In an interview by Carl Korsnes at Sivilisasjonen (“Civilization”), I discussed whether architecture is a partisan issue. I also delved into the philosophy underlying so much Modernist architecture:
The Rejection of Zeitgeist
Shubow is obviously not in accordance with his time – at least not in a Hegelian sense. Instead of claiming that a building should “reflect its time,” he argues that it ought to serve the people it is made for.
– I do think that if you have a training in traditional philosophy, including Enlightenment philosophy, you can see a lot of the flaws in the philosophy underlying so much of modernist architecture. If you look at the great modernist thinkers, so many of them are steeped in Hegel, the 19th-century German philosopher. They have this sort of metaphysical belief in the progress of history, that history is unfolding in some particular way, and therefore buildings need to express the age.
As an example, he quotes the foundational modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who said: “Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space.”
Shubow is rather a reader of philosophers such as Karl Popper, who was highly critical of what he called historicism. “Historicism” is the idea that there is determinism in history, that we can see the future, and therefore, we make judgments about how history is unfolding and how we ought to act.
– In my view, historicism is false, and therefore I think that so much of the philosophy underlying modernist architecture is also false. There is no such thing as the direction of history, there is no such thing as the Zeitgeist, Shubow claims and continues:
– Early modernist architects would claim that there are no aesthetic preferences on their part, but rather that the spirit of the age – which they assume to be a beneficial spirit – is only acting through them in some mystical way. To me, that is obviously false. Yet, so many architects believe architecture must follow the Zeitgeist. It’s not that they are consciously Hegelians. Most don’t know who he was; they don’t see the water in which they swim.
– What are your arguments for claiming that there does not exist a Spirit of our Age?
– Well, I do not believe that spirits exist in any metaphysical sense. Obviously, there are trends in any particular time, but here is no geist in the way Hegel used the term. Moreover, there are diverse trends—whether regarding economics, technology, politics, culture, and so on—many of them moving in different and contradictory directions. Some trends are good, others bad. There’s no end of history that we are heading towards, and there is no essence of our time, says Shubow before adding:
– When architects so frequently talk about needing to build for our time, the spirit of our time, do they really think they are the one able to determine even what that Zeitgeist is, even assuming there is such a thing? Are they great thinkers?
Some of today’s architects attempt to follow the Spirit of the Age by rather simplistic reasoning, he argues. For instance, some architects design buildings that look “digital,” such as so-called Jenga Architecture, since we live in a digital age. Shubow argues that good architects need to be more sophisticated in the way of thinking if they are to make good buildings.
– If the world is changing so fast, it is reasonable to think that people are in greater need of a sense of comfort and security and a place of home. So, therefore, architecture should be more traditional and rooted when certain aspects of life are so liquid.
For the full interview, see here.