Commonplace Book: Uses of the Past

Nobody (except me) loves Boston City Hall, and even I don’t love the DC FBI HQ, the J. Edgar Hoover building, (slated for destruction). Brutalist architecture is at “the awkward age” too young to be historic, too old to be current. It’s even more of a problem with Soviet-era architecture from Iron Curtain countries. Ideological and aesthetically derided, a symbol of suffering in design. But is it really? Will it some day be as beloved as American Victorian, now of course prized.

In the London Review of Books Sheila Fitzpatrick assesses a book by a writer who has come to love those massive wedding cake pieces of Stalinist ideology made real.  Worth a read for the design mavens among you:

Here’s a bit of it.

Landscapes of Communism: A History through Buildings by Owen Hatherley

Hatherley didn’t go round Moscow with Sytin in his backpack, and indeed it’s hard to imagine any point of connection between his sensibility and that of the Russian intelligentsia. Žižek is a hovering presence, and there is a dash of Boris Groys as well. Hatherley would like to think the communist regimes did something right in creating living space for their people and hopes to find some elements of ‘real socialism’ in their built environments. But there’s always something like a wry grin on his face when he hints at these hopes. ‘Like many Soviet ideas,’ he writes in frustration at one point, ‘it is so obviously right and so obviously botched.’ Architecturally, his core allegiance is to modernism (the brutalist and utopian kinds, not the defanged ‘Ikea modernism’, which he disdains), but he has developed a certain affection for Stalinist monumentalism.

Could it ever just be “Dear Old Moscow State”?

Photo of Boston City Hall courtesy Wikipedia, “Plaza8” by Marguerite & AJ Marks – originally posted to Flickr as Boston city hall. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

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