I am reading John Borstlap’s „The Classical Revolution“ and think about it (6)
Temples of Delight: How Not to Build a Concert Hall
When reading the first three words of the chapter title I was under the impression that this chapter would be about contemporary music in brothels (something that has actually been done already if I remember correctly).
Sadly it is mostly about modern concert halls instead. And how Borstlap really, really dislikes their architecture.
In a nutshell:
Borstlap hates modern concert halls that have been built for “sonic art” and that have removed elements thought superfluous by contemporary architects (like ornamentation). He desperately longs for the old halls with their special atmosphere and laments the fact that these aren’t built anymore. He gives countless examples of modern concert spaces that he dislikes, prominently featuring pretty much every new hall ever built in his home country, which are all crap in his opinion.
This makes the chapter a bit weird in the context of the book, because it is mostly an architectural critique, not a musical one. So I assume architects should read it to be convinced to build better halls in the future.
But what will be the chance that an ARCHITECT will actually read a book named “The Classical (Music) Revolution” to have it tell him how to become a better architect in the future? I guess the chances for that veer towards absolute zero…
Does Borstlap make a valid point? Of course this is not the place for a deep architectural discussion, but I guess everybody of us has at one or the other moment felt that sometimes modern architecture can be annoying at times. Pretty much like contemporary music then, there is good and there is bad.
And contemporary architecture actually – and that is something that Borstlap strangely fails to mention – has had a history that is actually not that much different from contemporary music, with the same fallacies and also triumphs.
The Bauhaus movement can for example be compared to the birth of modern music in that it is as much a counter model to something that was deemed excessive and with which one wanted to break, than 12-tone music is an attempt to break with overtly subjective late romanticism. I can imagine that for architects at the turn of the 20th century the ornamentation-crazy art deco styles became so annoying that they had to counter it with something more “clean” and objective. That decision itself is innocent and was in important turning-point in trying something new, but like in the traditional avant-garde music the error is in the idea that getting temporarily rid of something means that that something has to be gone FOREVER. And like some modern music composers still pretend that we are in the 1950’s and can be called “conservative”, there is also the type of “conservative” modernist architect who still pretends that concrete is the hottest new shit on the market (which it isn’t).
But like music architecture is in constant flux. There is not only bad, there is also a lot of good, and many of the buildings that Borstlap accuses of being extremely horrid seem to work pretty well in attracting audiences. And not all their ideas are stupid – the famous idea of the Centre Pompidou to have the inner workings of a building on the outside to have a big and flexible space as possible for the art to be presented actually works pretty well and was also fresh and new at the time.
As far as I can see as a layman good contemporary architecture becomes increasingly aware of some of the sins of the “Modernists” before them, especially when it comes to the use of unhealthy or inefficient building materials. The most important current trend seems to be to build houses that learn from nature, that incorporate new ideas of energy preservation that were unheard of decades ago and that also take a lot of aesthetics from principles occurring in nature, like for example fractals. We are just at the beginning of this trend, and I feel that for example ornamentation that also pleases the eye and creates a more humane environment will become more and more important again. Like Tonality, Ornamentation has already died a thousand deaths, and has been reborn again and again.
But one thing is clear: these new architectural trends will have learned something from mistakes of the past, but they will not want to return to the state of architecture in 1900 (which is something that Borstlap wishes for music I guess). They will be something really new, something that works better for our times than for example the cheap and sometimes careless use of concrete as a building material in the 60’s and 70’s.
But the worst thing that could happen to architecture is to pretend that the last 100 years haven’t happened – it can only advance if it incorporates the history of modern architecture, accepting its failures and successes, both of which existed in equal measures. And the same should be hoped for music, I guess.