepting it as desirable architecture, rather than in any way charm or please them. And, I now like a lot of the surviving relics of brutalism. Definitely including the not-very-brutalist tower in the photo above.

How come? Well, let me ask you something. Do you think that the castles built by the Norman monarchs of England are beautiful? Many do, now. Thousands visit them, and are charmed by them. But it is undeniable that these buildings, when first built, were “attacks on the soul”, the souls of the native English, whom the Normans were busy subjugating with great brutality. Great brutalism, you might say. Those Norman castles were exercises in military intimidation, not attempts to be the tourist traps that they now are.

Brutalism owes much of its inspiration to military constructions built by the Nazis during World War 2, in places like the northern coastline of France, prior to the Normandy landings. And for as long as brutalism was on the march, so to speak, and threatening the houses and neighbourhoods of the world with demolition, people hated brutalism, and with bloody good reason. People hate any architectural style that seems to be coming straight at them, while seeming not to give a damn what they think of it. Remember that “brutalism” wss the name given to the style by those who invented and preached it. This was not merely an insult label pinned on “brutalism” by enemies and then adopted ironically. The brutalists gloried in being brutal. They were attacking souls.

But so what? Now that brutalism has been stopped in its tracks, is now in retreat, and has become a deeply conservative – indeed downright antiquarian – exercise in conservation and preservation rather than the radical act of aesthetic bullying that it began as, there is no reason for us to be intimidated by it any longer. Brutalism is now picturesque, just like those Norman castles are. And I for one like its surviving structures for exactly the same sorts of reasons that I and millions of others also like Norman castles. Brutalist shapes are interesting rather than always drearily rectangular, their rugged bulk possessing the charm of a mountain range. And I know that me liking these edifices in this kind of way would annoy the annoying people who first unleashed this style, that being, for me, another feature rather than a bug. I hate the idea that anti-brutalists, in the grip of the sort of analysis I have supplied in my previous paragraphs, and egged on by people like Western Traditionalist, might one day destroy all these buildings.

Robot dog progress

Researchers publish open-source, lower cost design for 3D printed robot dog.

What are the future applications of of such a “dog”? Some rather unconvincing tasks are mentioned in the above report, like hanging about in a forest “monitoring” animals. But that sounds like green-friendly make-work to me.

Warfare in complicated terrain does seem like an obvious application. Exploring Mars, in other words, and then fighting other robots for the control of Mars. And meanwhile filming it all, for entertainment purposes?

Airplanes flew for quite a long time before they found a major use for them, which was to spy on opposing armies and to make big guns cleverer, and then to fight and kill other airplanes. Then came high tech sport, in the form of air races, which was really just research and development for better and faster war planes.

Around then, also, very tentatively, airplanes began to deliver letters. And then, airplanes began to deliver people, which was to say very rich people. Eventually, half a century after they first flew, airplanes became part of the good life for regular humans.

Robot dogs look like they might follow a similar path. As of now, robot dogs are the robot equivalent of the useless and clumsy contraptions that airplanes were in the nineteen-noughts, good only for lunatics in goggles to play with.

Comments of how these weird creatures might actually make themselves useful, more quickly and less destructively than my grumpy pessimism just said, would be most welcome.

For starters, if these things are ever going to be liked by humans, they’re going to need heads, heads that are more than merely decorative which gather and transmit information. Then, maybe (and I seem to recall speculating along these lines at my long-lost Education Blog): child minding? A combination of such robot-human interaction and transport? Like a sort of super-intelligent horse?

Lockdown chat with Patrick

On June 2nd, Patrick Crozier and I had another of our recorded conversations, this time about Lockdown.

In the course of this, I refer to a photo that I did take, and a photo that I didn’t take. The photo that I did take was this:

That being me, and another bloke, recording the fact of empty shelves in Sainsburys. The photo that I didn’t take, but talk about with Patrick, is the one I should also have taken of how the shelves laden with less healthy food – crisps, chocky bickies etc. – were crammed with yet-to-be-sold stuff, a lot of it offered at discount prices.

Patrick, in his posting about this chat, mentions something he thought of afterwards but didn’t say during, which is that what may have been going on with the crisps and bickies was not that people were shunning unhealthy food, but rather that they were shunning party food, on account of there suddenly being no parties being had. Good point. In my photo above, you can see in the distance, the drinks section. Plenty of drink still to be had also.

I remember, when I used to do chat radio, I used to regret not having said things I should have said, either because I had them in mind but forgot, or because I only thought of them afterwards. But, in due course, I realised that what mattered was what I did say. If that was reasonably intelligent and reasonably well put, then I did okay. People wouldn’t say: Ooh, but he forgot to mention blah blah. They would merely decide whether they liked, or not, what I did say.

Well, this time around, I think there was a huge elephant in the virtual room that we didn’t discuss, which I am sure some listeners would expect us to have at least mentioned. Sport. As in: There hasn’t been any! Patrick and I are both sports obsessives. He is a Watford fan. But he has had no Premier League relegation battle to warm his heart during the last few months. I love cricket, not just England but also Surrey. Likewise for me: nothing, despite some truly wonderful weather at a time when it’s often very grim. But, not a single sporting thing, other than ancient sportsmen reminiscing about sports contests of yesteryear on the telly. Yet we never mentioned any of that. Since a lot of the point of our chat wasn’t to yell at politicians and scientists, hut rather just to remember the oddities of our own lives now, this was a major omission. We talked, as we always do whether that’s the actual topic or not, about war, this time in connection with the question of which economic policy attitudes will prevail during whatever attempts at an economic recovery start being made in the months to come. Yet sport, the thing that has replaced war in so many people’s lives, got no mention by us.

Statues do matter

Or so the recent dramas in Parliament Square would suggest, during which graffiti was attached to the statues of Churchill and Lincoln. Cue angry history lessons from Old People.

So here are a few more statue photos I photoed recently in Parliament Square, including the above two personages, but adding Gandhi and Millicent Fawcett, basically because I like the photos:

And while I’m on the subject of statues, I recently checked out the statues of Lord Dowding (of Battle of Britain fame) and Bomber Harris (of WW2 bombing offensive infamy) outside St Clement Danes, at the other end of the Strand from Trafalgar Square:

I knew that, when I got to this spot, I’d encounter Dowding and Harris. Ben Johnson and Gladstone were both surprises.

Memo to people intending to end up as statues in London: Join the RAF and wear a hat with a flat top sloping slightly backwards. That way, you won’t get pigeon shit on your face. Seriously, someone badly needs to invent an invisible pigeon scarer. Some kind of tiny electronic device that vibrates in a pigeon-scaring way, solar powered so it will go on working for ever.

The above link to my recent pigeon scaring posting being the only link in this posting, apart from the one at the top about the graffiti (so as people reading this in a year’s time will understand which current events I’m referring to), which is a bit lazy and a bit egocentric, but I’m in a hurry to get ready for something else. You surely have all the words you need to find out whatever you want to find out, e.g. if you are a Young Person wanting to find out if Churchill was anything else besides being a racist, or if Lincoln did or said anything about black slavery in America, besides being President at a time when there were still black slaves. (While you’re learning about that, try finding out what Gandhi said about Apartheid, when he was younger and living in South Africa.)

June 6th etc. in ten seconds

I like this:

But I’d like it a lot more if it was slowed down. Or at least slowable down. The early stages when it was fairly static work well. The later bits, when the Americans raced around the south, creating the Falaise Pocket, and then how that Pocket emptied, are too quick to tell the story. You have to know it already.

Even so, what a story.

China Monty

Last night, as already mentioned earlier today, I went to Sainsburys in Wilton Road. On my way there, I passed the Royal Trinity Hospice charity shop, also in Wilton Road, where I photoed thus, through the its annoyingly shiny shop window:

On the left, a very reflection-ridden photo of a generic beefeater jug, and a Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery jug. On the right, a better close-up of the Monty jug. Well, I think they’re jugs. I couldn’t see if there were handles on the back. But they sure look like they’re one of these and one of these.

And if that’s right, then they are both products of that exact same pottery enterprise, Royal Doulton, that used to be at that China Works place I’ve just recently been out photoing.

When I photoed these jugs last night, I did not know this.

Somewhat more seriously, I think it worth asking why public statues are not more realistic, in this exact sort of highly colourful way. Why, to put it another way, were these guys (on of them being Monty again) were not done in a similar way to the way that the above items of pottery were done?

Is it that statues please people by being very obviously statues, and not actual people? Too realistic, and statues would freak people out. I’m more sure that this is an interesting question than I am about the answer. Maybe it’s just that people have got used to statues being monochrome, and they expect them to go on being that way. Maybe they tried doing them in colour, but people complained that they looked too much like china jugs, rather than like proper statues.

But as the technology of this kind of thing gets better, and as colourful architecture becomes more of a regular thing, will public statues suddenly become colourful also, again?

In which Patrick Crozier tells me that the Americans could and should have won the Vietnam War

This was in the course of our latest recorded conversation, which we had over the phone (by which I mean my phone and his computer) last Wednesday, and which has just been posted at Croziervision, with further verbals from Patrick.

Which I recommend, even if you don’t listen to the thing itself. Patrick’s posting is even more informative and full of pertinent links than usual. In particular, I draw your attention to the link concerning the Case-Church Amendment, which Patrick identifies as the moment (it happened in June 1973) when an American victory, having been pretty much won on the battlefield, was then thrown away by the US Congress.

WHAM!

While searching the photo-archives for something else completely, I came across THIS!:

I photoed the above in the summer of 2016, in the Tate Modern gift shop.

Art galleries fascinate me, even though I often don’t like the Art that’s on show in them. And I am in particular fascinated by the gift shops that are now always attached to Art galleries. These places are often more crowded than where the Art is being shown. The above is only one of many, many photos, of Art stuff, that I have photoed in Art gallery gift shops.

In the case of this Roy Lichtenstein stuff, you can make a pretty good case for saying that those cushions, for instance, are as “authentic” Roy Lichtensteins as the “original” painting that the cushions were copied from. After all, the “original” painting was itself a copy, of something a lot like the cushions. And the original comic that Lichtenstein copied his painting from was mass produced, just like the cushions. Only the fetishism of the authentic unique object, by an officially recognised Artist, is holding back the dam of absurdity here.

I’m guessing that the business that Art galleries do in their gift shops, and in their equally vital coffee shops, is the difference between economic famine and something more like feast.

I also think that Art galleries are popular places to spend time in, again not because of the Art, but because of the quiet. Art galleries do not, on the whole, play annoying music, and talking in loud voices is considered boorish. The result is something a lot like a church.

That WW2 bombing offensive podcast – It’s up!

I’ve said it before, at the end of the last posting here, and I’ll say it again, at the beginning of this posting: It’s up. It being Patrick and me talking about the World War 2 bombing offensive. Patrick got it posted and listenable to less than a day after we recorded it. My salutations to him.

As you can see if you follow Patrick’s link, just by the notes Patrick offers, we meander a bit, as we do, but I hope not too intolerably.

I’ll add here a few things that Patrick doesn’t mention. Here are three blog postings by me, two here and one at Samizdata: The amazing Merlin; Dowding’s amazing lack of tact: The strange birth of the Avro Lancaster. Also, here’s a book that Patrick doesn’t mention in his notes but which I do mention in the podcast: A biography of Bomber Harris.

Our next phone conversation, we now think, will be about the Vietnam War. I made most of the running in this last one, but on the subject of Vietnam Patrick will be laying out the story, and I’ll be clarifying, or at least I hope I will. His basic thesis: The Americans won it, and then threw it away. My question, as of now, is: Did the rapprochement with China, and subsequent (consequent?) US victory in the Cold War, have something to do with the “throwing it away” bit?

You can listen to any, some or all of our recent podcasts by going here.

A recorded conversation by phone

Today, Patrick Crozier and I at last got around to doing the recorded conversation we failed to do earlier. About the Allied WW2 bombing offensive.

We did it down the phone rather than face-to-face, and doing it down the phone, what with the phone now being such an antiquated piece of kit, was what had caused the delay. (I am still trying to find the microphone that I swear I do own. Had I found it a fortnight ago, that would have saved Patrick a lot of bother.)

How satisfactory our conversation will turn out to be for others to listen to remains to be heard. I was a bit disorganised, not so much in what I said as in the order in which I said it. I tended to jump back and forth, or so it felt to me. But that wasn’t my phone’s fault, and communication between me and Patrick felt more exact and responsive than I had been fearing. Like most, I make constant use of my phone to keep in touch with friends and collaborators of various sorts, but mere communication is not the same as sharing a performance with whoever’s down the line. I did do performances like this on the radio back in the last century, but then I had no way to compare like with like, because each performance was different, and done with different people. This time I was able to make a more exact comparison, between this conversation with Patrick and previous conversations, of the same sort, also with Patrick. And, as I say, it felt more similar and less of a struggle than I had feared.

Accordingly, I very slightly revise my opinion about the efficacy of working at a distance. It is a little bit easier than I had earlier been thinking. Not that this will diminish the amount of work done in a city like London, and in particular in the centre of London. There is no fixed quantity of work, with more work moving to outside London automatically meaning less work being done in London. On the contrary, the easier it becomes to work outside London, the more busy London will be, keeping track of it all, placing bets on it, and generally doing its London stuff.

The fundamental importance of face-to-face communication remains. In the case of me and Patrick, we know each other well. We’ve met often and talked a lot face-to-face, over the years, in London. Because we know each other well, communication at a distance also works well, and actually, somewhat better than I had expected.

LESS THAN ONE DAY LATER: It’s up.