Leon Krier has written a book on Albert Speer, the Nazi architect, in which Krier offers an appraisal of the ‘quality’ of the architecture of Speer and plays down his role as a war criminal and close friend and aide to Hitler. The book is a re-issue of a book published in 1985 with the more distasteful passages taken out, as the Wall Street Journal explains. The de-ideologization of architecture is a dangerous post-modern tendency.
The book is advertized on the publisher’s website (Monacelli Press) as follows:
“Krier candidly confronts the great difficulty of disentangling the architecture and urbanism of Albert Speer from its political intentions. Krier bases his study on interviews with Speer just before his death. The projects presented center on his plan for Berlin, an unprecedented modernization of the city intended to be the capital of Europe.”
The first issue I would like to address is the misguided notion that somehow it is possible to separate architecture from politics; in other words that you can assess the relative aesthetic merits of architecture in separation from its historical and political context and, perhaps more importantly, separate its analysis from the ideological aims of those who commissioned it. As Giedion points out in his essay on monumentality in the 1950s, the problem with neo-classicism and its monumentality had become its association with oppressive regimes. The megalomaniacal architecture of Soviet social-realism was, in fact, stylistically very close to the neo-classicism of the Third Reich. All you needed to do is replace the swastika for a hammer and sickle and no one would know the difference. The regimes were extremely close in both form and content; Neo-classical signs to validate universal repression and genocide. Neo-classicism had reached a point of moral bankruptcy, in the same way as Western civilization and its Enlightenment tradition had to face its denouement. The notion of disentanglement and recuperation of neo-classicism is not commendable, as the publisher’s blurb suggests, it is outright dangerous and misguided.
The question of recuperation, and by extension of what buildings should look like in the future, is encapsulated in the second part of the quote; “the unprecedented modernization of the city intended to be the capital of Europe”. At this point I start to pull hairs out of my head in indignation. Unprecedented? What about Paris, the boulevards of Haussmann and the Palace of Versailles? What about Rome? Our history is replete with self-aggrandizing urban plans of despotic rulers. Go read a book you silly person working at a publishing house!
What is perplexing here is the use of the word ‘modernization’. The term for me has not only a technological and materialist connotation, but also a humanist one. You cannot, in my mind, achieve true modernization when technological advances are being used to oppress more people, to kill more people and to kill them faster, or to destroy the planet in a more efficient manner. That is not modernization but mental illness. I have said it, to call the plans of Albert Speer for Berlin ‘modernization’ is to completely lose your moral compass.
I can not wait to read the book in full and pass on my judgment.
Architect and Activist. Over the years I have become increasingly aware that I need to actively engage with the issues I care about. My passions and irritations are many and change often, but a red thread is always a deep concern over the fact that capitalism does not work as it is claimed it does, democracies only serve the needs of the few and environmental resource depletion and pressures continue to mount.
I think it is time for citizen's activism to create pressure, to bang on the doors of established powers and interests until we get it right.
As you will notice, if you continue to follow my blog over time, there are certain fetishes I have; modernism, social housing, the avant-garde. I propose to recuperate the Modern Project from the dustbin of history and re-establish the link between social engagement and architecture.
Watch it all come down needs to be followed by let the good stuff blossom!