Reviving the Muse

“Tradition is a succession of successful innovations.” – Pier Carlo Bontempi

Who is Bontempi? He is a contemporary architect, like Léon Krier, Quinlan and Francis Terry, Alan Greenberg et al who cultivate new traditional building, based upon older styles and methods.

Everywhere, new architecture which revives older styles is bubbling-up: in America and England of course (since it has never entirely disappeared there), in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland.

The Penn railway station in New York was an impressive neoclassical building, inspired by the Roman baths; in the sixties it was demolished and replaced by a modernist ‘functional’ monstruosity. But now, there is a big campaign underway to rebuild it:

In Berlin, the reconstruction of the royal palace, now to be a multiple purpose museum, nears its conclusion. Like the Penn initiative, this not a new creation but a re-creation, in Berlin reflecting the need to reconstruct the character of a cityscape which was bombed flat in the Second World War.

Both the Penn station and the Berlin palace reconstructions are successful attempts to correct some of the destruction which was done by modernist ideology and war, which in the end are entirely comparable because interrelated: modernism was a fruit of war, rampant technology and industrialisation without civilizational values and without humanistic aesthetics.

But also new creation in traditionalist styles are attempts to compensate for the ugliness of modernism.

The small town Poundbury as designed by Léon Krier has already been commented upon elsewhere on this site, but it is interesting to see its latest additions:

Steven Semes, professor at the Notre Dame School of Architecture (USA), offers some valuable perspectives on how exactly we might learn from the past: “The relation between form and technology has been completely reversed since we were in school. With digital representation, 3D printing, and virtual reality capabilities, the idea that ‘the machine’ has any bearing on the shapes and forms that architects design has gone out the window. Anything is possible, so to avoid chaos, one might look to a well-established, visually rich, and culturally resonant tradition as a framework. I see a great opportunity to explore highly innovative new classical expressions making use of all of this technology and encourage my students and colleagues to pursue this.”

Projected upon music, the same lessons can be learned there as well. As usual, music is slower to respond to cultural developments than other arts, due to its complex creation and realization process: scores have to be written, performances to be realized – mostly planned ahead at least one year and often many more years. Architecture has to be planned much ahead as well, but somehow – being a much more public phenomenon – the pressures and the funding are more prominent than in music, where the central performance culture is characterized by a rather defensive attitude towards the outside world and where ‘new traditional works’ compete with a core repertoire that forms a safe basis for routine. But yet, it is inevitable that also the orchestral and operatic world will offer their audiences the fruits of the renaissance which is already taking form in other fields.

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