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View Poll Results: Has architectural modernism failed?
Yes 190 45.13%
No 231 54.87%
Voters: 421. You may not vote on this poll

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Old August 22nd, 2011, 06:00 AM   #161
desertpunk
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I would not say that it is "structured complexity". Classical greek art aimed for simplicity, elegance, and a sense of balance. Baroque aimed for a sense of movement, and does not necessarily rely on profuse ornament.

The "structured complexity" that you refer to here is mostly incidental or on the surface. The fundamentals certainly do not rely on ornament.
And it's from the study and revival of classical architecture that Modernism derived its roots in the structural rationalism of Soufflot and Schinkel in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Underlying much of the ornamentation of 19th century buildings like the Houses of Parliament was a very modern, structurally rational simplicity. With structural steel framing, even the most ponderated wedding cake confections of the late 1800s and early 1900s were at root, Modernist steel boxes. The stripping away of ornamentation in the 1920s may have been the moment of "Classical Modernism's" birth...but the development of modern principles in architecture began long before that. And for some building types such as industrial buildings, that stripping away to the essential structural elements occurred much earlier. You can even make the argument that Paxton's 1851 Crystal Palace was the first truly Modernist building.
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 07:07 AM   #162
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And it's from the study and revival of classical architecture that Modernism derived its roots in the structural rationalism of Soufflot and Schinkel in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Underlying much of the ornamentation of 19th century buildings like the Houses of Parliament was a very modern, structurally rational simplicity. With structural steel framing, even the most ponderated wedding cake confections of the late 1800s and early 1900s were at root, Modernist steel boxes. The stripping away of ornamentation in the 1920s may have been the moment of "Classical Modernism's" birth...but the development of modern principles in architecture began long before that. And for some building types such as industrial buildings, that stripping away to the essential structural elements occurred much earlier. You can even make the argument that Paxton's 1851 Crystal Palace was the first truly Modernist building.
As I have said in my last post, the prototypes for Modernism go even much earlier than that (and in a non-Western tradition, to boot): the Japanese aesthetic of the Azuchi-Momoyama and early Tokugawa periods -- in the Imperial court of Kyoto (and not in the crude/vulgar garishness of the Shogunal court at Edo.)
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 08:59 AM   #163
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Excellent point. It was from that which Frank Lloyd Wright drew much of his inspiration.
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 04:03 PM   #164
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Well, just the mere mention of the word "aesthetics", I can see that you are already sounding quite "academic".

Just exactly what do you mean by "aesthetics"? One can't be too vague about this, you know.
Quite simply, is the building pleasing to the eye, both in itself and in the context of its setting?

You don't need an architectural background to know that Guy's Hospital is hideous, fro example. In fact, given that it was once clearly judged as being perfecly acceptable when designed, you could possibly even say the layman might be the better judge. They are purely concerned with how it looks, rather than the technical achievement of the work.

Then again, the amount of layman who like mock-tudor detatched houses or stone cladding suggests it's not exactly cut and dried.
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 05:37 PM   #165
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Quite simply, is the building pleasing to the eye, both in itself and in the context of its setting?

You don't need an architectural background to know that Guy's Hospital is hideous, fro example. In fact, given that it was once clearly judged as being perfecly acceptable when designed, you could possibly even say the layman might be the better judge. They are purely concerned with how it looks, rather than the technical achievement of the work.

Then again, the amount of layman who like mock-tudor detatched houses or stone cladding suggests it's not exactly cut and dried.
In the 18th century, everyone in Europe thought that all the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages was simply BARBARIC and fit to be pulled down/destroyed. The term "Gothic" was indeed coined as a pejorative term to suggest barbarism.

The greatest minds of the Enlightenment said that how can such HORRIBLE structures be ever considered pleasing to the eye.

So, would you say that they would have been justified to destroy the Gothic cathedrals and replace them with Roman temples?

Luckily, "academics" of the late 18th and 19th centuries raised convincing arguments and rationales that showed the stupidity and narrow-mindedness of the 18th century's uncritical worship of everything Roman or Greek.

You can see what folly fuzzy thinking leads to.

The canons of beauty are not absolute. If we relied on simple hand-waving to determine what we consider beautiful, then a lot of architecture would have been destroyed. And a lot of it certainly DID get destroyed, because of changing tastes...

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Old August 22nd, 2011, 06:49 PM   #166
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Well, a pilaster really doesn't support anything, correct? The wall does all the supporting. So in this case, the pilaster acts in counterpoint to the play of verticals and horizontals. This is exactly what you see in the great examples of Modernism.

You forget that "ornament" can mean the use of various materials to add color, contrast, or texture to the whole. It is certainly a central tenet of Art Deco/Art Moderne, where the use of extremely luxurious materials belie the simplicity of the details. Onyx and precious marbles are used in extremely streamlined fashion. This is also "ornament"

In mid-century modern, the use of new materials with great structural properties were used to great effect to create soaring vaults and overhangs that could never be achieved in the traditional/classical vein. Not only are the effects "ornamental", but it also introduces an elegance and exquisite sensibility unknown in earlier times:
The only problem is that's not all a pilaster is. Because of the form and detailing of a pilaster, it's not merely a vertical counterpoint to the horizontal. When it is replaced by unadorned substitutes, the artistry, the nuance of the element is lost, and the overall effect of the design suffers as a result. You can't replace a pilaster with a plain post, for the two aren't equal. If we have the ability to choose an evocative form over a plain post, there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't.

And how do you mean to imply that Art Deco is all about modernism's plain, unadorned surfaces when we can see those striking grotesques on the Chrysler Building? This is far more daring (aka "ornate") than the mid-century modernist mantra of "less is more", and it's also employing a complex interplay of elements glaringly absent from contemporary architecture. Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Beaux-Arts were all doing this with modern materials before modernism came along.

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One would be a FOOL to not see the beauty and perfection of these 3 examples. It could not have been achieved without the use of new materials.
I'll pass on Fallingwater, I think it's a good design. The Farnsworth House, though, fails quite flagrantly at what it was supposed to be: its patron found it unlivable, and after bouncing around owners for a few decades it's now a museum (so the "perfect" architecture doesn't have to deal with such trivialities as someone living in it). One has to sympathize with the unsatisfied Farnsworth, for trying to live in the Farnsworth House would be like trying to live in a storefront window. The most ridiculous part about the design is how van der Rohe wanted to remove the barrier between inside and outside with all that glass...well, if you want to feel like you're outside, why not walk outside? The whole thing is ill-conceived to a comical degree.

Utzon's church isn't so bad as modernist places of worship go (for a good example, I visited Vällingby's very modernist church and I was stunned at how arrogant and anti-human its design was). I do positively note the form of the interior ceiling, although a hall of religious purpose deserves far more artistic care than what Utzon provided here. It is easy to imagine the eyes of its users scrambling desperately for something to focus on, to ponder, to admire but failing to do so, for no such element exists. Even less forgivable than that, the exterior looks like a garage shed, entirely inappropriate for any such structure. How is anyone supposed to be inspired when approaching that facade?

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Finally, may I reprimand you all on this one especial point: that many of the central tenets of modernism are NOT NEW. They have been elucidated centuries before in non-Western/non-classical traditions in Art and Architecture. In fact, some of the best tenets of Modernism derive from the principles and aesthetics of Japanese architecture.

Should it surprise you that the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto served as an inspiration for so many modernists in the latter part of the 20th century?

Again, one would be a perfect FOOL not to see the beauty and ornament of Katsura, which is surprisingly (or NOT surprisingly?) "Modernist" in style:
I am aware of the Japanese influence on modernism, but as with Corbusier's obsession with the Parthenon, it's usually a pedantic allusion. Corbusier, of course, ignored the detailing, the artistry, the interplay of elements and instead tried to boil it all down to its supposed "essence": a bunch of posts with a roof on the top. However, this flies in the face of what the Parthenon is and how it relates to people. Corbusier's subsequent career (which included his constant attempts to do more damage to Paris than WWII) proves how much he erred.

With Katsura, it's tempting to look at it and say it's going for plain surfaces and simple adornment. However, as soon as we look more closely, we'll see that the main floor exterior is mainly a system of screens. Translating that into a glass curtain wall takes away much of the effect, because obviously the two materials work in radically different ways. The transition from the subtly textured materials of Katsura to the "machine-age", modern materials of glass and steel does away with all the intimacy and purpose we see in the Japanese work.

Regardless, it's unfortunate that so many modernists presumed to take influence from the structure but failed to notice how its irimoya roof goes beyond "form follows function" and yet remains more functional than the modernist flat roof.

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Perhaps many of you "Classicists" are too stuck up in Western notions and conventions to appreciate the GLOBAL reach of the Modernist aesthetic...
Global reach of modernism? As the modernist Pritzker Prize has almost exclusively been awarded to European, North American and Japanese architects, it's a bit difficult to appreciate this supposed "global reach".
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 07:44 PM   #167
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In the 18th century, everyone in Europe thought that all the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages was simply BARBARIC and fit to be pulled down/destroyed. The term "Gothic" was indeed coined as a pejorative term to suggest barbarism.

The greatest minds of the Enlightenment said that how can such HORRIBLE structures be ever considered pleasing to the eye.

So, would you say that they would have been justified to destroy the Gothic cathedrals and replace them with Roman temples?

Luckily, "academics" of the late 18th and 19th centuries raised convincing arguments and rationales that showed the stupidity and narrow-mindedness of the 18th century's uncritical worship of everything Roman or Greek.

You can see what folly fuzzy thinking leads to.

The canons of beauty are not absolute. If we relied on simple hand-waving to determine what we consider beautiful, then a lot of architecture would have been destroyed. And a lot of it certainly DID get destroyed, because of changing tastes...
So true. Even here Georgian style architecture fell out of favour in the second half of the 19th century, and when "Second Empire" style became fashionable many wonderful Georgian style buildings got "updated" to look more contemporary. Styles come and go in popularity, and when a style falls out of popularity invariably the public would jump to the conclusion that it had all been a "failure". The word "failure" does, I think, get confused with "unfashionable".

Here is a building very close to where I live, built in the mid 1950's. I think it is a marvellous example of Modernism from that period. It has, however, fallen out of favour as a style and there is a proposal to knock it down and build another condo. Opposition to doing so is growing, as soon we will have little, if any examples of that period left:

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Old August 22nd, 2011, 08:47 PM   #168
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The only problem is that's not all a pilaster is. Because of the form and detailing of a pilaster, it's not merely a vertical counterpoint to the horizontal. When it is replaced by unadorned substitutes, the artistry, the nuance of the element is lost, and the overall effect of the design suffers as a result. You can't replace a pilaster with a plain post, for the two aren't equal. If we have the ability to choose an evocative form over a plain post, there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't.
Please refer to Merriam-Webster:

an upright architectural member that is rectangular in plan and is structurally a pier but architecturally treated as a column and that usually projects a third of its width or less from the wall

By definition, any ornament is superfluous. Do not confuse essence with surface effects.

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And how do you mean to imply that Art Deco is all about modernism's plain, unadorned surfaces when we can see those striking grotesques on the Chrysler Building? This is far more daring (aka "ornate") than the mid-century modernist mantra of "less is more", and it's also employing a complex interplay of elements glaringly absent from contemporary architecture. Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Beaux-Arts were all doing this with modern materials before modernism came along.
Yes, I mean to imply this. Again, we refer to Merriam-Webster:

Influenced by Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Cubist, Native American, and Egyptian sources, the distinguishing features of the style are simple, clean shapes, often with a “streamlined” look...

And if you missed that one, "less is more" happens to be a central tenet of BAUHAUS.

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I'll pass on Fallingwater, I think it's a good design. The Farnsworth House, though, fails quite flagrantly at what it was supposed to be: its patron found it unlivable, and after bouncing around owners for a few decades it's now a museum (so the "perfect" architecture doesn't have to deal with such trivialities as someone living in it). One has to sympathize with the unsatisfied Farnsworth, for trying to live in the Farnsworth House would be like trying to live in a storefront window. The most ridiculous part about the design is how van der Rohe wanted to remove the barrier between inside and outside with all that glass...well, if you want to feel like you're outside, why not walk outside? The whole thing is ill-conceived to a comical degree.
And do you think the Palace of Versailles was liveable? If you have not heard, sanitation there was non-existent, and the nobles had to shit and piss in the stairwells because the privies were located miles from each other. They were also impossible to heat, and people froze to death in the attic apartments reserved for the courtiers.

Do not confuse architecture for practicalities. If we judge by the latter, all the great Palladian villas and 18th century palaces are failures, becase they were unliveable by a magnitude 100 times more than the Farnsworth House.

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I am aware of the Japanese influence on modernism...

With Katsura, it's tempting to look at it and say it's going for plain surfaces and simple adornment. However, as soon as we look more closely, we'll see that the main floor exterior is mainly a system of screens. Translating that into a glass curtain wall takes away much of the effect, because obviously the two materials work in radically different ways. The transition from the subtly textured materials of Katsura to the "machine-age", modern materials of glass and steel does away with all the intimacy and purpose we see in the Japanese work.
And who told you to translate it to a glass curtain wall?

Have you ever heard of Chartres Cathedral?

And have you ever heard of Hardwick Hall? "More glass than wall" as the old saying goes?

The fact is: glass (or, in ancient days, alabaster) curtain walls have been in existence since the days when Bishop Suger raised his glass walls to the high heavens, in defiance of the admonitions of Vitruvius, and when the physicist Isidore of Miletus and the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles built the daringly large (but no longer extant) clerestory windows on the great bays of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

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Regardless, it's unfortunate that so many modernists presumed to take influence from the structure but failed to notice how its irimoya roof goes beyond "form follows function" and yet remains more functional than the modernist flat roof.

Global reach of modernism? As the modernist Pritzker Prize has almost exclusively been awarded to European, North American and Japanese architects, it's a bit difficult to appreciate this supposed "global reach".
I suspect that your feelings against Modernism are based more on prejudice than knowledge of the structures themselves. To gloss over the most rigorous (i.e., Classical) symmetries imposed on many of the finest buildings of Mies can only be explained by a lack of knowledge of its details -- accidental, or self-imposed.

Last edited by tpe; August 22nd, 2011 at 08:56 PM.
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 09:29 PM   #169
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In the 18th century, everyone in Europe thought that all the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages was simply BARBARIC and fit to be pulled down/destroyed.
Everyone? That's a pretty sweeping statement, even if not meant entirely literal.


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The greatest minds of the Enlightenment said that how can such HORRIBLE structures be ever considered pleasing to the eye.
But isn't that exactly what I'm saying? Those academic elites favouring of the new styles dismiss the old. That hardly means it was a popular view among the people.

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So, would you say that they would have been justified to destroy the Gothic cathedrals and replace them with Roman temples?
Did that happen anywhere? Was it even considered anywhere?

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Luckily, "academics" of the late 18th and 19th centuries raised convincing arguments and rationales that showed the stupidity and narrow-mindedness of the 18th century's uncritical worship of everything Roman or Greek.
I would suggest the only people expressing a contrary view were the previous set of academics.

The populace, I'd imagine, weren't calling for anything to be pulled down.

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The canons of beauty are not absolute. If we relied on simple hand-waving to determine what we consider beautiful, then a lot of architecture would have been destroyed. And a lot of it certainly DID get destroyed, because of changing tastes...
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but older styles produced very few buildings as ugly as much of the stuff being built in the 50s/60s. When your driving influence is functionality, not aesthetics - indeed, if you believe the lack of detail is a virtue in itself - then you get a lot of hideous buildings.

I think "modern moderism" has definitely learned that lesson. The UK has probably the ugliest cities in Europe thanks to rebuilding in the modernist style post-war, but there has been a definite shift away from making buildings that are purely functional.

I mean, I used to work in a building like this...



...in a town that was full of similar examples.


They aren't being built like that now, and many examples like that are now being pulled down.

Modernism may not have failed - it's almost daft to even suggest it might have done - but that kind of deliberate "I don't give a f*** how you think it looks" kind of architecture was a failure.
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 09:55 PM   #170
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Everyone? That's a pretty sweeping statement, even if not meant entirely literal.
Don't take it too literally. Read: everyone that mattered.

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But isn't that exactly what I'm saying? Those academic elites favouring of the new styles dismiss the old. That hardly means it was a popular view among the people.
They were not academic elites. They were the Aristocracy, the Gentry (i.e., landed/not working), and the Dilettanti, and many of them considered going to University beneath their dignity, and wore the title " amateur" as a badge of honor.

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Did that happen anywhere? Was it even considered anywhere?
Look at all the Italian Gothic churches that were either modified or destroyed to make way for "trendier" successors.

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I would suggest the only people expressing a contrary view were the previous set of academics.

The populace, I'd imagine, weren't calling for anything to be pulled down.
I suggest you read more on the subject. You will be very surprised. Your idea of an "academic" is VERY 20th century, I must say -- completely irrelevant to the previous epochs we are considering, as opposed to Modernism.

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Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but older styles produced very few buildings as ugly as much of the stuff being built in the 50s/60s. When your driving influence is functionality, not aesthetics - indeed, if you believe the lack of detail is a virtue in itself - then you get a lot of hideous buildings.
Do you know how many disgusting and ugly tenements existed in Imperial Rome? May I suggest you read the Roman Satirists (e.g., Juvenal) and learn that people lived in these tenements with their PIGS.

Of course there were MANY extremely ugly and horrible buildings in previous periods. Don't be naive. There were probably more ugly ones made in times past than are built today, because the technology and refinements of today did not exist then. As is expected, most of them were DESTROYED, thank God.

You are imagining a rosier antiquity than reality actually afforded.


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I think "modern moderism" has definitely learned that lesson. The UK has probably the ugliest cities in Europe thanks to rebuilding in the modernist style post-war, but there has been a definite shift away from making buildings that are purely functional.

I mean, I used to work in a building like this...



...in a town that was full of similar examples.


They aren't being built like that now, and many examples like that are now being pulled down.

Modernism may not have failed - it's almost daft to even suggest it might have done - but that kind of deliberate "I don't give a f*** how you think it looks" kind of architecture was a failure.
All I can say is this: Medieval London was NOT a pretty site. And Victorian London was certainly scarred by horrific slums where the mere thought of architecture was a ridiculous luxury.

As I have said: don't paint a rosier picture of the past than reality affords.

Last edited by tpe; August 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 PM.
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Old August 22nd, 2011, 11:21 PM   #171
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Don't take it too literally. Read: everyone that mattered.
which seems to be just an elite

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They were not academic elites. They were the Aristocracy, the Gentry (i.e., landed/not working), and the Dilettanti, and many of them considered going to University beneath their dignity, and wore the title " amateur" as a badge of honor.
In other words, an elite.

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Look at all the Italian Gothic churches that were either modified or destroyed to make way for "trendier" successors.
You have me on that one.

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I suggest you read more on the subject. You will be very surprised. Your idea of an "academic" is VERY 20th century, I must say -- completely irrelevant to the previous epochs we are considering, as opposed to Modernism.
My point is though, that people in a movement striving for something contrary to the norm are possibly the worst people to objectively judge the norm vs their ideal.

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Do you know how many disgusting and ugly tenements existed in Imperial Rome? May I suggest you read the Roman Satirists (e.g., Juvenal) and learn that people lived in these tenements with their PIGS.
I'm sure there were thousands. How many were poor because of their style, and how many were awful because of their squalor though? How many were really little more than the ancient equivalent of shanty towns?

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Of course there were MANY extremely ugly and horrible buildings in previous periods. Don't be naive. There were probably more ugly ones made in times past than are built today, because the technology and refinements of today did not exist then. As is expected, most of them were DESTROYED, thank God.
As above, I'm sure there were thousands of squalid slums in the cities, but how many of those were designed by architects? Were they meant to make a statement, or "just be functional"?

And how many were swept away because they were considered unattractive? Look at the numerous preserved medieval city and town centres in Germany, for example. Even if they have been preserved in a way that's perhaps not 100% accurate, it'd still take a very one-eyed modernist to say those streets are ugly.

Take a city like Cologne, and look at its centre. You can tell there are certain buildings people take pride in, and many others - the majority - the the locals would probably be happy to let the RAF have another go on.



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All I can say is this: Medieval London was NOT a pretty site. And Victorian London was certainly scarred by horrific slums where the mere thought of architecture was a ridiculous luxury.
Medieval London was a fire-trap and unhygienic, but I dare say if a section of it survived it'd have much more of a chance of featuring on postcards than the modern day verision.

The slums of London were horrible because of the living conditions and a state of delapidation, not really because of the style of the buildings. Even so, they still had some element of aesthetic quality about them, even if the style was just similar to warehouses and factories of the day.

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As I have said: don't paint a rosier picture of the past than reality affords.
Probably the lesson with architecture, and most things as a whole, is that people keep what works, and discard what doesn't.

Much of what was built in the 50s/60s is hideous, and councils are often going to great lengths to correct those bold visions of the future with something a little more human, and a little less concrete.


To me, in my non-academic view, modernism in that era failed. Not totally, but certainly it had a problem with medium-sized buildings, such as offices, shops, apartment blocks etc. Is there a single city or town whose skyline dates mainly from that era, that isn't horrible to look at? Despite claims of romanticising the past, I can't think of a single older looking city that's ugly.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 01:20 AM   #172
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which seems to be just an elite


In other words, an elite.


You have me on that one.
Which is NOT an ACADEMIC elite, correct? Don't forget that your original contention is that it was an ACADEMIC elite. The ACADEMIC part was what started of this entire argument, remember? See your earlier posts!

So, if you agree that this has nothing to do with being ACADEMIC, then we are in agreement. Agreed?

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My point is though, that people in a movement striving for something contrary to the norm are possibly the worst people to objectively judge the norm vs their ideal.
I do really understand what you are getting at here. What is the NORM? If you think that classical styles were the norm for the common people, then you are dreaming. Art and architecture in previous centuries were the exclusive preserve of the elite, who had time and leisure to pursue these things.

Do you think that the rise of Baroque Art and Architecture was brought about by the consent and approval of the masses? That is ridiculous.

It rose because of the patronage and support of the Papacy, the Church, and the Nobility of Italy. To hell with what the common people liked or didn't like.


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I'm sure there were thousands. How many were poor because of their style, and how many were awful because of their squalor though? How many were really little more than the ancient equivalent of shanty towns?
For your information, a lot of those horrid buildings in the past didn't have a style. The Roman tenements were simply cubicles set inside buildings without ornament or style. The poor can't afford such trifles.

The architecture of the elite was different. But don't think for an instant that the poor had time for Palladio or Alberti.

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As above, I'm sure there were thousands of squalid slums in the cities, but how many of those were designed by architects? Were they meant to make a statement, or "just be functional"?

And how many were swept away because they were considered unattractive? Look at the numerous preserved medieval city and town centres in Germany, for example. Even if they have been preserved in a way that's perhaps not 100% accurate, it'd still take a very one-eyed modernist to say those streets are ugly.

Take a city like Cologne, and look at its centre. You can tell there are certain buildings people take pride in, and many others - the majority - the the locals would probably be happy to let the RAF have another go on.
And do you realize that the town centers were the abodes of the princes, bishops, and wealthy merchants? If you mistake those for the common architecture of the day, then I don't know what to say.

Take Moscow. Do you judge Moscow of 500 years ago by the Kremlin and Kitay-gorod? If you think the rest of Moscow were like these places, then dream on.

The fact is: many of these "survivors" didn't survive by accident. They were deemed worthy of the upkeep, especially because of their locations. The same can be seen in Manhattan today, where most of the so-called PRE-WAR residential buildings prior to the 1920s survived mostly in the UWS and the Western part of the UES. Vast tracts of the notorious tenements no longer exist, although quite a few still remain -- much more liveable now because of modern alterations.

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Medieval London was a fire-trap and unhygienic, but I dare say if a section of it survived it'd have much more of a chance of featuring on postcards than the modern day verision.

Vast parts of medieval London were squalid and ugly by any standard -- which is not to say that it didn't have splendid monuments and edifices. So was any other city in Europe at the time. Read the contemporary accounts of Londoners and Parisians. It is not surprising that the nobility spent more time on the architecture of their country seats and palaces, rather than in their abodes in the city.


This is a classic example of creating a myth of the past, without reference to hard facts, contemporary historical accounts, and visual records.

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The slums of London were horrible because of the living conditions and a state of delapidation, not really because of the style of the buildings. Even so, they still had some element of aesthetic quality about them, even if the style was just similar to warehouses and factories of the day.
See my above comment. My only suggestion is that you do some reading. For example, refer to some of the comments of Ruskin, W. Morris, the period accounts and photographs of Whitechapel, etc. There is no excuse to be uninformed when there is so much material available.


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Probably the lesson with architecture, and most things as a whole, is that people keep what works, and discard what doesn't.

Much of what was built in the 50s/60s is hideous, and councils are often going to great lengths to correct those bold visions of the future with something a little more human, and a little less concrete.


To me, in my non-academic view, modernism in that era failed. Not totally, but certainly it had a problem with medium-sized buildings, such as offices, shops, apartment blocks etc. Is there a single city or town whose skyline dates mainly from that era, that isn't horrible to look at? Despite claims of romanticising the past, I can't think of a single older looking city that's ugly.
You can believe what you want to believe. The cities of old were never the Disneylands you make them out to be.

Last edited by tpe; August 23rd, 2011 at 01:26 AM.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 01:23 AM   #173
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Originally Posted by tpe View Post
Please refer to Merriam-Webster:

an upright architectural member that is rectangular in plan and is structurally a pier but architecturally treated as a column and that usually projects a third of its width or less from the wall

By definition, any ornament is superfluous. Do not confuse essence with surface effects.
Ornament isn't superfluous, it's part of what a building is. You might as well say that clothes are superfluous, that book covers are superfluous, that music at a restaurant is superfluous. Ornament contributes in no small part to a building's identity...that is to say how we interact with it and how it interacts with us. To deny this is to seek sheds instead of buildings.

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Yes, I mean to imply this. Again, we refer to Merriam-Webster:

Influenced by Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Cubist, Native American, and Egyptian sources, the distinguishing features of the style are simple, clean shapes, often with a “streamlined” look...

And if you missed that one, "less is more" happens to be a central tenet of BAUHAUS.
Influenced by Egyptian sources? Ancient Egyptian builders decorated walls more than an overzealous high school teacher. Influenced by Art Nouveau? Please, modernism was formed in part by a rejection of Art Nouveau. Victor Horta's style was most unfortunately pushed aside in favor of Gropius'.

Yes, "less is more" is a tenet of Bauhaus, which in turn helped define a great deal of modernist practice. It's not like Corbusier was putting grotesques on his buildings, either. The point is that while Art Nouveau and Art Deco utilized artistic detail and ornament as a part of their success, modernism patently refuses to.

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And do you think the Palace of Versailles was liveable? If you have not heard, sanitation there was non-existent, and the nobles had to shit and piss in the stairwells because the privies were located miles from each other. They were also impossible to heat, and people froze to death in the attic apartments reserved for the courtiers.

Do not confuse architecture for practicalities. If we judge by the latter, all the great Palladian villas and 18th century palaces are failures, becase they were unliveable by a magnitude 100 times more than the Farnsworth House.
Hold on one second. In order to justify the failure of the Farnsworth House as a livable space, you have to compare it to buildings built 300 years prior, the age in which the wood stove was still being worked out? Why stop there? Why not compare the Farnsworth House to the Caves of Lascaux? To be fair, though, living in a cave does have the advantage of not feeling like you're in a bakery display case.

It seems you're willing to set the bar as low as you can just so you can justify cross-eyed architecture...instead of admitting to glaring, unacceptable mistakes.

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And who told you to translate it to a glass curtain wall?

Have you ever heard of Chartres Cathedral?

And have you ever heard of Hardwick Hall? "More glass than wall" as the old saying goes?

The fact is: glass (or, in ancient days, alabaster) curtain walls have been in existence since the days when Bishop Suger raised his glass walls to the high heavens, in defiance of the admonitions of Vitruvius, and when the physicist Isidore of Miletus and the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles built the daringly large (but no longer extant) clerestory windows on the great bays of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
The curtain wall was an innovation of the late 19th Century (and not by Walter Gropius, although modernists like to say so). I think there are some parallels you can make to the Gothic era...we could look to St. Chapelle, for instance, which is one of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture. Here, we see glass employed in long and unbroken panels. However, what you'll notice is that the designers of St. Chapelle, like Chartres, didn't use the introduction of so much glass as an excuse for getting rid of beauty; much to the contrary, it was used as an opportunity to add ornament, and with it beauty. Core-form provides opportunities for art-form, and we can see the same dynamics at work in Hardwick Hall, Chartres and elsewhere.

Compare that...with this. See a big difference?

The point is that glass isn't bad...just like concrete isn't bad. The problem is when those materials are in the wrong hands. The most successful architecture utilizes structural complexity and the integration of art-form with core-form. Ignore that and you get the incomplete, unsatisfying, cold architecture that modernism has pursued.

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I suspect that your feelings against Modernism are based more on prejudice than knowledge of the structures themselves. To gloss over the most rigorous (i.e., Classical) symmetries imposed on many of the finest buildings of Mies can only be explained by a lack of knowledge of its details -- accidental, or self-imposed.
Prejudice? I seek to analyze buildings for what they are, what they do well and what they do not succeed at. I simply recognize that modernism tried to strip away what makes a building, and it shows. If you want to look at prejudice, how about your insistence that Mies van der Rohe was a genius for being born after the obsolescence of 18th-century technology?
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 01:58 AM   #174
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Originally Posted by Taller, Better
Here is a building very close to where I live, built in the mid 1950's. I think it is a marvellous example of Modernism from that period. It has, however, fallen out of favour as a style and there is a proposal to knock it down and build another condo. Opposition to doing so is growing, as soon we will have little, if any examples of that period left:
The great irony is that modernism, especially in its post-WWII hey-day, took pride in its "Knock the old stuff down!" philosophy. Corbusier's ludicrous plan for Paris is a useful example, but there are many, many others. Personally, I wonder if we should preserve that which rejected the preservation of what came before it.

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Originally Posted by tpe View Post
If you think that classical styles were the norm for the common people, then you are dreaming. Art and architecture in previous centuries were the exclusive preserve of the elite, who had time and leisure to pursue these things.
What of the Baths of Caracalla, the Flavian Ampitheatre, the Forum of Trajan and other public Roman works throughout the ancient world? They had free admission for citizens and freedmen, and the common people indeed took advantage of this offer.

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And do you realize that the town centers were the abodes of the princes, bishops, and wealthy merchants? If you mistake those for the common architecture of the day, then I don't know what to say.
Throughout the Medieval era, the emerging towns of Europe were home to the middle class. The peasantry didn't live there (though a serf would typically move there if s/he achieved manumission), the church's focus was with the great monasteries (such as Cluny) and the princes and knights preferred their castles. Common people from the middle class (artisans, merchants of varying wealth, etc.) certainly lived in town centers.

As for later in history, well, you said it yourself:

Quote:
It is not surprising that the nobility spent more time on the architecture of their country seats and palaces, rather than in their abodes in the city.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 02:06 AM   #175
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Originally Posted by kaligraffi View Post
Ornament isn't superfluous, it's part of what a building is. You might as well say that clothes are superfluous, that book covers are superfluous, that music at a restaurant is superfluous. Ornament contributes in no small part to a building's identity...that is to say how we interact with it and how it interacts with us. To deny this is to seek sheds instead of buildings.
Please read again the dictionary excerpt I quoted. It is self-explanatory and does not need further elucidation.

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Influenced by Egyptian sources? Ancient Egyptian builders decorated walls more than an overzealous high school teacher. Influenced by Art Nouveau? Please, modernism was formed in part by a rejection of Art Nouveau. Victor Horta's style was most unfortunately pushed aside in favor of Gropius'.

Yes, "less is more" is a tenet of Bauhaus, which in turn helped define a great deal of modernist practice. It's not like Corbusier was putting grotesques on his buildings, either. The point is that while Art Nouveau and Art Deco utilized artistic detail and ornament as a part of their success, modernism patently refuses to.
Argue with Mirriam-Webster, and not with me. The dictionary excerpt I quoted is self-explanatory and does not need further elucidation. If you have a problem with it, then you might be the problem.

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Hold on one second. In order to justify the failure of the Farnsworth House as a livable space, you have to compare it to buildings built 300 years prior, the age in which the wood stove was still being worked out? Why stop there? Why not compare the Farnsworth House to the Caves of Lascaux? To be fair, though, living in a cave does have the advantage of not feeling like you're in a bakery display case.
Yes. Do you have a problem with that? I don't.

Quote:
It seems you're willing to set the bar as low as you can just so you can justify cross-eyed architecture...instead of admitting to glaring, unacceptable mistakes.

The curtain wall was an innovation of the late 19th Century (and not by Walter Gropius, although modernists like to say so). I think there are some parallels you can make to the Gothic era...we could look to St. Chapelle, for instance, which is one of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture. Here, we see glass employed in long and unbroken panels. However, what you'll notice is that the designers of St. Chapelle, like Chartres, didn't use the introduction of so much glass as an excuse for getting rid of beauty; much to the contrary, it was used as an opportunity to add ornament, and with it beauty. Core-form provides opportunities for art-form, and we can see the same dynamics at work in Hardwick Hall, Chartres and elsewhere.

Compare that...with this. See a big difference?

The point is that glass isn't bad...just like concrete isn't bad. The problem is when those materials are in the wrong hands. The most successful architecture utilizes structural complexity and the integration of art-form with core-form. Ignore that and you get the incomplete, unsatisfying, cold architecture that modernism has pursued.
As an aside... The glass in Chartres and St. Chapelle were there first and foremost to add light. The second and equally important reason was for the edification and instruction of the unread. Read for example the account of the Embassy of the Emperor Manuel of Byzantium to the King of France in St. Chapelle, and take note of what was said about the windows.

Beauty there certainly is. But as in Byzantine Art, beauty is subject to the rigid requirements of iconography. To the people who built these edifices, beauty was subservient to function.


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Prejudice? I seek to analyze buildings for what they are, what they do well and what they do not succeed at. I simply recognize that modernism tried to strip away what makes a building, and it shows. If you want to look at prejudice, how about your insistence that Mies van der Rohe was a genius for being born after the obsolescence of 18th-century technology?
It is my opinion, and I stand by it.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 02:12 AM   #176
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Originally Posted by kaligraffi View Post
What of the Baths of Caracalla, the Flavian Ampitheatre, the Forum of Trajan and other public Roman works throughout the ancient world? They had free admission for citizens and freedmen, and the common people indeed took advantage of this offer.
Who do you think Caracalla, Trajan, and the Flavians were? Common people? They were the Emperors of Rome, and they deigned to build these edifices to the glory of their name. Do you think the average Roman citizen had a say in these edifices? I thought you knew more history than that.

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Throughout the Medieval era, the emerging towns of Europe were home to the middle class. The peasantry didn't live there (though a serf would typically move there if s/he achieved manumission), the church's focus was with the great monasteries (such as Cluny) and the princes and knights preferred their castles. Common people from the middle class (artisans, merchants of varying wealth, etc.) certainly lived in town centers.

As for later in history, well, you said it yourself:
The peasantry didn't live in the cities, but the unskilled and unwashed laborers and artisans did. Their abodes did not survive, and they made up the bulk of the Medieval townships.

For reference, look at city records pertaining to the artist Duccio in the city-state of Siena. Duccio was by no means an unknown artist, and yet, you see the conditions in which he lived.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 02:21 AM   #177
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Originally Posted by tpe View Post
Please read again the dictionary excerpt I quoted. It is self-explanatory and does not need further elucidation.
OK, so you think music is superfluous and we should do away with it all. So good of you to admit that modernism is ideologically opposed to what humans enjoy.

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Argue with Mirriam-Webster, and not with me. The dictionary excerpt I quoted is self-explanatory and does not need further elucidation. If you have a problem with it, then you might be the problem.
I did, and Mirriam-Webster lost. You can now address the points I put to you.

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Yes. Do you have a problem with that? I don't.
The problem is the fact that it's terrible, failed architecture. The problem is that, unlike the Farnsworth House, some people are still forced to live within the failures of modernism.

The good news is that when we install modern technology into old buildings (as has already happened), all of a sudden your only excuse for bad architecture is gone.

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As an aside... The glass in Chartres and St. Chapelle were there first and foremost to add light. The second and equally important reason was for the edification and instruction of the unread. Read for example the account of the Embassy of the Emperor Manuel of Byzantium to the King of France in St. Chapelle, and take note of what was said about the windows.
Indeed...which means ornament isn't superfluous after all.

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Beauty there certainly is. But as in Byzantine Art, beauty is subject to the rigid requirements of iconography. To the people who built these edifices, beauty was subservient to function.
Yes, and so we, the non-modernist-architects of the world, get all "function" (except the many instances in which they don't function) and no beauty. We get "machines for living" instead of homes. We get something other than a complete, satisfying architecture.

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It is my opinion, and I stand by it.
Your prejudice, you mean. And I would add that yours is a prejudice that runs contrary to the views of the majority of people.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 02:30 AM   #178
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Who do you think Caracalla, Trajan, and the Flavians were? Common people? They were the Emperors of Rome, and they deigned to build these edifices to the glory of their name. Do you think the average Roman citizen had a say in these edifices? I thought you knew more history than that.
You're moving the goalposts because you're obviously wrong. You said the common people had no access to classical architecture:

If you think that classical styles were the norm for the common people, then you are dreaming.

This is false, because in many aspects of life classical styles were very much the norm for the common people.

By the way, the only emperor we know to have had substantial input into the design of his buildings was Hadrian, and contrary to your cliched view of "the glory of their name", he was relatively modest about his contributions (which we can see if we look at the facade of the Pantheon).

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The peasantry didn't live in the cities, but the unskilled and unwashed laborers and artisans did. Their abodes did not survive, and they made up the bulk of the Medieval townships.
Their abodes did indeed survive whenever medieval town centers survived. Since, as I already said, nobles and knights didn't usually like to live in towns, what we see from the medieval age in terms of town centers mostly belonged to commoners. The majority of Gamla Stan, for instance, were not upper-class quarters. Rothenburg is another good example of this.

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For reference, look at city records pertaining to the artist Duccio in the city-state of Siena. Duccio was by no means an unknown artist, and yet, you see the conditions in which he lived.
That doesn't really prove your point.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 04:16 AM   #179
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Originally Posted by kaligraffi View Post
You're moving the goalposts because you're obviously wrong. You said the common people had no access to classical architecture:

If you think that classical styles were the norm for the common people, then you are dreaming.

This is false, because in many aspects of life classical styles were very much the norm for the common people.

I did not know you were expert in misreading context.

Let me quote myself earlier on:

They were not academic elites. They were the Aristocracy, the Gentry (i.e., landed/not working), and the Dilettanti, and many of them considered going to University beneath their dignity, and wore the title " amateur" as a badge of honor.

It is of course clear to any educated person that the context of the above comment is the 18th century. And is it too much for me to assume that you know why the context is the 18th century?

But the truth is that classical styles were never the norm for the common people even during the Roman period. In the towns all over the Western provinces and in the metropolitan East and in Egypt and Judea, the bulk of the population were not even Roman citizens, and therefore did not partake of the Hellenic lifestyle of the Conquerors. And even in Rome, the domestic architecture of the urban poor and the slaves was not the architecture of the Imperial foundations. And only Roman citizens had access to amenities like the great public baths (the slaves were too busy stoking the fires). To claim that "in many aspects of life classical styles were very much the norm for the common people" goes against the established facts and displays abject ignorance of Roman history and sociology. Simply reading the Christian bible would have told you as much, if you have never read anything else from the classical authors themsleves.




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By the way, the only emperor we know to have had substantial input into the design of his buildings was Hadrian, and contrary to your cliched view of "the glory of their name", he was relatively modest about his contributions (which we can see if we look at the facade of the Pantheon).
And so you have not heard of the great building projects of Justinian, the Domus Aurea of Nero, the edifices of the Emperor Constantius in Antioch, those of the Emperor Claudius in Rome, and Octavian Augustus himself, who boasted that he transformed Rome from a city of brick to a city of marble? I don't even mention the foundations of the Emperor Constantine throughout the empire, not to mention the founding of the Imperial City of Constantinople.

Such a comment is typical of people who glean their knowledge of architecture from TV shows and popular novels.

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Their abodes did indeed survive whenever medieval town centers survived. Since, as I already said, nobles and knights didn't usually like to live in towns, what we see from the medieval age in terms of town centers mostly belonged to commoners. The majority of Gamla Stan, for instance, were not upper-class quarters. Rothenburg is another good example of this.
If you think Gamla Stan is unchanged, think again. Much of it has been radically modified in the 17th and 18th centuries, and during the Gustavian Golden age.

Even Wikipedia gets it right when it states:


The present alleys only give a vague glimpse of the appearance of the medieval city where the gables of the building were facing the streets and contained window bays for offering goods of sale; where filth, the bumpy paving and hand-drawn vehicles made walking circumstantial; and where odours and scents from dung, food, fishes, leather, furnaces, and seasonal spices mingled. During nights (and certainly during the long winters) the city was completely dark, save for exceptional fire watchers and nocturnal ramblers who used torches to find their bearing. Neither were there any street signs guiding foreigners as no streets were officially named, instead referred to as "the thoroughfare running from the outer southern gate and up to the cross and the chapel" or constantly renamed after the most prominent person settled in an exposed part of the alley. Indeed, historical records contain many examples of obscure references to locations in the city, close to impossible to pin down as some streets have been renamed dozens of times, often carrying the same or a similar name as other streets before physically ceasing to exist.

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That doesn't really prove your point.
Or perhaps it exposes your ignorance of one of the most complete records of how the common people lived in one of the great city-states of Medieval Italy?

Last edited by tpe; August 23rd, 2011 at 06:37 AM.
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Old August 23rd, 2011, 04:22 AM   #180
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I did, and Mirriam-Webster lost. You can now address the points I put to you.
And you expect ME to take you seriously when you post such a ridiculous comment? lol.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Last edited by tpe; August 23rd, 2011 at 04:31 AM.
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