Why Does Modernist Architecture Persist?

By Dom Nozzi

Why is nearly every new building, to this day, still infected by Modernist design?

After all, it is plain as day to the vast majority of people for several decades that Modernist buildings are hideous, ugly, unlovable, barren, sterile monstrosities.

As described by James Stevens Curl in his book Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism (2018), highly persuasive architectural crusaders in the 20s and 30s emerged mostly in economically devastated Germany and the crusading new Soviet Union (led by such people as Mies and Gropius, and Le Corbusier) to create what many in those places at that time craved: a new world and a new human living in a utopian heaven on earth. A great many at the time were eager to join the crusade – the salvation — to bring on the utopia.

But as we know from history and even recent times, utopians are so blinded by their feelings of being heroic leaders that the utopian ends were easily able to justify cruel, irrational means, and overwhelming counter evidence is easy to disregard. The 20s and 30s provided quite fortunate timing (ie, fertile ground) for these crusaders, as they were able to leverage the heroic, crusading witches brew of Soviet Stalinism, America instituting messianic left-wing reforms to emerge from The Great Depression, and fascism. Many early Modernists were either totalitarian Stalinists or American reformers or authoritarian fascists – to this day, many Modernists proudly consider themselves to be cultural Marxists fighting with the proletariat against the bourgeois (or other powerful elitist “oppressors”).

It is exceptionally seductive for a left-leaning, intelligent, empathetic person to adopt an ideology that promises to rescue the downtrodden.

As persuasive crusaders, people such as Mies and Le Corbusier successfully formed a new fundamentalist religious cult of Modernism, where a dogma must be adhered to, dissent is not tolerated, believers are isolated, superior knowledge is claimed, subservience is required, brainwashing is practiced, and incomprehensible language is used.

Like other successful fundamentalist cults, Modernism has been able to attract fervent believers who tend to remain believers for the rest of their lives (and pass their beliefs on to future generations), despite the irrationality and overwhelming evidence against the ideology. Like Soviet communism and fascist Germany, Modernists are blind to the awful, cruel world they have created. All three groups, in other words, have “drunk the Koolaide.”

To this day, according to the author, left-leaning architecture professors, professional architects, and architecture students continue their fundamentalist crusade, which includes the need to “cleanse” the world of “bourgeois” classical/historic/beautiful/ornamental architecture and hasten the advent of the “new world,” the “new human,” and the “new utopian heaven.”

Standing in the way of the fundamentalist Modernist crusaders – like with other communist, fascist and religious fundamentalist crusaders – takes enormous courage. Courage is needed even when it is clear that what the Modernist proposes is another hideous building that is likely to lead to massive amounts of crime, vandalism, and being quickly demolished (the fate of countless Modernist buildings in the 20th century).

When you are part of a cult, it is so easy to rationalize, in your own mind, why your efforts are utopian, even if it should be self-evident that your efforts are destructive.

In sum, all cults have a good and evil narrative, and a promise for utopia. You are either one or the other. There are the “saved” and the “damned.” The “oppressed” or the “oppressor.”

There have been many cults in our past. And there are many cults in recent times up until today, both on the political right and left.

On the right, there is the Jimmy and Tammy cult, the Jim Jones cult, and the Billy Graham cult. There is the Second Amendment Gun Rights cult. The Donald Trump cult. And the Republican Party cult. On the left, there is the Marxist cult, the feminist cult, the woke cult, the antifa cult, the BLM cult, the Democratic Party cult, and the Modernist Architecture cult.

In each case, by definition, cult followers become Eric Hoffer’s “true believers.” People who are compelled to deny or rationalize away overwhelming evidence or logic right in front of their eyes, because to not do so makes them a heretic or a criminal or an insane person or an enemy of the people or a racist or an oppressor. Someone who is so immoral that they must be punished or banished from the tribe of friends and family.

Millions of educated people on the left have been members of the Marxist cult (I used to be one of them) and denied or rationalized the backwardness of the Soviet Union and the millions tortured and liquidated by Stalinism (to do otherwise is to open yourself up to be seen as supportive of the evilness of greedy, exploitative capitalists).

Similarly, millions of people on the right have denied or rationalized away that Jim and Tammy Bakker were exploitative charlatans (to do otherwise is to open yourself up to be seen as supportive of the evilness of satanism). Stalin didn’t send millions to the gulags! Jim and Tammy did not lie to church members on their way to becoming billionaires! The Emperor is wearing lovely clothes! There is no elephant in the room! Modernist buildings are wonderful!

THAT is why nearly all buildings to this day use unlovable, butt-ugly Modernist design.

I fear our society will not be able to escape the widespread zombie cult of Modernist architecture in our lifetimes – a cult that is criminally destroying the proud, admirable beauty of our world.

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