To: (ARCH)
From: (Nold Egenter)
Date: 4. 9. 1997; 20:37


Postmodern architecture was "poisonous", an "epidemy"!

Architects, urbanists and art critiques at the end of their theoretical bricolage

Report by Nold Egenter

This info is basically architectural, but, hinting to theoretical calamities in the field of architecture and urbanism, the report touches also other disciplines (Anthropologists may see 'anthropological conclusion' at the end)


Maybe inspired by the daily TV reports on floods in eastern Germany, Peter Hartmann, the second-page columnist of "WeltWoche" (a German language Swiss weekly), spread the idea that he was going to write an interview on 'Noah's bags' with some prominent person. Basically, the topic would be a kind of 'end-of-century-party game': "20th century man is about to pack his bags for his collective trip into the 3rd millennium." Consequently he must think about all the things that he will "leave behind on the garbage dump of history." (WW 24.7.97) Immediately the newly suggested "party-game" became trendy on the superman-level: Mario Botta was the first who seized the occasion to express himself.


Some very short notes here may help some 'laics' (non-architects) to understand what 'Mario Botta' really means in the architectural world.

Botta is a kind of architectural Godfather (in a polytheistic system though). He is one of the cherished top stars of the global architectural community. He owns one of the highest (and today rarest) cryptic titles of the architectural professional world: 'WWC' ('Worked With Corbu[sier]') [though the period was rather short!]. His earliest works reflect this 'connection', but soon Botta develops his own style - with others in the region - later coined 'neorealism' (Aldo Rossi, etc.). The increasingly upcoming Japanese taste for Westernism started to develop preferences for Mario Botta's architectural 'Swiss precision watch' details. Japan edited highly aesthetic volumes about his work. In short: Mario Botta became one of the most outstanding 'Postmodernists'. There is some dynamite in this, as we will see later.

However, there is a more 'scientific' version of Botta's access into the sanctuary of 'Postmodernism':

About twenty years ago, Charles Jencks, influential art historian and one of the founders and highest of highpriests of architectural 'Postmodernism', had published his now famous 'The Language of Post Modern Architecture' in which he declared "The Death of Modernism". This book amply celebrates Botta as a leading genius of "Postmodern Classicism", as an important creator of "Neo-Tuscany Style" and an outstanding figure among the new "Neorealists". Finally Jencks crowns Botta as the creator of his own "Fundamentalistic Classicism". By the way: note the costly weaving with the golden threads of history! With such nebulous historistic inscense many of Botta's Ticino-houses might easily look like treasureboxes casually lost by some heavenly mythical giant. The fairy tale went on (we mentioned it already, remember: dynamite!): Botta became a top star of 'Postmodernism'.


After having digressed shortly, let us now focus on the initially mentioned interview-story again. Evidently the rules of the suggested "party-game" are simple: first describe the flood, then, tell us what you would put into your bags. No doubt, the tension rises: how does Mario Botta, the famous 'postmodernist' superstar, describe 'The Flood'?


He is initially referring to the Biennale of 1980 in Venice, in particular to its then praised "Strada Novissima". Remember? Suddenly all these neoclassical 'faŤades' against modernist 'functionalism'! It created a strong movement, for Botta the hour of birth of 'Postmodernism'.

However, today, his opinion has changed. His fascination with postmodernism is gone, it turned into disgust. He says "this movement produced the same crashes in literature, in art and in theatre, and, even more evident, in architecture, where words have become stone." In his view, postmodernists paved the way to an absolute "anything goes", to a "global Disneyland-architecture".

Wow! A kind of Paul-Saul jump! Doubtless, a rather unexpected outcry of one of the postmodern architectural prophets! Even the interviewer himself seems to be shocked, turning his questioning quickly towards something more positive: what would Mario Botta take with him into the ark? Le Corbusier, of course, is - as always - the answer, "because he was capable to transform the events of life into architecture." (whatever this may mean). At this point the interviewer seems to have caught up with the situation and asks - maybe somehow naively following a string like 'architect & construction', 'flood & destruction'. In short, he asked what he, Mario Botta, would do if he had the power for destruction. Dynamite!


Botta answered: "I would tear down the periphery-belts of the big European cities, Rome, Turin, these monsters, these ghettoes, which reflect what we have made out of our society. I would destroy all these high-tech buildings, the whole glass-architecture, these barbarian constructions, which are just to justify tremendous wastes of energy." <1>

Is this really 'His Master's Voice'? It sounds so terribly radical! Where has all his so-sensible poetry gone to? A sort of anti-postmodernist architectural world-war is triggered! The reader may note here that the cited and reported words are Botta's own words, not any exterior interpretation! <2>

However, not only European peripheral citybelts are listed for destruction in Botta's imagination, there is much more heavy stuff! Megatons of Dynamite! "Asian colossal metropolitan cities" too, he says, should be destroyed, cities "like Hongkong and Seoul". And Singapore? Tokyo? Kuala Lumpur? Shanghai? Djakarta? Manila? How about these?

Why does Botta suddenly favour such a global 'architectural mass-annihilation'?

We have to be correct. On the other hand, there are also cities Mario Botta likes: Barcelona, Paris, Vienna. They are cities "which have preserved a sense for the centre and adequate dimensions." And, of course, Italian small towns are among his pets: Treviso, Parma, Verona, Vicenza, Assisi, Gubbio, Perugia. Note the long list! Concluding sarcastically, the interviewer notes that Botta did not mention Lugano among his preferences. Let us add a touch of local geography here: Lugano is the relatively 'big European city' in which (and around which) most of Mario Botta's own projects were built.


The end of postmodernism? Evidently! Doubtless, an architecturo-historical moment. If the 'Godfather' himself destroys his own creation, it must be so! "Postmodern architecture"? The interviewer notes Botta's comments. Deep disgust! ".... a terrible epidemy, which has poisoned whole cities. To hell with it."

To put it very, very mildly: this is absolutely monstrous!

For roughly twenty years now, Mario Botta and other 'postmodernists' have hatched their pseudo-poetic stuff into the heads of architectural students worldwide. The 'Architectural Fashion-Press' made it proudly available worldwide on any designer's desk. Architects - worldwide - copied this 'Postmodernism' good and proper, left and right, above and below. They injected these "poisonous" classicistic 'treasure-boxes' into our daily landscapes - worldwide! The "epidemy" spread. For twenty years, private families (not the poorest ones), dreaming of a better world, or banks building their expensive urban logos, or museums looking for the ultimate in space art, even religious communities here and there, they all have invested billions into this type of flashy design. Now: "to hell with it." It's poison! Its an "epidemy"! Bomb it to ashes! Turin, Rome, Hongkong, Seoul etc., tear them to pieces.

There is a monstruous megalomania in all this. Postmodernism was wrong. Let us destroy it. All!

But, by now, Mr. Botta, maybe you realised, there are millions of people living there? Bomb their houses? They had to adapt to all this pseudo-poetic stuff, didn't they? It is part of their daily life now. Tremendous capital and human energies invested - all wasted? Why did you not think about the problem before? Namely, that - maybe - one 'postmodern Ticino-house' and one million 'postmodern Ticino-houses' on a mega-heap called metropolis cannot really be the same?

Now, destroy all these "colossal" cities for a better architecture? Which better form of architecture, Mr. Botta?

But, maybe, the whole thing is even more gigantomanic? Can you imagine your own 'Neo-Tuscany Style' above the ashes of Seoul? Your own 'Fundamentalistic Classicism' rising above the ruins of postmodern Rome? In a new style, of course, one which managed to transgress "poisonous" 'Postmoderism'?

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