A Machine for Living in

The house is a machine for living in.—Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture
And that's all you need to know about the son-bitch, really.

Anyway, I was in a mood to put up a lot of photos again.

So the ane-ue had a post about Louis Sullivan, and modern architecture that doesn't suck. But, of course, when people think about modern architecture, that's not what they think of. Oh no, what they think of is the International Style, described by Wikipedia as characterized by "a radical simplification of form, a rejection of ornament, and adoption of glass, steel and concrete as preferred materials". You know, the big blocky buildings that look like microchips.

Let us all pause to reflect on the irony of naming a style that's fond of flat roofs and big picture windows "International", since the former are a nightmare in snowy places and the latter make keeping the joint cool a losing battle in sunny ones. Lucky for them the name actually means, either, "the style of the 1932 International Exhibition of Modern Architecture", or else "the style described in Internationale Architektur and/or Internationale neue Baukunst by Walter Gropius and Ludwig Hilberseimer, respectively".

Of course the style caught on most in various statist eras and regimes, though it was excoriated by both Hitler and Stalin (both of whom had ironically good judgment in aesthetics, possibly as the counter-balance to being, y' know, Hitler and Stalin). I always find it odd that science fiction likes to use Stalinesque monumental architecture as a shorthand for dystopia, when the International Style is far more soul-crushing. Hey, say what you will, but half the problem with Hitler and Stalin came from the fact they actually did know how to stir the human heart. And as history has shown, totalitarianism is more effective when it's quiet and mundane than bombastic and dictatorial.

Here, for example, is a typical product of the International Style, and appropriately, it is council housing—a housing project—in Airstrip One the UK.Admit it, if you lived there (the place is called, without a trace of sarcasm, Robin Hood Gardens), you'd go in for a bit of the ol' ultraviolence too.

Here's another view of it.Right horrorshow example of dystopian squalor, eh, droog?

Or hey, you want evil megacorp headquarters? Forget those ziggurats from Blade Runner, how about this?It's the IBM building in Chicago. If you can think of a philosophical difference between Big Blue and Big Red, I'd like to know what it is.

International architecture also makes government buildings look remarkably sinister, like this, the Gustavo Capanema building in Rio.Brings new meaning to "government drone", doesn't it?

The International School, perhaps admirably, did not exempt its own proponents from its effects. The famous Bauhaus building in Dessau Germany, for example:To a person with a proper appreciation of architectural aesthetics, the place is Barad-Dûr. Or maybe even Angband.

Here, similarly, is a Berlin tech school's dormitories:And no, I don't think it's East Berlin. But you wouldn't be surprised if it were, would you?

Now, actually, that school does provide a lot of interesting ideas for other things. For instance, production design, and props. Here's a typewriter in the Bauhaus style:Now obviously, unless your story were dabbling in dieselpunk anachronism, you wouldn't have a setting's computer interfaces actually look like this. But imagine those round typewriter keys as glowing circles on a tilted, translucent plate, their faces changeable depending on the character set being used; the typebars and the paper section replaced by a monitor that (because it's The Future) is essentially just a glass plate held up on a wire frame. Now that is plainly the interface device of any dystopian office drone. Unfortunately you can't really put him in a steel-tubing cantilever chair, nor make his desk out of steel tubing: those aspects of the International Style are (praise God) dated, because no longer in use.

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