Ayn Rand was a bad writer but an interesting thinker, especially when she wrote on matters unrelated to her political passions. In her fiction, this is most prominent in The Fountainhead (the only Rand you should read), where Rand writes at length on the artistic value of well-designed yet functional buildings through the viewpoint of her protagonist, architect Howard Roark. Roark doesn't design temples or monuments. He designs quotidian structures such as department stores and apartments. Rand expresses an appreciation for the "art" that can reside in a really well made gas station, designed to fulfill its function efficently, or a high-rise apartment shorn of the columns, gargoyles, and other useless adornments found in the neo-classical and socialist realist architecture she loathed. Reading The Fountainhead, for one who hasn't studied art, architecture, or archaeology, teaches one to at least look at workaday buildings from the standpoint of design efficiency, and to see an aesthetic grace in something as commonplace as a bank.
By the way this post isn't about Ayn Rand.
Through Dark Roasted Blend, I came across what's probably the best blog entry I'll read all year, a summary of a lecture by Geoff Manaugh to the American Institute of Architects. Manaugh begins by covering the I-95/I-695 junction outside Baltimore, which if you've ever driven it you'll agree is truly an example of art, perhaps just "found art" but art nonetheless, in the prosaic. The junction is a complex geometric figure which can be appreciated just by driving it, but which comes into its own when viewed by air.
Manaugh presents his geometric appreciation of this strange highway intersection as a springboard into a fascinating discussion of what the ruins of our society might look like to the barbarians of tomorrow, and what, of those ruins, might be appreciated as art. He sidetracks into a discussion of the work of Albert Speer, the great architect whose career was most unfortunately cut short by his work as Hitler's armaments minister (better Speer had just kept designing stadiums), Speer's design concept of building for "ruins value" as I'll put it, and the designed but never built capital of the Third Reich, Germania. No doubt Speer (whose work as an architect and designer, through the medium of Lani Riefenstahl, has had a visual influence on a number of sci-fi-ish directors and series such as George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and the Superman series) would have appreciated the ending sequence of Planet of the Apes, in which the concept of design for ruins value comes to life.
From there Manaugh goes into a discussion of film depictions of American ruins and which of our cities might leave the strongest impression in that regard (it isn't New York), and whether we should design, even for the most common structures, with this purpose in mind.
If this post of mine is all over the place, it's because Manaugh's is as well, though with more purpose, plan, and cogency. I urge you to read it.
Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White
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