Modern Architectural Design and the Capitalist Style
Copyright © 2005-2010 by Zack Smith .
All rights reserved.
IntroductionIf you've ever taken a history of architecture or art course, you've encountered the idea that across the decades and centuries, various artistic styles have arisen and then passed. Some of these styles were limited to architecture but some were more general and others were focused on other art forms.
When the style was actually happening, people were not always very keenly aware of it, and so perhaps just called it modern. Or maybe they failed to see the trend at all and just chalked it up to being the prevailing cultural norm or a long-standing tradition.
Sometimes it was only decades later, when the style and its variants had died out and many poor or mediocre examples of it had been wiped from history and only superlative examples remained, that it was given a name.
The style I shall name is not yet dead. But I believe it deserves to be dead, and one cannot kill a thing if one cannot discern it and conceptually isolate it, so I shall name it.
This modern style is especially prevalent in architecture (think: Barnes and Noble and McMansions and glass-faced skyscrapers) but also somewhat in painting (think: Kinkade), and ceramics (think of brand name potters using molds for "hand thrown" work), and to an extent in sculpture. It is the dominant style in music.
I call it the Capitalist Style. You might react by saying, oh no, that's not a style, that's just what we call garbage. And I agree that much of it is awful stuff. Yet some of it could be called superlative. But an average isn't determined just by the best or the worst, but by the majority.
It is mostly a trickle-down style, or perhaps one could call it a suck-up style. For it is not a populist style or an ethnic style or a purely aesthetic style. So just as under Mussolini there was a fascist style of architecture and presumably other things, which was determined by a regime and its power and ideology, in the USA today and in other countries we are seeing more and more of a style that represents also a corporate regime and its power.
It is also true that the prevailing materials flows and money flows in the global society are determining and imposing this style. Our architecture and our personal and public art are directly affected. In addition, the possibility of seriously opposing this style is increasingly being reduced by the actions of the style's proponents. For the forces that impose the style are the same that would shut down populist systems such as free, unfettered trade between people and free exchange of information via the Internet.
The Capitalist StyleI characterize it as follows.
To re-answer the expected reaction to this, that what I describe is merely bad work, the answer is no. Condemning it with one word misses the point and discourages people from asking why we are surrounded by ugly junky buildings and bad art styles and bad music. It is because of:
Multinational capitalism and the globalization that it has spawned is becoming a system of global cartels that determine money flows and material flows.
We the consumers are left with strange options when it comes to art, architecture, food, music, and craft. In some cases, such as shipping containers used in architecture, the material end product is good. But this is a chance benefit.
It is the human being's creative capacity that transforms that dank, lifeless container from an artifact of globalization to a meaningful space. This is a pragmatic, human-helping solution.
Not all products of the Style can be transformed. I don't think a Kinkade painting, can be salvaged, except perhaps when it is used as toilet paper.
Also, one might ask, why not call it the Globalism Style, or even (stretching a bit) the New World Order style? The reason is that I think capitalism will naturally lead to globalism and anti-democratic government anyway, since it leads to an increasing concentration of power in corporate cartels that in turn control politicians.
"The West is now on a similar extremist ideological path [to communism]; the difference is that we are captive to detached and unaccountable corporations rather than to a detached and unaccountable state. It is ironic that the closer the corporate libertarians move us toward their ideological ideal of laissez faire capitalism, the less responsive the economy becomes to the real needs of people and planet."
Where to from here?Given that we are in the grips of an adverse situation in which cheap, low-quality, mass-produced toxic products are drowning out the human spirit in many areas such as architecture, it's only logical to ask, how shall we oppose this?
I believe there are at least four solutions to our problem.
Patterns of flowsA few years ago, the concept was put forward that one can look at computer software and find recurring patterns of organization. Books have been written on patterns in software.
I assert there are also patterns in the flows associated with the Capitalist Style. They are really patterns of profit maximization, since profit-reaping is the key theme of the style. Just one example:
The use of fillers in everything. Fillers are always low-cost. It is believed by the person(s) who insert them that they will not be noticed. Yet because fillers are low-cost, they are often toxic. They are intended to boost profits, but they may harm the consumer.