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Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Our latest Netflix DVD was Nayak, a mid-60s film by Satyajit Ray. It’s a very good though not great movie about a famous Bengali movie star, suggested perhaps by Fellini’s 8 1/2, which was made a few years before. The star was played as it happened by an actual famous Bengali movie star, who does have star quality but also—at least in the film—some midlife problems: women, old friends he’s let down, career compromises and failures.

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Walking to Manhattan

New Deal-era building
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
Metrotech
Really monstrous

I noticed a camera lying around the house, and I wanted to try out the imaging features of my blogging software, so I decided to memorialize a walk down Flatbush Avenue over the bridge to Manhattan. It’s about an hour walk, and there’s lots of stuff on the way, so why not give it a whirl?

Here’s a New Deal-era building having to do with public health. It’s actually quite good, although this isn’t its best angle and the stuff added on top doesn’t help:

New Deal-era building

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Mono no aware on steroids

I just watched the Ozu film Early Summer and thought it was really quite wonderful. Basically it’s about a 3-generation family trying to find their 28-year old daughter a husband, and her refusal of what seems an advantageous match in favor of an old family friend whom the others find unsuitable but she thinks she can trust completely. Everyone’s considerate of everyone else but people aren’t perfect and there are no perfect solutions.

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The architecture of hell

The satanic is rebellion against God. In more abstract and secular terms, it is rebellion against all order that is not a matter of unconstrained human choice. Either way, contemporary intellectual culture often tends toward the satanic. Extreme idealization of human autonomy makes willfulness, transgression, and subversion seem like virtues. They destroy traditional standards, which are felt as shackles, and emancipation is thought the highest human good.

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Ach Hans--you make joke!

A bothersome feature of the Salingaros book I just commented on briefly is that it’s necessary. Basically, he’s saying that buildings should look normal to normal people, and fit in with the way normal people normally act and feel. Nobody’s ever had to say that before. Up to 80-100 years ago such things could not have become an issue.

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From Cool Britannia to a New Renaissance?

A UK cabinet minister says that Britain is on the verge of a “new Renaissance,” at least if plans go forward to shift arts funding from pork barrel to pursuit of excellence.

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Meme, meme, tekel, upharsin

Why do we have horrible inhuman architecture? I’ve claimed that the issues are basically religious: “we want the world we build around us to look like the world we believe in. Otherwise it seems stupid, distracting, phony and aside the point.” So if you’re a modernist technocrat who makes a religion of the laws of physics, modern industry, and the triumph of the will, you build in the international style. If you’re a postmodern who believes in chaos, obfuscation, and the triumph of the arbitrary will, you build like a deconstructionist.

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The Cross and the kimono

Christopher Alexander puzzles over the difference between a Catholic vestment, which is likely to have a symmetrical design centered on the Cross, and a Japanese kimono, which is likely to have an intentionally asymmetrical design, although one composed perhaps of symmetrical and even identical elements like stylized blossoms. (The Nature of Order, vol. ii, pp. 484-88.) The difference strikes me as a consequence of differing metaphysical views. The vestment connects to the world by imaging it as a whole.

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Anyone for post-Soviet sci-fi spirituality?

I’ve had a bad cold, and spent part of the afternoon yesterday watching Stalker, a film by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. The film redeemed the afternoon. It’s an extraordinary presentation of the Russian soul as affected and afflicted by Soviet and modern life. I can’t believe the censors allowed it to be produced and presented in the Soviet Union in 1979.

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A passage to India

A couple of family members are in India just now, so I went off to the Metropolitan Museum to look at their collection of Indian art. Here are some (rather naive) notes:

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    Wonders of the web

    A reader mentioned Michel Houellebecq in connection with my link to a consumer’s guide to women in a recent post. I haven’t read Houellebecq’s novels (I don’t read French) and decided to look up his Wikipedia entry, which led me to a review by John Updike of his most recent book.

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    Pleasing comfortable buildings: pro and con

    I can’t get off the topic of Alexander and architecture. Luckily for my few remaining readers I’m running out of things to read and comment on, at least until volumes 2, 3, and 4 of his The Natwhy wereure of Order arrive. Anyway, I found on the web the transcript of a 1982 debate between him and Peter Eisenman that’s apparently quite well-known, I suppose because it illuminates some basic issues in contemporary architecture.

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    More Christopher Alexander

    I’ve been reading a couple more books by Christopher Alexander that happen to be available at the New York Public Library, The Timeless Way of Building (1979) and A New Theory of Urban Design (1987).

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    A local art jaunt

    I went on the Gowanus Artists Studio Tour yesterday, and as usual was made very happy by the number of good artists. It’s a good outing and I’d recommend it. Most of the artists have open bottles of wine and snacky-type food in their studios, so you tend to get mildly and very cheerfully sloshed as you wander around and look at their stuff and chat with them. They’re immensely pleased if you seem to pick up at all on what they’re doing and you get some good conversations.

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    Final comments on Alexander

    Alexander is important because architecture is important. It gives the social, intellectual and spiritual order a physical form that helps mold our lives. Also, it’s large, solid, visible and very expensive, so it’s difficult to ignore issues created by the kind of order or disorder it embodies. Discussing architecture is therefore an indirect way of discussing other still more important issues. As such, it is useful because it provides another line of analysis that doesn’t run into political and social taboos so directly and so is more likely to reveal disfavored truths.

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    Difficulties in Alexander's proposed conquest

    If Alexander is right in The Nature of Order, what do we do about it?

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    The architecture of reality

    Alexander says his views on architecture are based on “a conception of the world in which the air we breathe, the stones and concrete our city streets are made of—all have life in them … This is not merely a poetic way of talking. It is a new physical conception of how the world is made.” (p. 425)

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    Order gets physical

    I’ve just finished reading The Phenomenon of Life, the first volume of Christopher Alexander’s four-volume work The Nature of Order.

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    Maybe Tilted Arc wasn't so bad after all

    In visits to family in Austin I’ve been diverted by the extreme literal-mindedness of Texas public sculpture, for example a sculptural group on the grounds of the State Capitol (which of course is a common destination of school groups) that consists of lifesize replicas of 6 or 8 schoolchildren on a class outing. In Colorado it seems they’re literal-minded too, only the literalism has to do with presentations of ideals that guide the current moral and political order:

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    Architecture and the Tao of big bucks

    Postmodern architecture, like “postmodern” productions generally, notoriously tries to disorient. I suppose the justification is that we can’t grasp reality, and to be oriented is to presume that we can do so—to be precritical, monocultural, fundamentalist, Cartesian or whatnot.

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