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On Modern
In this article, Taubes discussed Modernism’s impersonal approach to architecture
Random Thoughts on Modern Architecture  
By Frederic Taubes
He who hates peremptory statements will have to forgive me when I declare without a trace of hesitation that there is more sensibility structured in a single portal of a Mexican church than there is in all of Rockefeller Center in New York. To put it in a nutshell: There cannot be a vestige of sentiment in cement or in a mechanically straight line simply because both are always impersonal; and both lie at the core of modern architecture, the first as material (here cement can be replaced by glass or metal), and the second as the governing principle of design.
Modern architecture, when conceived on a large scale, can stun the eye with aloof grandeur, but it does not feed it with sentiment or passion because it always lacks charm- a word now under strictest esthetic embargo! Modern architecture is functional. Hence it holds one in the low registers of sobriety, for functionalism as the axiom of a tectonic conception runs counter to humankind’s natural desire for the ornate. Human abode, it must be understood, can be looked upon as an extension of the human body, and man’s esthetic concern came into being when he first adorned his body with ornaments.
Precision, usefulness, purposefulness, rule modern architecture, and these do not admit of sentimental intervention and the impulsive vagaries of the human heart. Precision is the moral core of the machine and time is its greatest enemy. Time glorifies humankind’s handiwork, but time inexorably renders the machine absurd; it also degrades and debases all its products. The machine personifies man’s desire for perfection, and perfection is its ultimate goal, its metaphysical destiny. Time is anti-mechanistic, and its metaphysical goal is corrosion of man and all his works. Time’s corrosive touch throws into relief the grandeur of all creatures and the heroic futility of creation. One recognizes it in the detrited marbles of the Parthenon, the sun-bleached driftwood tossed on the sand of the seashore, the worm eaten core of a conch shell. Yes, and in the sand itself- the sand, once the proud granite of a towering mountain peak. Time has its own ways and means of streamlining!
Streamlining in its technological sense refers to a conditioning whereby an object’s resistance to wind while moving through space becomes reduced, and in consequence it’s velocity increased. Although
architectural objects, being immobile, do not have to cope with problems of motility, streamlining is applied to them as a condition sine qua non.
Streamlining harbors in its glacial grip the mass-man’s chief concern: cheapness of construction and maintenance. It is cheaper to put up studs for a six-room house (and expandable attic) than to carve one single Corinthian column; it is cheaper to remove accumulations of grime from a six-room house than from the nooks, flutings and crevices of a baroque portal. Streamlining recognizes no capriciousness of human spirit; it chills fervor, air-conditions passions. It is wholly oriented toward rationality, durability, practicality.
It has been stated that art and architecture coincide in their esthetic aims. In the past this has always been true- not so in this century. In modern esthetics, equivocation, ambiguity, paranoiac obsession, ritualistic regression, screams of unconscious self reference, extrasensory reflections are the codicil of the official art. In modern architecture only the rational has currency.
When does modern architecture achieve its aim and when does it not? In the big cities modern architecture created the first authentic style in more than a century. But, when applied elsewhere, the same style can become a veritable abomination. Take the modernistic church buildings for example. Here modern art forms are truly absurd- they are wholly anti-mystical, anti-ecstatic, anti-romantic. They are inimical to mythology, theology, metaphysics; they induce neither reverence nor piety nor contemplation. Modernistic art forms and religious feelings are totally incompatible- you can’t have a Biblical saint rest on the cement floor of a gas station and make him act his part.
When set in natural surroundings, modern architecture is at bitter odds with the very essence of a landscape- it fights its capricious configurations, its vagaries, its unaccountable fortuities. It is in disharmony with every form found in nature, in conflict with geology, botany, zoology. When I pass in the stillness of night, riding along the shores of a lake or a sea or a mountain road dotted with modern buildings, how often do I hear the slick monsters mutter imprecations against their settings. Verily, many a time I have heard a nasty invective hurled down by the cement facades and aluminum screened window sashes against the Lord’s own handiwork, and it makes me blush in the death of the night.

Reprinted from American Artist Magazine, June 1960





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