Tuesday, April 05, 2016

When you answer is, "pour more concrete" - you've lost me

The last week seemed to be a, “I’m going to complain about why we can’t seem to build anything right anymore” to Sal week.

I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging notes to something that has been a stable since the start of this blog last decade; the unending and seemingly avoidable dysfunction that is our procurement system – one where we have not been able to produce a well designed warship since the end of the Cold War era DDG-51, and haven’t had an aircraft program blow up in our face since we adopted the 2nd place finisher in the 1970 light fighter program. (and no, the P-8 does not count – it is a converted airliner and our version does not have a MAD. The FA-18E/F does not count as “new aircraft” either).

Why? The problem is both personality based and the system we have designed to control the personality problem. Both are made worse by something else; narcissism.

The timid, the weak, and the insecure enable the narcissist. Combine narcissism in one strong will person with a gaggle of handpicked obsequious lickspittles in tow, toss in a contempt for history and the hard learned lessons of previous generations, leaven with a embittered resentment for the very real talent of those who came before – and you get that modernist and post-modernist mindset. In the Navy, those people are transformationalist, and their mantra is Transformation!TM

Can you find any other reason that explains the failure of the A-12, LCS, DDG-1000, ACS, and the long slow birth of V-22 and F-35 – or the Tiffany show pony that still is LPD-17?

It is there that I find a tie-back to another passion of mine that I don’t cover as much as I used to on this blog – architecture and the nightmare that has been modernism and post-modernism.

In a blindingly honest takedown of Zaha Hadid and her "Tomorrowland meets Logan's Run" style, Harry Mont shows how it is done;
In my 16 years as a journalist, she was the rudest interviewee I’ve ever met. She kept me waiting for an hour at her Clerkenwell office, before rearranging the interview for another day. And then she rearranged it twice more. Not that she did any of the rearranging – her extremely polite assistant did all that sort of thing.

When I finally got to see her, she never apologised for summoning me to her office and then putting me off. She was like a spoilt, medieval queen: grumpy, humourless, entitled, used to her orders being obeyed instantly, careless of the disruption those orders created.

Narcissistic, too. Her flat was empty, except for objects she’d designed herself: a curved sofa, a swooping table and a futuristic tea set. There was little sign of pleasurable human occupation: no books, no CDs. A lone iPad on a table displayed revolving pictures of her own works. The walls, floor and ceiling were monochrome white, with black metal-framed windows. A rectangular cavity housed a fireplace, filled with identical beige pebbles.
her first real building, a small fire station in Germany, never really worked for its intended purpose: ‘Its shrieking concrete angles and disruptive interiors photographed very well and were dutifully recorded in the magazines, but were not much liked by the firemen. It was decommissioned and is now an exhibition centre.’

Yes, some of her buildings made for dramatic, swirling sights on the outside. But the inside of buildings is just as – if not more – important.
Her Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton was praised for its bold, zig-zag shape, with a running track piercing its heart. I thought it was certainly original enough when I went round it, with the usual Hadid trademarks: curves, skewed angles and asymmetrical shapes. Inside, though, the classrooms, gym and dining area were a dreary mass of concrete, steel and glass planes, with a few zig zag motifs and primary colours slapped on. I’d have much preferred to be taught in one of the elegant Victorian terraced houses flanking the academy – with their brick, plaster and stone, full of history and detail. The Evelyn Grace Academy wasn’t much different from the 1970s Grange Hill School of Education Architecture – which also did nothing to please the poor children inside.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. In our interview, Hadid professed to admiring Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens tower block in Poplar, built in 1972. Robin Hood Gardens is the perfect example of a concrete and glass horror, loathed by the public at large, but adored by modern architects.
‘Most artists, or people who think of themselves as such, have to get the public to watch or listen before they can sod it,’ wrote Amis, ‘Architects are different. They have the unique power of sodding the consumer at a distance, not just if he lives or works in the building concerned, or just when he passes it a couple of times a day, but also when he happens to catch sight of it miles away on the skyline.’

Architects are also, Amis added, deeply subject to the principle of how it will go down at the club – ‘i.e. in the circle of his colleagues, his friends in the profession, certain critics and a more or less specialised and expert section of the public. The effect of this is to drive him towards the technically stimulating, the obscure and the ‘sophisticated’ and away from the older goals and values of whatever can be called pleasing, straightforward, entertaining, popular.’

Zaha Hadid went down extremely well at the club; not so well with the people who have to live and work in – and pay for – her buildings.
Sometimes it is OK to speak ill of the dead - especially when they are subject to a bunch of virtue-signaling praise by those who are as obsequious as she was narcissistic.

Art and architecture is critically important to the culture at large and deserves to be openly and aggressively debated.

And yes, this applies to more than architecture.

We'll have more maritime directly-related discussion tomorrow.

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