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J.G. Ballard's Handful of Dust

Author: • Mar 20th, 2006 •

Category: architecture, Ballardosphere, non-fiction

Here at Ballardian we’re going to be doing an interview soon with Geoff Manaugh from BLDG BLOG about the influence of Ballardian ideas in the architectural realm, but in the meantime whet your appetite with this latest piece from JGB in the Guardian, about the modernists and the ‘architecture of death’.

A handful of dust

The modernists wanted to strip the world of mystery and emotion. No wonder they excelled at the architecture of death, says JG Ballard.

The Guardian, Monday March 20, 2006

” … Modernism was never popular in Britain – a little too frank for its repressed natives, except at lidos and the seaside, where people take their clothes off. The few modernist houses and apartments look genuinely odd. Why?

I have always admired modernism and wish the whole of London could be rebuilt in the style of Michael Manser’s brilliant Heathrow Hilton. But I know that most people, myself included, find it difficult to be clear-eyed at all times and rise to the demands of a pure and unadorned geometry. Architecture supplies us with camouflage, and I regret that no one could fall in love inside the Heathrow Hilton. By contrast, people are forever falling in love inside the Louvre and the National Gallery.

All of us have our dreams to reassure us. Architecture is a stage set where we need to be at ease in order to perform. Fearing ourselves, we need our illusions to protect us, even if the protection takes the form of finials and cartouches, corinthian columns and acanthus leaves. Modernism lacked mystery and emotion, was a little too frank about the limits of human nature and never prepared us for our eventual end.

But all is not lost for admirers of modernism. They should visit the mortuary island of San Michele in the Venice lagoon, where many pioneers of modernism such as Igor Stravinsky, Serge Diaghilev and Ezra Pound are interred. After taking the ferry, you disembark at a gloomy landing stage worthy of Böcklin’s Island of the Dead. This is a place beyond hope, of haunted gateways and melancholy statues.

But then, in the heart of the cemetery, there is a sudden lightening of tone, and you find you are strolling through what might be a Modern suburb of Tunis or Tel Aviv. The lines of family tombs resemble cheerful vacation bungalows, airy structures of white walls and glass that might have been designed by Le Corbusier or Richard Neutra. One could holiday for a long time in these pleasant villas, and a few of us probably will.

So, there is one place where modernism triumphs. As in the cases of the pyramids and the Taj Mahal, the Siegfried line and the Atlantic wall, death always calls on the very best architects.”

More here.

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  1. […] and ideas of everyone from jacques lecan, to karl chu, to neil spiller, to jean baudrillard, to j.g. ballard, to franz kafka, to charles baudelaire, to jorge luis borge, to wolfgang strauss, to name a few […]

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