Modern architecture in a dismal state

Modern architecture in a dismal state

Riley Garland

There is no building more iconic than the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. As it was engulfed in flames this last Monday, people across the globe felt the devastating loss of perhaps one of the greatest symbols of culture in the world. The massive gothic cathedral took 200 years to complete and first opened nearly 700 years ago. Notre Dame represents more than just French culture or Catholicism—it’s a stark reminder of a time when architecture was truly an art.

Architecture used to be about stretching the masterfulness of man to its furthest constrictions, reaching to the gods in a beautiful attempt to exemplify patience, perfection and grandeur. Unfortunately today, contemporary architecture is a reduction—a brutal upheaval of the status quo to invigorate new architects with the idea that they’re fighting against preconceived notions of beauty.

Works of classic architecture often took hundreds of years to complete. Featuring appealing symmetry and perfectly-sculpted detail, the buildings strike awe in onlookers who find themselves standing in the presence of humanity’s most beautiful achievements.

Over the last century, carefully-drawn proportions were replaced with superfluous curvatures. Sturdy columns have been eclipsed by massive sheets of concrete, and aesthetic structure traded for cubes and slabs. Much like the trend of modern art, architecture too has decayed into subjective rubbish.

It’s true that there are aspects of contemporary architecture that draw admiration. The desire for each component to serve a purpose, paired with structures incorporated into their natural environment, appeals to an authentic minimalist philosophy. Simplicity can be appreciated. The power of negative space has also been exemplified in modern architecture, again something to be admired. Yet, these few graces do not make up for the sins of the trend as a whole.

Beginning in the 1920s, the focus on aestheticism was replaced with functionality. From there, a subjective movement bent on redefining architectural thinking grew. New trends rapidly replaced the old ways, with the most notable examples being Art Deco and Bauhaus schools of thought.
Architects eagerly began pushing geometry to new boundaries and turned their focus to shape at the expense of the whole.

Intentionally betraying the laws of beauty in an attempt to break the mold of classic architecture is not an inspirational ascension, it’s a delusional rejection of reality. Often, large-scale modern projects are met with heavy backlash (the Tour Montparnasse comes to mind). Sometimes they even result in new laws restricting architecture in the area or are demolished soon after completion.

The contemporary blobs and cubes of today are only “amazing” in the sense that they are amazingly stupid. Some call it “bold and brash.” I would opt for “ugly and trash.”

It can only be hoped that the future will hold a neo-baroque movement. I would even settle for a gothic revival. Give me columns, give me spires, give me towers, statues and domes. I’ll take the worst that classical architecture has to offer before I surrender a fond glance to a concrete cube.

People wept for Notre Dame as the iconic cathedral was engulfed in flames. I wonder if anybody will shed a tear for the cement slabs or glass cubes that pass for architecture today when they too inevitably fall.