Helsingin Sanomat took Jonathan Glancey for a tour around Helsinki and published the results yesterday in the Sunday paper. He didn’t like the modern stuff. Not at all. Ruohlanti, Kamppi, Eiranranta, Töölönlahti all got criticised. This goes along with his luke warm criticism of the new Music Center from last month. All the modern stuff could be from anywhere, like its been dropped in by helicopter. What was good? The Old White church and square and the Jugendstil stuff.
My reaction would be too long to unpack fully here, I see his point and agree with much but I have some big reservations too. Ruohlahti and Kamppi all qualify for at least a little praise, and the old Carl Ludwig Engel Church and Square is no less dropped from a helicopter (it would have to be a steampunk helicopter wouldn’t it!) than the modern stuff he criticizes in the early 21st century! The key point the Glancey makes about places like Ruohlahti and Salmisaari for example in how they (fail to) meet the street and work as part of the city which is very valid, but does certainly not apply to Kamppi which is a great throbbing, living development…….however it looks kind of samey! Although Glancey is more right than he is wrong this kind of melange of Architectural criticism and place tourism is a little too breezy. Perhaps its just a problem when a critic is dropped in from a Helicopter.
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Amazon .com .uk
The basic premise of the book is simple, that people see and understand things and themselves by sight. That as seeing establishes our place in the world then how we see is important. But from these basic assertions a fast and near complete deconstruction of culture is embarked upon. That it deals so devastatingly with its subject matter reminded me of reading a high paced thriller.
Originally a four part television series for the BBC aired in 1972 this was subsequently made into a short book of essays that follows closely the series. Its uploaded here on You Tube and really worth watching, even before you read the rest of this review. It’s considered a foundational text if you are studying Art History and I would immediately recommend it to any Architectural student or practitioner. Actually I would recommend it to anyone because it is a seminal piece on how we attribute value and meaning in human affairs, and everyone should know how the whole sorry system really works.
The book consists of seven essays three of which are visual only. The essays make bold assertions backed up by forceful and cogent argument.
- The first essay argues that reproduction of a work of art has altered its relationship with the viewer and of that of the original also.
- The Second and Third Essay look at the female Nude…..that’s different from being naked by the way.
- Fourth and Fifth and Sixth Essays look at what oil painting depicted, for whom and why.
- The last essay on advertising and how they are similar to, and different from fine art.
The book is so full of well written insights and arguments it’s difficult to know where to start. But fair I think to say that part of the reason it is so well lauded is it blows the pompous arrogance of traditional value judgements of art out of the water. Forever.
Has it dated? Maybe a little and yes it seems to be coming from that left-field of postwar Marxist criticism that now seems a little naive ? Well yes, but you’d be straw manning the book if you thought by bringing up the word ‘marxist’ you had undermined it’s arguments or conclusions in any way.
This book is one to read and enjoy and reweigh the arguments with for years to come. Read and enjoy.
I haven’t read a better or more direct and telling criticism of any building as Entschwindet und Vergehts’ review of Zaha Hadid’s Glasgow Museum of Transport for an awfully long time. It’s the sort of criticism which reminds me why we need Architecture bloggers who don’t have to scrape the floor to get copy. It also brings to mind Johnathan Meadess’ on the Bandwagon a film worth watching in this context.