Brutalism is dead, and we have killed it.
A walk, from grey to grey, via grey. The Warwick life. Harmless, no? So it would be were it not the case that each iterative march from the overpriced and under stocked Janus face of a scarcely changed Costcutter through to the humming fans of the book-filled tomb for tomes that is Warwick library — short of an arduous detour, one must file past the grating hum of the brutilalist monstrosity that is the Koan.
There and then the flood gates open, my mind is cast straight back to the barren concrete abyss of the post-war reconstruction era. Raised on stories of the oppressive cruelty of Romania’s psychotic past dictator, Ceausescu, the historic wound of my people’s suffering is re-opened — and thrown to the foyer of my being. For brutalism is the architecture of choice for European Communism (disclaimer: when the author uses the term Communism, she refers to the oppressive Soviet Statism of the 20th century, she is aware that the term can be misleading) — and hence monuments of its ilk represent values and events that today we find abhorrent. It’d wouldn’t be such an issue if the university showed some damn sensitivity, but to cast it brashly at the heart of campus, without so much as a distressing content warning sign? It’s absurd.
Why do I care so much? Well, not only is exposure to such sources of deep seated psychological trauma disquieting to a very particular group on campus (better to let the trauma fester undisturbed, that fits with the psychoanalytic canon, no?), but it also sends an unsettling message — the message that, in embracing Soviet style architecture, we turn a blind eye to the historical outrages ideologically tied to the symbol. We are unperturbed that this symbol represents values that we’d elsewhere condemn, say, the manufactured starvation of five million Ukrainians for the pure aim of forcing submission to Moscow. What’s more, in letting these values be tolerated, we are allowing the leaders of tomorrow to accept and be influenced by the (now 100% refuted) values of the past. Perish the thought of how many fresh faced adolescents have looked to the Koan and thought — “wow, what a masterpiece — brutalism is great — let’s grab some books on its history and… wow, the Soviet union was gr8, m8”.
We should judge history by today’s enlightened standards, if we don’t, who else will. And it is only in destroying any relic from the past that in any small way triggers inter temporal mental wounds, can we shield ourselves from the reality that the world isn’t always pleasant — and what’s more, in cutting out all opposing viewpoints we can finally entrench the social and moral truth claims of today’s discourse; be it from demolishing the slave built federal buildings of Washington (i.e. The White House) right through to blanking out the biblical justification for the genocide of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:2-3, relevant even if there are no longer any Amalekites left to be offended, it only proves that the Israelites didn’t go halves when it came to genocide). We can form a new world, and by God it’ll be brave.
Okay okay, I’ll tie up a historical loose end; brutalism and Stalinist architecture weren’t technically the same thing. But the differences are broadly geographical — aesthetically (less is more, not bore) and principally (maximal building for minimum cost), it is scarcely possible to discriminate between the two.
Back to the argument:
Sure, Brutalism may have had some, or even mostly, good outcomes; housing the post war poor, reconstructing bombed out cities at a low cost etc etc yawn. But this totally ignores the importance of the myth of pure evil. We cannot have balanced villains, we need it all to be binary, for fear that if people see the fact that, for example, Al Capone funded soup kitchens, they might not hate him entirely, and then where would that leave us? Having to discuss things, and find balance? I’ll be damned, we have the answers to right and wrong, now is just a game of steamrolling the wrongs.
In conclusion, leaving the Koan standing tolerates the undesirable aspects of a bygone epoch. Leaving the Koan standing ignores the suffering of Gulags, the arbitrary political violence, and the hard times some of us missed by a mere generation. Finally, leaving the Koan standing fails to quash the risk of Warwick creating the next generation of maniacal despots. So tear down the Koan — and take down half of library road while you are at it.
Though my critique is not merely destructive. Warwick needs a monument for our age, we need to leave a legacy that hopefully a future generation can tear down. I suggest a statue dedicated to the iPhone. Not only does this capture the soulless corporatism, under the verisimilitude of chic culture, prevalent on Campus today — but it also showcases an article of moral callousness that our generation chooses to ignore. Namely that we seem to worship a device assembled by a ten-year-old with no greater prospects than to one day jump beyond the suicide nets and end it all. It neatly highlights the arbitrary nature with which we pick and choose what to scream, cry, snort and shout at, and what to let slide carelessly under the radar. I’m not saying we’re hypocrites, but damn, we can be real hypocrites.
In short, #KoanMustFall.
P.S. The vaguely sentient reader may be aware of the parallel Rhodes argument. I won’t touch on that — but if you’re looking for a Rhodes that actually should fall (well, not be built). Then look no further than the plans for a new Colossus of Rhodes in Greece.
Why? Because it is, quite frankly, stupid. It is depressing when art is confined to digging up past glory, and past expression. Moreover, it doesn’t stop at Rhodes — it is telling of the Alexandrian culture of the 21st century when every infantile sedentary ‘adult’ moistens intensely each time Disney re-animates some success from the seventies, and every re-counting of ‘real-life’ quasi biographical ‘epic’ about vaguely important things with pensive panning across pleasing panoramas at sunset is considered to be ‘groundbreaking’ so that each speccy coo-face with an opinon farts out tripe comments like ‘this years Oscar’, ‘so spiritual, so true’, and ‘De Whatshisface’s finest piece since last years money-spinner’. Can’t we have art for the 21st century? Can’t for once we try and make something new? Has the 21st century killed culture? Are we condemned to forever dig up the ghosts of past success, give them a brief polish and the pimp them out once more?
No Greece, there is no need to re-live past glory in the re-creation of a new, bigger, shiny, colossus of Rhodes. Seriously, art shouldn’t be about tourist revenue — how about getting an artist for our age to create something to celebrate Greece, you know, today.
For once I’m inclined to argue that #Rhodesmustfall, but that’s another debate in itself.
Good and bad, I defined these words, quite clear, no doubt, somehow,
But I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now
(Main image via)