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Babel Time

March 25, 2015


I am a prisoner of NPR by day. It has its mock-able memes (think “Svetty Balls”), but it has one clear, overriding bias (no, not that one) – clearly the programmers at NPR believe that:

An English Accent Makes Everything Better

Its a distinction without a difference as the same words oathed with a Brit residue have a gravitas that those who speak American simply lack in the ears of NPR. And we who are sadly limited to American can find some solace in the fact we always sounder smarter than those who speak Southern.

Right now in architecture several angry articles about the devaluation of my profession have rightly focused on its recent tone-deafness to popular culture, context, social integration, and plain old just not leaking.
The essential truth is that any fine arts endeavor can get lost in itself – and that’s the inexorable recent slump of architecture, historically “the mother of the arts” – towards living and bathing in the fine arts, away from the concerns of the bourgeoisie.

The oxymoronic “New Classical” music is unlistenable to all but those who are “in the know”. Ezra Pound and James Joyce enrapture a tiny few who can delve into their exquisitely hypercomplex syntax and structure. And sculpture is the product of architect Zaha Hadid.

Becoming irrelevant is a problem.

But blaming the language and not the mindset is a bigger problem.

In Genesis God “confuse(d) their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” In architecture this has devolved into a high school food fight between the Popular Kids (Modernists) and the Nerds (Traditionalists). Those recent articles in the New York Times, Forbes, and earlier Slate all saw a Naked Emperor, Architecture: declaring its emptying importance, true that.

But then, those articles took the easy way out: they ascribed tone deafness a style, Modernism, decrying its out of touch British Accent of architectural expression as inherently disingenuous.

Humans are disingenuous, things are just things – the person who loves sculpture deserves to live or work in one. To say one eyewash is Ugly and one Holy is to be one of those running from the crumbling Tower of Babel cursing the foreign language of your fellow flee-ers.

Humans are so terrified of insignificance that we create differences just to feel safe from the other side of the differences we create.

No matter what we do or say, there is something that either the passage of time or our willingness to listen will reveal: the truth.

And it doesn’t have a style (or an accent).

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