When Two Worlds Collide:
Prince Charles & Modern Architecture
The current debate on architectural styles, stimulated as it has been by a number of broadsides against modern architects by no less a public figure than the Prince of Wales, reached a new level of bitterness in early November, when the Prince was accused by two modernists of favouring approaches to architecture that were reminiscent of those of Nazi Germany (!).
Said Professor Colin St. John Wilson, former head of architecture at CambridgeUniversity:
The Prince claims the privileges of democracy to say what he thinks about architects and then disappears behind the cloak of royalty without defending his views. I don’t agree with his tactics, which are based on ridicule and abuse. You cannot put the clock back. The Nazis tried and look what happened to them.
Getting in on the act at the same time was Mr. Martin Pawley, a writer and consultant to organisations including the United Nations, who said:
In Nazi Germany architects who disagreed with the state were ruined and architectural freedom evaporated. The Prince of Wales’ Ten Principles of good architecture are in the same league as the Principles of Man enshrined by Hitler.
To readers of this magazine [Spearhead] and to others acquainted with the battles of ideas going on in the present world, there will be something uncannily familiar about these reactions, in respect both of the words used and the tone of hysterics evident in them. Have not almost identical reactions manifested themselves whenever the voice of national patriotism and white racial self-defence has dared to speak up? But for the solitary words “architects,” “architectural” and “architecture,” these arrogant bellows from the ivory towers of the establishment could have applied to any one of a hundred subjects on which the sacred cows of the high and the mighty had been violated by a voice of nonconformity. The argument, as I have indicated, could have been about nationalism or race. It could equally have been about feminism, abortion, birth control, homosexuality, music, painting, literature, the theatre, obscenity laws, capital punishment, nuclear disarmament, the Common Market, the “Holocaust” or overseas aid. Removing references to architecture and substituting references to whatever alternative issue was in contention, Messrs. Wilson and Pawley could have made statements absolutely identical to those quoted, and they would not seem out of place with the thoroughly predictable “liberal” pronouncements that we hear daily on the subjects listed and many more besides. The Prince “claims the privileges of democracy to say what he thinks about . . .” How often have we heard virtually identical words used to describe ourselves when we dare to express dissent against the numerous holy writs of our times? “Democracy,” you see, is perfectly wonderful as long as you do not use it to express sentiments that liberals, progressives, one-worlders, racial integrationists and other qualified spokesmen of established opinion have declared forbidden and taboo. Once you transgress against this rule, you are not expressing your opinion in accordance with the traditions of democracy, you are claiming democracy’s “privileges” to say something naughty and unacceptable—as do nationalists, racists, fascists, hangers, floggers, heterosexualists, male chauvinists and other beyond-the-pale advocates of non-liberal viewpoints. The difference in the phrasing here is subtle but decisive in meaning. “Using the privileges of democracy” are words that immediately alert us to the fact that a spokesman of the established power is on his high horse and saying, in effect, that the freedom to express an opinion is a privilege and not a right, something which our masters may or may not grant to us depending on the nature of the opinion being ventured. The poor Prince of Wales, who on most subjects has obediently toed the liberal establishment line and not therefore been criticised for using “the cloak of royalty” to get his view across, has on this particular subject strayed into the realms of heresy and is therefore disappearing behind “the cloak of royalty.” You get the point?
“You cannot put the clock back. The Nazis tried and look what happened to them.” Just what is this supposed to mean? Should we take it to mean that most of the world became mobilised against National Socialist Germany and secured its eventual annihilation because its leaders were not enamoured of modernism in architecture and attempted to replace it with something different? Professor Wilson would probably claim that this was not literally what he meant, but there seems to be implicit in his statement the thinly veiled hint that any person or any state that dares to throw down a challenge against the brave new world that the great and the good have designed for us all will, by some means or another, be “dealt with.” Let us all consider ourselves duly warned!
Who Are The Greater Persecutors?
We then come to Mr. Pawley’s statement, which is indeed interesting. Of course, if Mr. Pawley is employed as a consultant to, among other things, the United Nations, he must naturally have impeccable credentials and can he relied upon to take up arms in defence of the mighty and the powerful wherever and whenever they scent defiance. Mr. Pawley spoke of architects in Nazi Germany who were “ruined” because they disagreed with the state. Well that, if true, is certainly a turn-up for the book! One wonders whether this same gentleman would like to comment on the thousands of artists, architects, poets, novelists, composers, journalists, newspaper editors, broadcasters and politicians who have met with similar attempts to ruin them by driving them out of gainful employment—and all because they have, in a sense, “disagreed with the state”—meaning that omnipotent “state-above-the-state” that is the liberal establishment in this and numerous other western countries masquerading as “democracies.” I could supply Mr. Pawley long lists of friends and associates of mine who have been driven out of their jobs and onto the dole queues because they have been identified as dissidents against the presently ruling orthodoxy. One of my leading colleagues in our movement, Richard Edmonds, was dismissed by his company after a Sunday newspaper had published a report of an interview with hmm. Another friend and onetime associate, Malcolm Skeggs, was kicked out of his librarian’s job by a spiteful local authority because he was found to have been the manager, at one time, of our party’s mail order book business. Another man I once knew, Andrew Moffat, was denied entry into an army officer’s training school because he had some years previously been a member of a nationalist political organisation. And most readers of middle age and over will know of the case of Colin Jordan, who in 1962 was fired from his job as a teacher in a school in Coventry, for no other reason than that of his “racist” political views and connections—and despite the fact that no evidence had ever been produced of his having brought those views into the classroom.
Of course, not only would Mr. Pawley probably not know of these cases, he almost certainly would not want to know even if we told him. Nor would he be likely to want in know about the Germans in today’s “free” and “democratic” Bundesrepublik who are barred from several areas of employment under a state law known as Berufsverbot, which prohibits the giving of such jobs in those known to have “extreme right-wing” sympathies or affiliations. When Nazis deny employment to people who dissent it is “totalitarian”; when the liberal establishment does precisely the same thing not a murmur is raised and scarcely a thing is printed.
What Power and Purpose Lie Behind Modern Architecture?
The similarity of reaction to critics of modern architecture as related to other forms of dissent against today’s orthodoxies leads inevitably to the question: are there a power and a purpose behind the modernist architectural movement which go beyond the mere expression of artistic and aesthetic preference? Does modernism, in building designs as in music, painting, literature, the theatre and so much else, have an underlying political aim—an aim, moreover, that is not ever honestly explained to us but remains concealed behind the usual jargon about art “not standing still” and “moving with the times,” etc., etc., etc.—or, as Professor Wilson would have it, “You cannot put the clock back”?
Of course, such questions are dangerous because they lead us into the world of plots and conspiracies, and that world, once entered, can make us the bedfellows of all sorts of eccentric and crankish theorists whose proclamations can seem to have the note of paranoia. Suspecting political conspiracy behind disagreeable manifestations of contemporary life can be a hazardous pastime because it is sometimes not easy to know when to stop. My wife and I once were paid an unexpected evening call by a woman who had come to warn us of dire threats to our safety from the country’s secret police, and, as if to affirm the seriousness of her message, related to us how she suspected that a bugging device had been installed in a sensitive part of her anatomy so as to ensure that her warnings to us would be noted. When we finally ushered her out into the night an hour or so later we did not quite know whether to collapse laughing or to call for the men in the white coats.
But the fact that conspiracy theory has its lunatic fringe, as does just about every other theory, should not disarm us against its very real manifestations—as evidenced in certain common behaviour patterns on the part of those currently wreaking havoc in the world. To the average man it may seem absurd to suggest that there is a link between the drive to make Britain multi-racial and the cult of the urban tower block and cubic statue—until one sees, as we have seen in the case of Messrs. Wilson and Pawley in their reactions to Prince Charles, a common language of contempt and intolerance, replete with the use of bogey words, shared with those who react as stuck pigs to “racist” dissent. Then, the suggestion of a connecting factor does not seem so farfetched as it might at first appear. But there is more to it than this.
In the journal Chartered Surveyor (9th November 1989) there appeared an article which reported on the action of Prince Charles in initiating a summer school for budding architects with the intention of breaking the modernists’ monopoly. Said the writer of the present situation:
The atmosphere in most of Britain’s 36 architecture schools is almost Orwellian in its oppression and dogmatism; dissent from modernism is not tolerated. Students I spoke to refused to be named or photographed for fear of petty reprisals from staff which could easily ruin their careers.
This paranoia is in addition to the almost constant humiliation and vilification to which those few students interested in classical architecture and who want to learn and practise it are subjected.
“. . . It’s a diet of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. The only alternative is anorexia. When you’re not being personally abused, sneered at or called a fascist, then your work is publicly described as rubbish, or worse. Copying a Greek temple well is pastiche and ensures contempt. Copying a Mies slab badly ensures top grades,” said one student.
The same article went on to relate the experience of a former student of architecture, Liam O’Connor, who spoke of his time at the Central London Polytechnic:
After each project there’s a kind of judgement day when your work is pinned up on the wall and you have to listen to the sniggers as it gets shot down by the tutors. A moment later they are praising to the skies someone who has done yet another “pure, clean, honest box.”
There never was any serious talk about design. Debate took the form of an exchange of slogans and clichés. I was nearly sacked after the first year for daring to do classical projects.
The Chartered Surveyor article then went on to relate how one current architect associated with classical revivalism, Quinlan Terry, was forced, entirely against his natural inclinations, to produce a modernist scheme in order to get a pass from the Architectural Association school. He knew of course that if he did otherwise he would certainly be failed.
Here again, readers—especially those who have attended places of higher education—will detect a familiar landscape. How often has the student who has dared to dissent from the orthodox and the “correct” view of, for instance, racial matters had the spotlight of derision and contempt turned on him by his tutor and made to understand that if he does not “conform” his chance of obtaining his degree will be virtually zero?
The following week, the same journal featured a further article by the same writer, Mira Bar-Hillel, written in the immediate aftermath of the “Nazi” smears against Prince Charles. The article pointed out that similar slurs had been cast on others who deviated from the modernist line, and it related the case of Leon Krier, who has been appointed by the Prince to masterplan his Dorchester extension. Krier, said the writer, “knows all about being called a Nazi and a Fascist.”
The 43-year-old Luxembourger apparently blotted his copybook several years ago when he wrote a book about Hitler’s leading architect Albert Speer. The book clearly did not produce the required denunciation of Speer’s work because from that time on Krier was subjected to a vicious whispering campaign which, according to Chartered Surveyor, “cost him at least one major commission on one of London’s most prominent sites.” Quoting Krier, it said: “Once you are labelled, that’s the end. There is no defence, no trial, no appeal. You’re finished.”
The article went on to say of Krier that:
He also knows from his personal experience, and that of friends, how the words Nazi and Fascist have been used for the past 30 years in all schools of architecture to humiliate, taunt and even dispose of any students who showed an interest in traditional or classical design. It is this situation which made the Prince decide to set up his own school of architecture.
The article quoted John Simpson, another neo-classicist, who said that:
The Prince has given clients the confidence to insist that their architects produce the kind of buildings that people like to look at, live and work in. Used to having their own way for so long, the modernists are terrified by this and will stop at nothing to try and discredit him and his supporters.
Of all the telling words in this quotation, the most telling is the word “terrified,” for that just about sums it up. Could not the very same word be used to describe the attitude of those who employ every propaganda device to ridicule and besmirch dissenters against internationalism, multi-racialism and other leading dogmas of liberalist creation? Surely, if those of the liberal establishment school—whether it be in the arts or in matters more political—are to be true to their professed principles and claimed origins, they would say: “Let us have a free debate. Let both points of view be presented, and let people decide of their own free will which they support.” But no! With viewpoints on architecture, as with viewpoints on race, nationalism and so much else, no free debate is allowed. Only one opinion is presented. And those not ready to embrace that opinion with full-hearted enthusiasm, instead of being argued with rationally are ridiculed, smeared and condemned out of court with the usual “Nazi” and “Fascist” catchwords. As Mr. Liam O’Connor related, debate takes “the form of an exchange of slogans and clichés.” And of course the “Nazi” slogan is the most well-used of all.
Those reading of the experience of Leon Krier will perhaps smile wryly when they recall what Martin Pawley (the consultant to the United Nations, as you will remember), said about architects in Germany in Hitler’s time being “ruined” because they disagreed with the state. An attempt clearly was made to ruin Mr. Krier, but that of course would be different! Liberals are never exposed in such a repulsive light as when they whine about their favourites being subjected to the very tyrannies at which they are the most expert themselves.
In fact, the whole scenario at architectural schools as described in Chartered Surveyor reveals liberal-establishment humbug at its most typical. What were “Nazism” and “Fascism”? Why, they were systems that victimised and persecuted those who did not conform. You mean you are not going to conform? Why, then you are a Nazi and a Fascist and you should be ashamed of yourself! Such is the logic with which the present conflict of ideas is fought out by our practitioners of “democracy.” It is a hideous sight, but an enlightening one.
Who Directs? Who Gains?
So we return to the question posed earlier: that of whether there is a political aim behind the frenzy with which modernism in architecture is promoted and defended. That there is may seem at first a proposition that takes some digesting. But if there is not, in what way can we explain the attitudes of the modernists towards their critics, paralleling exactly as they do the attitudes of their spiritual kinfolk in politics and among those who set themselves up as high priests in social, economic, intellectual and other cultural questions? Why is there this common terror of free expression on the part of those who wallow in the virtue of being the supposed champions of free expression?
I submit that it can only be because, to those who defend modernism and attack its critics, much more than tastes in building design are involved in the debate. I suspect that what troubles the defenders of the present orthodoxies—whether they be in the artistic realm or the more directly political and ideological realms—is the understanding that here is a conflict between two fundamentally opposing worlds—Weltanschauungen, as the Germans would call them. Perhaps in truth those who equate classical architecture with “Nazism” are not being quite so absurd as they might at first seem. Could it not be that they feel the threat of a world that is rejecting their world—and that they see that threat manifested in many spheres which all interconnect, because they form a part of total politics, that higher understanding of political questions which sees the political, the ideological, the spiritual, the social and the cultural as forming a single whole, and which perceives the innermost nature of the fundamental conflict of our age?
I must confess to a strong preference for the music of Beethoven over that of, for instance, Tchaikovsky or Delius. Nevertheless, I do not feel the compulsion to subject those who prefer Tchaikovsky or Delius to ridicule and contempt or to equate their preferences with political tendencies that I detest; I merely grant that they have different tastes to mine and leave it at that. If they care in attack Beethoven, they have every right to do so, and I do not feel the need in ascribe sinister motives in any such attacks.
When differences of artistic preference, whether they be in music, architecture or anything else, escalate to name-calling of the kind employed by modernists as against classicists (and sometimes perhaps the other way round), it would seem to be because both sides in the argument see the underlying conflict of two diametrically opposite worlds implied in that argument. One feels “threatened” by the other, and is not disposed to coexist with the other.
That music can be used for political ends has been frankly admitted, from time to time, by those very people who support just such a practice. One left-wing philosopher, Robert G. Pielke, wrote in his book You Say You Want a Revolution:
What is rock music? How does one define it? Rock music has participated in a process of cultural change of historical dimensions; it negates the established order, destroying its fundamental values . . .
And architecture? Let a modernist, Mr. Maxwell Hutchinson, speak for his school of thought when describing what he most heartily loathes. The grand buildings of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he has said, “glorified the hierarchy of a paternalistic world,” are “tyrannical” and therefore no more than “civic jingoism.”
This of course is much more a profession of ideological conviction than one of architectural tastes, and you probably could not get a comment that indicates more vividly than this one on which side of the ideological divide the speaker stands. “Civic jingoism” of course has to be bad because it indicates civic pride, and civic jingoism and pride inhabit the same stable as national jingoism and pride. Jingoism is a hate-word with liberals and leftists everywhere because it implies an attitude of playing for one’s own side and wanting one’s own side to be best. Jingoism therefore becomes equated with nationalism, even imperialism. It means, in architectural terms, a respect for the grand.
And the grand must at all costs, in our age, be eliminated, mustn’t it! The magnificent and monumental structure that tells the little man that he belongs to something greater than himself, that he can understand as part of a noble tradition to which he, along with millions of others, is an heir, that which appeals to his eye as being symbolic of some great epic achievement in the history of his country, or even of his town or city—such things are part of a world against which the values of today are in implacable rebellion. Yes, “Nazi” must be the word applied to all creations evocative of that world, to everything that resists its destruction!
It is for all these reasons that the modernist fanatics are, in a certain perverse sense, right. They perceive in the reaction against ugliness in building, as in other things, a reaction against much more. They recognise that a titanic ideological and spiritual struggle is taking place, and that they and everything they represent are losing ground in that struggle. Their world has its back to the ropes, and the revolt against Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, against Gropius and Palumbo, against Epstein and Moore, are the latest punches thrown at that world. They strike back wildly, as is their only recourse. We may laugh at their idiocies, but we should appreciate the serious side of what they say, because it tells us much of the cause they defend and the masters they serve.
Source: Spearhead, no. 251, January 1990, pp. 4–6.