one is too many: giants sailing from byzantium

For all his genius,was one Gaudi enough for the world? Well, dim rooms and undulating walls in his apartment houses are a bit creepy to live in; which is essentially the criticism made by the followers of the International Modern school, or Bauhaus which is still clinging on with its mathematical precision of easy to calculate cost/rent per square foot.

Fred Herzog photo. ---But is Obama picking a fight? Or did Republicans throw the first punches? The facts on America’s growing class divide are irrefutable. Incomes for average Americans have been dropping for years, while incomes for the wealthiest among us have risen steadily. During the past two decades, the wealthiest 10 percent of earners have captured 100 percent of the gains from our economic growth. Despite the fact that worker productivity has risen steadily, none of the gains in that period went to the bottom 90 percent. This isn’t the fault of Republicans. But Republicans have responded by making it worse. They have cut taxes on the wealthy over and over, so that the effective tax rate on millionaires has been cut in half since World War II, according to the conservative Tax Foundation. Today, federal taxes on the whole are lower than they’ve been in 60 years. Read More: image:

The high priest of the functional modern school was Mies van der Rohe, known prinipally for his Seagram building on Park Avenue. It is the great antithesis Gaudi’s cathedral of the Sagrada Familia. But, whereas Gaudi had no one blazing in his trail, ven der Rohe was perhaps the most widely imitated of architects. The dreary results are everywhere: government office buildings, pretentious companies, ad nauseum… city after city, block after block, the steel, glass and brick boxes all seem to proclaim: one van der rohe would have been enough.

Harry Joy photography. ---In another shrewd move, Barack Obama has trotted out Warren Buffett to sell his new plan. In fact, Obama is calling his millionaire tax the “Buffett Rule”. Millions of Americans will see Warren Buffett standing next to Obama and will actually be convinced that some wealthy Americans are actually eager to pay more taxes. The following is what the New York Times had to say about the “Buffett Rule”…. Mr. Obama, in a bit of political salesmanship, will call his proposal the “Buffett Rule,” in a reference to Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor who has complained repeatedly that the richest Americans generally pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than do middle-income workers, because investment gains are taxed at a lower rate than wages.--- Read More: image:

THE TOWERS of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully office-buildings.  The mist took pity on the fretted structures of earlier generations: the Post Office with its shingle-tortured mansard, the red brick minarets of hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden tenements colored like mud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but the clean towers were thrusting them from the business center, and on the farther hills were shining new houses, homes—they seemed—for laughter and tranquillity.

Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiseless engine. These people in evening clothes were returning from an all-night rehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic adventure considerably illuminated by champagne. Below the bridge curved a railroad, a maze of green and crimson lights. The New York Flyer boomed past, and twenty lines of polished steel leaped into the glare…. ( Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt )

Sinclair Lewis. ELmer Gantry. ---But ignored in this story of the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer was the less publicized --- but equally important -- finding of what happened to the household income of those in the middle of the economic distribution, the 50th percentile of national income. In actual dollars, these middle- class families suffered an even bigger drop in annual income than the poor did over the past 12 years: a decline of more than $2,500. Put another way, American households in the middle of the income spread, those making about $50,000 a year, have lost more than $200 in monthly income since 1998. The dwindling of middle-class incomes represents a sharp reversal of our tradition--- Read More:

No one would want to see a landscape entirely filled with buildings designed by lesser Gaudis. But, a bit more exotic architecture, following some imaginative design that runs counter to the gospel that less is more would relieve some of the monotony of the functional, logical, linear world and its definition of progress.

…In one of the skyscrapers the wires of the Associated Press were closing down. The telegraph operators wearily raised their celluloid eye-shades after a night of talking with Paris and Peking. Through the building crawled the scrubwomen, yawning, their old shoes slapping. The dawn mist spun away. Cues of men with lunch-boxes clumped toward the immensity of new factories, sheets of glass and hollow tile, glittering shops where five thousand men worked beneath one roof, pouring out the honest wares that would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt. The whistles rolled out in greeting a chorus cheerful as the April dawn; the song of labor in a city built—it seemed—for giants.( Babbitt)…

Salutin:But U.S. leaders, supported by the mass media echo chamber, used the event to impose old policies, already decided on. Vice-president Cheney, defence secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Bush government, belonged in the 1990s to a group call the Project for a New American Century which felt “a new Pearl Harbor” might “catalyze” the ability to rebuild U.S. strength and global “leadership.” 9/11 handed them that kind of pretext, for goals like overthrowing Saddam Hussein, building up the national security apparatus and strengthening their hold on the oil-rich Mideast. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told her staff to think about how to “capitalize on these opportunities.” It was sheer exercise of power: you know what you want, you use anything to get it. The results have been disastrous: a crack-up of the U.S. and global economies, spread of torture, hatred of U.S. invaders, internal and external immigrations . . . The cast really was Shakespearean, or rather Richardian: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush (a buffoonish figure) and Osama bin Laden too, who also knew what he wanted but, unlike the rest, seemed to get most of it, including martyrdom. It wasn’t about human nature, as much of Shakespeare is. It

, like Richard III, about sheer political power that ultimately undermines itself. Read More:

… His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay….

As for functionalism, what is the function of a park or a cathedral? Not, surely the same as that for a kitchen, or an office. A park is to delight and a cathedral is to inspire. In these, his major works, Gaudi was triumphantly successful. But, Gaudi was not after all, a really great architect. He lacked the ultimate humility of the really great ones, and their sense of architecture as a practical delight, a beautiful necessity. Somewhre inside the rough realist who enjoyed inclined piers and random rubble there was an arrogant late nineteenth-century dandy. There is stil a need for architecture that serves and not dominates.

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…His large head was pink, his brown hair thin and dry. His face was babyish in slumber, despite his wrinkles and the red spectacle-dents on the slopes of his nose. He was not fat but he was exceedingly well fed; his cheeks were pads, and the unroughened hand which lay helpless upon the khaki-colored blanket was slightly puffy. He seemed prosperous, extremely married and unromantic; and altogether unromantic appeared this sleeping-porch, which looked on one sizable elm, two respectable grass-plots, a cement driveway, and a corrugated iron garage. Yet Babbitt was again dreaming of the fairy child, a dream more romantic than scarlet pagodas by a silver sea.

For years the fairy child had come to him. Where others saw but Georgie Babbitt, she discerned gallant youth. She waited for him, in the darkness beyond mysterious groves. When at last he could slip away from the crowded house he darted to her. His wife, his clamoring friends, sought to follow, but he escaped, the girl fleet beside him, and they crouched together on a shadowy hillside. She was so slim, so white, so eager! She cried that he was gay and valiant, that she would wait for him, that they would sail—…

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Gaudi, like the WTC is an instance of what can be termed aesthetic imperialism. The annex everything syndrome. An example would be the Guggenheim which is not so much a museum as an attempt by Wright to take over museums and museum visitors. Gaudian leaning columns are not actually imitations of trees, they are attempts to annex trees to the Gaudian aesthetic.

…It was the best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments, including cathedral chime, intermittent alarm, and a phosphorescent dial. Babbitt was proud of being awakened by such a rich device. Socially it was almost as creditable as buying expensive cord tires.

He sulkily admitted now that there was no more escape, but he lay and detested the grind of the real-estate business, and disliked his family, and disliked himself for disliking them. The evening before, he had played poker at Vergil Gunch’s till midnight, and after such holidays he was irritable before breakfast. It may have been the tremendous home-brewed beer of the prohibition-era and the cigars to which that beer enticed him; it may have been resentment of return from this fine, bold man-world to a restricted region of wives and stenographers, and of suggestions not to smoke so much….

---Ezra Stoller was the American architectural photographer whose memorable photographs of buildings by the 20th century’s leading designers popularised architecture for a whole generation. His striking black and white photographs, which are among the world’s most frequently reproduced architectural images, played a key role in the shaping of public perceptions of modern architecture. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Kenzo Tange and many others turned to Stoller to capture their buildings on film, and Philip Johnson once said that no modern building was complete until it had been “Stollerised”, or photographed by Stoller.--- Read More:

When Gaudi argued, as he apparently frequently did, that man made straight lines and god made curves, what he actually seemed to imply was that god was to be annexed to the Gaudian empire. the religion of Gaudi. Which brings us back to America today: A decline connected to a failure of creativity. A society unable to produce new ideas and talents; when it turns to critical analysis of its own culture, mass society, whose “fresh” ideas are recycled and repacked from the Sinclair Lewis, Keynes and FDR eras, then vitality has been choked off in favor of sterility. And yet, who can say that out of the wild ferment of seemingly chaotic changes we are undergoing, this transition from post industrial capitalism to what can be termed “information age”,that  new and vital forms in the arts and sciences are at hand.

…From the bedroom beside the sleeping-porch, his wife’s detestably cheerful “Time to get up, Georgie boy,” and the itchy sound, the brisk and scratchy sound, of combing hairs out of a stiff brush…. Read More:

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