Monday, March 20, 2006

Raised on its thick, raw concrete stilts, massive and domineering, the Unité became an instant classic of Modern architecture. Just about everyone in the profession adored it, or said they did; the only people who couldn't stand the great grimy beast were the luckless ones who lived in it. We found when we arrived there in 1979 that it was in pitiable condition. Corbu's béton brut couldn't be cleaned, the metal-framed windows were hopelessly corroded, the electricity kept shorting out, the brise-soleils or concrete sunscreens were permanently foul with pigeon shit, the "shopping street" halfway up inside was locked and shuttered because ordinary French people prefer to do their marketing on real streets (an obvious aspect of social behaviour that eluded the intellectual grasp of the formgiver, who believed that folk ought to behave in accordance with the dotty authoritarian notions of idealist philosophes like Saint-Simon and Fourier). Saddest of all was the roof, which Corbu had imagined as a sort of concrete Acropolis dedicated to the cult of the sun and of physical culture, like a Greek palaestra, complete with pools and jogging track. It was a chaos of dried slime and broken cinder-blocks. And when the concierge, who hated the place, granted us admission to his flat in the Unité, we found that he and his wife had valiantly fought back against the functionalist plainness Corbu had prescribed for the residents: it was chock-a-block with fringes, bobbles and tassels, Louis this and that, and even a department-store rococo chandelier which, due to the lowness of the ceiling, almost touched the dining-table. Here, the working class had ceased to be the abstraction Corbu fancied. It had taken its revenge on the modernist emperor. I sometimes wonder if the decor of that concierge's flat is still the same today.

-Robert Hughes, in today's Guardian.

Anyone driving north over the Cambie St. Bridge into downtown Vancouver can look out their driver's side window and see a disturbing contradiction of Hughes optimistic vision of mankind's resilience to architectural de-humanization: row upon row of cold, authoritarian glass highrises, each of which probably contains upwards of a million dollars worth of identical, retro-modernist IKEA furnishings (cost happily absorbed by occupants!)
Mom and dad's comfy old chair passed down from dad's folks, the one you used to lounge on while you read comic books and whose musky smell still reminds you of your childhood? Please...