Maurice Culot & Leon Krier, “The Only Path for Architecture,” 1978.
For those reading through the Hays anthology, Culot and Krier’s essay is strikingly out of place—more similar in tone to modern avant-garde manifestoes than to postmodern architecture theory. This impression is strengthened by Hays’s parallel discussion between “The Only Path for Architecture” and William Morris in his essay introduction. According to Hays, Culot and Krier represent a “left-wing conservative romance paradigm” analogous to Morris’s response to industrial production and neoclassicism.
Culot and Krier’s largest cross is the disappearance of the hand-produced in architecture and urbanism in the postmodern city of industrial capitalism, but the number of secondary issues they fit into five pages is staggering and bewildering. This bewilderment is fostered by Culot and Krier’s apparent amnesia regarding the relationship between certain architectural factions and various ideologies, theories, or morals—such as populism or even the role of Ideology itself. Over all, this essay exhibits curious theoretical trends and mirrors developing attempts to vilify the work of Robert Venturi and other early Post-Modernists.
Culot and Krier waste no time before going on the attack; their quasi-apocalyptic tone is set from the first sentence (“Unbridled industrialization with no aim but consumption has led to the destruction of the cities and countryside.”) and by the second paragraph they have clearly set their eyes on their primary target: Robert Venturi and the early Post-Modernists. We should interpret Hays’s description of Culot and Krier’s position as “left-wing conservative romance paradigm” should be immediately be understood as 1) anti-capitalist (and vaguely communitarian), and 2) enthusiastically ‘craft’ oriented as a means of returning to traditional culture.
The clash between traditional culture and “modern industrial capitalism” is the source of Culot and Krier’s angst. In short, it is their belief that the postmodern city has become the playground of prefabricated, inhuman monstrosities—the likes of which might be the Siedlungen, Brasilia, Corbusier’s Unité, and the housing monoliths of the USSR—capitalist mountains responsible for destroying public space, shared and authentic urban culture, and (presumably) craft skills.
Only the return of “traditional culture” and an urban architecture quintessentially rooted in (hand-) production can save the populous from becoming a commodity itself. (One is reminded of Tafuri’s history of Modernism, here, as well as the projected consumerist dystopia of Archizoom.) At this point Culot and Krier become incredibly allusive—or, at least, evocative—and begin folding much of postmodern architectural theory into their manifesto (complete with as many antinomies as can be counted) with the verve of an ideological-schizophrenic amnesiac.
First, from the use of “traditional” we find two intellectual implications: populism and authenticity. Drawing from these, Culot and Krier become the first in this anthology to explicitly advocate an architecture that is “regional,” in terms of an architectural –ism or style. The insistence on tradition begs the association of the neo-Realists, the likes of which we’ve encountered in Martin Steinmann (most notably) and Bernard Huet, both of whom also begin their essays with a quote from Bertold Brecht just as Culot and Krier do. And while the populism of this intellectual move is rigorously implied, Culot and Krier are equally insistent on bearing its moral weight against the likes of Robert Venturi (and, to a lesser degree, the likes of Aldo Rossi).
If I might take a step back, briefly, let me clarify that the “moral weight” of Culot and Krier’s populism is hard to combat in the language of the anti-capitalist. Populism, Tradition, Authenticity, and community become equally valuable absolutes in the disillusioned verve of a clear manifesto that has rampant capitalism and development as its chief antagonists. And so the work of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Minoru Takeyama—work whose semiotic signage sprang from a fundamentally populist pragmatism—is vilified as reductive, appropriationist, and trivial because it cynically exploits capitalist opportunities, by extension taking advantage of the populous. Nevertheless, Culot and Krier insistently advocate a communicability between individuals and urban space, which is exactly the spatial communicability over which Denise Scott Brown and the early Post-Modernists were obsessed.
Similarly, after the pair rejects the a priori typologies of the neo-Rationalists, we get this positivist blurb regarding the relationship between the European city and its people: “A street is a street, and one lives there in a certain way not because architects have imagined streets in certain ways.” Eventually, Culot and Krier get closer to describing their goal: the return to the pre-Modern European city (the medieval urban fabric) that was the nightmare of the Modernist assembly-machine of architecture. On another front, the messianic “humanism” they share is regarded as far more laudable than “bourgeois coldness,” though we’ve come to be equally suspicious of humanism as a bourgeois ideology throughout our postmodern conditioning. It is this double talk and ideological appropriation strikes me as the forgetful intellectual cherry picking plagiarism of an amnesiac.
Earlier, I mentioned the curious theoretical trends mirrored in this essay. To this point, I would reiterate the vilification of Robert Venturi and the seemingly intentional forgetting of the origins of his particular brand of populism and irony—origins that should still be fresh in the minds of those who have read the previous third of the Hays anthology. I would also note that the implication of Regionalism at this time is probably not a coincidence.
Regarding Culot and Krier specifically, there is this astute observation from Robert Maxwell’s essay “Architecture, Language, and Process,” (1977), quoted by Hays as summary of Culot and Krier’s position(s): “Whereas Krier sees architecture as an immediate source of ideological values by means of which the new conditions of life may be envisaged, Culot looks rather to its established ideological values as a source of political clarification and confrontation, and hence as the occasion for political action. One sees architecture as a value to be conserved and recuperated; the other as a resource to be expended in the political struggle.” Here I would remind you that C&K are speaking most specifically about Brussels as an analogue for the “European city,” and this political mobilization of architecture reminds me of the equally political roles of the Tendenza, implicitly or explicitly. (See Huet)