banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Students of Nova Scotia - to the barricades!

A friend forwarded me this email that his daughter received from the Housing Office of Dalhousie University in Halifax advising her that "personnel" would be entering student rooms to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights.

Good afternoon! Please be advised that we will have teams of personnel from Clean Nova Scotia in our buildings over the next few days, as per the schedule below. They will be escorted by Dalhousie staff and will be entering all rooms in the building, including student bedrooms.

Their purpose is to change all incandescent and other lightbulbs where possible and replace them with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) or LED lights as appropriate. This can include your own personal lamps.

This is an exciting project that is a partnership between the University, Clean Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Power at no cost. It will represent a major shift in reducing the GHG and carbon footprint of our residence buildings! Work will commence at approximately 10am each day.

If you have your own lamps and lights and DO NOT WISH for your bulb to be replaced, please leave a clear note on the lamp (either by sticky note or paper) saying "Please do not replace this bulb." We will be replacing all bulbs in Dalhousie fixtures regardless.

The schedule is as follows:
Shirreff Hall November 23rd - November 24th
Howe Hall November 25th
Risley Hall November 23rd - November 24th
Gerard Hall November 25th
Colpitt House November 25th
Lyall House November 25th
DeMille House November 25th

Thank you for your cooperation in this exciting project!

I'm trying to imagine a scenario where university students would meekly stand by while "personnel" from the government entered their rooms to make sure that their lifestyles were in compliance with official policy guidelines. It's hard to picture, isn't it? Attach a green label to such actions though and no one utters a word of concern. After all, every time you use an incandescent bulb, a polar bear cries.

Students of Halifax - to the barricades! Resist the enviro-fascist oppressor and his running-dog lackeys at Clean Nova Scotia! Keep the state out of your bedrooms - you have nothing to lose but your bongs and your Che posters!

The Pol Pot of modern architecture

Theodore Dalrymple has a great article at City Journal - The Architect as Totalitarian - about the life and work of Le Corbusier, the "father of modern architecture". Le Corbusier's work and ideas are the inspiration, if you can call it that, for much of the bleak soulless concrete architecture (think York University) put up in cities all over the world after the Second World War.

Dalrymple writes:
Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.


The most sincere, because unconscious, tribute to Le Corbusier comes from the scrawlers of graffiti. If you approach the results of their activities epidemiologically, so to speak, you will soon notice that, where good architecture is within reach of Corbusian architecture, they tend to deface only the Corbusian surfaces and buildings. As if by instinct, these uneducated slum denizens have accurately apprehended what so many architects have expended a huge intellectual effort to avoid apprehending: that Le Corbusier was the enemy of mankind.

Le Corbusier does not belong so much to the history of architecture as to that of totalitarianism, to the spiritual, intellectual, and moral deformity of the interbellum years in Europe. Clearly, he was not alone; he was both a creator and a symptom of the zeitgeist. His plans for Stockholm, after all, were in response to an official Swedish competition for ways to rebuild the beautiful old city, so such destruction was on the menu. It is a sign of the abiding strength of the totalitarian temptation, as the French philosopher Jean-François Revel called it, that Le Corbusier is still revered in architectural schools and elsewhere, rather than universally reviled.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's official! The ROM Crystal is the 8th ugliest building in the world has released its second annual list of the world's ugliest buildings, and world-class Toronto has made the list. The Michael Lee Chin Crystal, Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, comes in at number eight. The website rather politely says:
What I.M. Pei’s pyramid is to the Louvre, so is the relatively new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal to the Royal Ontario Museum. While many praise the glass structure, just as many are troubled by the incongruity to the original, more traditional museum that still sits directly beside it.

When contacted by the National Post, David McKay, the ROM's communications co-ordinator, declined comment.
“We won’t be commenting. I guess the only thing I can say is that we won’t be saying anything.”

Sensible policy, Mr. McKay. As my mother always said, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

(If you're interested in my previous rants about Toronto's ugliest building, go here, here, here, here and here. )

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The end of Brutalist architecture?

University campuses that were massively built up in the 1960s and 1970s have one thing in common - a soul-destroying style of modern architecture known as Brutalism. Brutalist buildings are generally made of poured concrete, are completely devoid of ornamentation, and invade their neighbourhoods like Sherman tanks. A good example is the hideously ugly Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.

It has taken a long time, but some communities are recognizing that Brutalist buildings are not worth renovating and should be demolished. The latest example of a brutalist structure slated to be put out of its misery is the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, which was completed in 1969. In the University's 2005 Campus Master Plan, administrators decided to tear the building down, along with other similar campus eyesores.

According to the UW student newspaper:

Upon its completion, the Humanities Building was described as a testament to the “brutalist” style of architecture, a style made famous in America from the 1950s to the 1970s, but one that had flourished throughout Europe prior to that.

But this unique architectural design of the building is the main problem that most students have with its construction. Chances are that if one has attended UW-Madison for more than one semester, one has had a class in Humanities, whether it was a lecture or discussion. There is also a chance, if not an absolute certainty, that one got lost along the winding corridors of the confusing, irrational building layout. I cannot fathom just how many times I have had no idea where my class is, only to stumble around Pan’s Labyrinth for twenty minutes in a desperate effort to find a buried hobbit-hole of a room on the other side of the building.

A shoddy layout isn’t the only failure here. With its poor ventilation, narrow windows, inclined base, and cantilevered upper floors, you might suspect you were in a bomb shelter. The building is simply not designed well for an environment conductive to learning.

In 2005, UW-Madison released its “Campus Master Plan,” which, among other things, called for the destruction the Humanities building and other 60’s-era buildings to make way for more updated learning venues. Students should be thrilled by this idea, as we are paying top dollar for what are supposed to be top-of-the-line facilities but, as evidenced by this architectural failure, we are not getting what we are paying for.
If this trend catches on, we may soon see the complete destruction of the entire York University campus. It's a start.

(HT: Ann Althouse)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hideous Public Art: Curmudgeons II - Revenge of the Killer Curmudgeons

I had the great pleasure of meeting up with fellow blogger Edward Michael George in Toronto in September. After lunch and a few beers at a café on Baldwin Street, we took a critical stroll down University Avenue to look at some of Toronto’s Hideous Public Art - a subject of mutual interest. We were both so moved that we decided to write a joint critique and cross-post it at each of our sites. Part One ("Gumby Goes to Heaven") can be found here. Welcome to Part Two: The Pillars and Gardens of Justice


The next stop on our stroll was not anticipated, but ended up being—in my opinion—its highlight.

Immediately outside of the Ontario Superior Court (across the street from the U.S. Consulate General) and—as we were traveling south—just past a very thin presence of still-protesting Tamils, Eric and I happened upon what are known as “The Pillars of Justice” and “The McMurtry Gardens of Justice”.

A little background:

The McMurtry Gardens project—named in honour of then-Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, who was on the point of retiring—was conceived of nearly 3 years ago with the purpose of enlivening an otherwise dull block of the downtown with a sculptural garden (comprising around ten pieces,of which the Pillars are the first), contained within just the garden-variety of gardens stretching to Queen Street. The monuments were to depict “justice-related themes”; the garden itself, to borrow poor Michael Bryant's agonizing description, would “forever serve as a reminder that justice bloomed in Ontario under Roy McMurtry … [who] ensured that nothing could stop the growth of justice, human rights, and the rule of law."

Well, as it is now, there’s a little too much of the Gaza Strip about the Gardens—what with their flowerless piles of bleached-out dirt (save for a few weeds), made inaccessible by clumsily erected chain-link fences—and we’re still 9 short of the proposed 10 sculptures. (And that’s 3 years on, in case you’re not remembering. Three years!)

The Gardens wouldn’t be a hundredth so ridiculous were it not for the facts that 1) their commemorative plaque was erected well in advance of the planting of any actual greenery (work that cannot be undertaken any sooner than spring of next year), and 2) the plaque urges us to take this wasteland as our cue for a reflection on the state of our f-ing judicial system.

Nothing can stop the growth of justice, human rights, and the rule of law, eh Mr. Bryant? How about neglecting to sow their seeds?

But, no doubt, this will become a moot point in a year. Or two. Or three.

As for the Pillars … Well, this piece is something like exquisitely awful. The thing is just so banal, so unimaginative, and so aesthetically barren that it seems to me that only silver jump-suited aliens visiting our post-apocalyptic world could be impressed by it. A little primitive did I hear you say, Quaxon 2000? Yes, perhaps. But is it not admirable that this civilization evolved to the point of developing a Public Art Algorithm of which, clearly, this is a product? It puts me in mind of the emblem on our own galactic shield. You know the one: the really big spaceship made-up of 42 smaller spaceships?

This burrito of adolescent pretension is made of steel apparently, but you’d never know from looking at it; somebody had the brilliant idea of painting the thing white so that it looks like huge slabs of foam core. And while the maquette suggested that the Pillars would have a sturdy base of four steps, it only has two—bolted carelessly to a disproportionate (and concrete) third. The consequent impression of flimsiness is so vivid that you’d think a strong gust could toss the whole mess up University, bunking lightly off car-roofs and pedestrians’ heads until it got caught on a staple protruding from a telephone poll … Where it would flap for months until nothing was left of it but a few exhaust-stained tatters.

The body of Oscar Nemon’s work at least gave us the reassurance that Gumby Goes to Heaven was an exception—however glaring—to the sculptor’s rule. The same, alas, cannot be said of this artist, Edwina Sandys. (That’s pronounced “sands” by the way—who is, coincidentally, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, whose be-bird-shitted likeness, you’ll remember, scowls but a block east of here.) There isn’t enough space here to dedicate to a proper examination of Ms. Sandys’ work; suffice it to say that anyone who thinks they are doing something challenging or original by putting a pair of tits on the crucified Christ and calling the thing “Christa” deserves to be ridiculed to scorn. Ms. Sandys is the very embodiment of social justice activism as psychosis.

By way of introduction to Eric’s analysis, I leave you with this tidbit (from James Rusk of The Globe and Mail--scroll down the thread) regarding the artist’s process:

Ms. Sandys … said she had first thought of modelling a work on the statue of Blind Justice at The Old Bailey in London, but on realizing the concept of blind justice could be misconstrued, chose a different design.

On realizing the concept of blind justice could be misconstrued, she chose a different design.



Where does one start? There's not much I can add to EMG's observations about the Gardens of Justice except to re-iterate the point that if you're going to put up a monument called Gardens of Justice complete with a helpful plaque explaining the concept to puzzled viewers, you'd better include ... what's the word? ... a garden. The site in its current form just invites mockery. The boulevard down the centre of University Avenue includes some beautifully tended flower beds, but the only one specifically designed to symbolize a civic virtue - and one that has been three years in the making - looks like Berlin after the Russians were through with it in 1945.

I can just imagine some poor sap having some life-altering case adjudicated in the nearby Superior Court building after having mortgaged his meagre possessions to pay the shysters at Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, stepping out during the lunch adjournment to eat a sandwich on University Avenue. He beholds the Gardens of Justice choked with noxious weeds and promptly steps in front of a north-bound bus.

I'm willing to give the project the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Gardens will eventually be in full bloom sometime in the near future (since the wheels of justice do grind slowly), so perhaps I'm being a little harsh. Nevertheless, even if it is ever full of tulips this garden will still be a little cringe-inducing. It's a garden, get it? A "garden of justice!" Get it? Justice "blooms" in Ontario! Get it? They say that a pun is the lowest form of humour - ditto for visual, horticultural puns.

As for the Pillars of Justice - good lord. I assume the structure is meant to mimic the Erechtheum's Porch of the Caryatids on Athen's ancient acropolis. The Erechtheum was Athens' temple to Athena Polias, protectress of the city, and the Athenians built a suitably impressive monument for her. What do we have on University Avenue? A cartoon-like structure which looks more like the temporary set from a low-budget high school production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

Once again, the patricians responsible for this artwork have included a helpful plaque to explain its symbolism to the bewildered plebes. "We are the pillars of justice", we are told. "The missing pillar invites you to imagine that you are the twelfth juror." Oh - it's interactive! How clever! If I stand in the gap, I can participate in the justice system in all its panoply! Please. EMG and I took turns standing in the place of the missing Pillar of Justice and we both felt like idiots. In fact, EMG felt compelled to grab the ass of caryatid number 11. People walking by looked at us patronizingly like we'd just fallen off the turnip truck from some benighted art-less place east of the Don Valley. "It's a metaphor, you stupid hicks," you could almost hear them saying. "You're not meant to literally be a pillar of justice."

In this case, maybe not. A look at Edwina Sandys' previous commissions reveals a tiresome fascination with juvenile metaphors. Check out The Marriage Bed, in which one learns that marriage can literally be both a bed of roses and a bed of nails. Or how about Woman Free - another sculptural cartoon depicting, well, a free woman. I noticed on her website that the United Nations is one of her main clients. That seems fitting. She seems to produce works of art suited to government committees looking for logos for their PowerPoint presentations. Pillars of Justice fits right in with the rest of her teen-angst oeuvre. The viewer is literally a pillar of justice. Groan.

This woman is the grand-daughter of Winston Churchill? This is another sad example of the decline of once-great families. Commodore Vanderbilt's dynasty degenerated to Anderson Cooper; the Churchill line ends at Edwina Sandys. Churchill once said "success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm". Indeed.

(cross-posted at Edward Michael George)

Monday, November 02, 2009

"No one of any importance gives a rat's ass about the sex of the new Foreign Minister's partner"

Eric Scheie at Classical Values has some thoughts on the occasion of the swearing-in of Germany's new Foreign Minister, openly gay conservative Guido Westerwelle:
What I find more interesting about Westerwelle than his sex life (in which I'm about as interested as I am Chancellor Merkel's) is that he does not allow it to dictate his politics. He's against socialism:

Westerwelle is a staunch supporter of the free market and has proposed reforms to curtail the German welfare state and deregulate German labor law. In an interview in February 2003, Westerwelle described trade unions as a "plague on our country" and said unions bosses are "the pall-bearers of the welfare state and of the prosperity in our country". He has called for substantial tax cuts and smaller government, in line with the general direction of his party.
Amazing. In Germany, being gay does not translate into supporting welfare statism.

But in this country, being gay requires being on the left, because both sides of the damned Culture War say so. Human sexuality is political, so according to the "rules," the left is pro-gay and the right is anti-gay (or at least is supposed to be). And it does not matter whether homosexuality is chosen or innate; if you choose to be gay, you have chosen leftism, while if you're born gay, you're born into leftism.

A lot of people on both sides want to keep it that way.

Ditto for Canada, sadly.