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Fake antiquity in Belgium

I encountered this photo, of a brand new building in Belgium, at the Twitter feed of something called Architectural Revival.

Right now this photo has pride of place there, but just to be sure, this is the Tweet in question. There are several more photos to be seen there of similarly brand-new-but-looking-old buildings, also in Belgium.

So, let all of us who are that way inclined have a comment bunfight about what architecture is the best, ancient, or modern, or fake-ancient.

Personally I favour all three styles, and like it when they are in close proximity to one another. Modernity, unrelieved by either genuine or fake antiquity can get very dreary. But genuine antiquity everywhere can feel rather dispiriting too, because it can feel like you are living or working in a gigantic museum rather than in a place with a future, as well as a mere past. Paris sometimes feels a bit like this to me, especially compared to London which absolutely does not.

To be a bit more precise, I like skyscrapers, whether fake-antique (as they originally were in Chicago and New York) or modern, as in the City of London and nearby spots now. But nearer to the ground I like antiquity to remain, and I would favour more fake-antiquity, especially for many smaller buildings that don’t reach for the sky, than is the case in London now.

Above and beyond my mere tastes, or yours, I favour freedom of choice, in architecture as in all such lifestyle decisions. If you want to build a pretend Scottish Baronial Castle on your plot of land, good luck to you. I think if that was the rule rather than merely something that used to happen if you were rich a hundred and fifty years ago, architecture would be much more fun to look at, and in general, much better.

For more concerning such arguments, see this recent piece by Roger Scruton.

31 comments to Fake antiquity in Belgium

  • CaptDMO

    Things that raise my hackles….
    “Rounded” router inside corners on “distressed” furniture molding. (esp. mullions and muntins)
    Stamped vinyl/aluminum window shutters, screwed flat onto buildings, with zero functioning hardware.
    And the “slats” sloping the wrong way for “open” shutters!

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    When my ship comes in I shall build a house with an entire fake history covering centuries. It’ll have a Tudor core, a Georgian wing and some endearingly random Victorian bits and bobs. And pressure showers and fibre-optic internet thingies.

  • Paul Marks

    The house in the photograph looks good – and is very well suited to the climate of the area. A pitched roof for the rain, solid walls, and windows that are neither too small (so they would not let in light) or too big (so they would make the house cold.

    People who say that the style of a building (or the style of anything) must fit with the “spirit of the age” are just parroting Hegel – and I do not hold with Hegel.

    As for “modernist” and “post modernist” architects – some of them do indeed live in the sort of buildings they say they like (and I respect that). But must of them choose to live in the sort of building they do NOT build – and I have no respect for that at all.

    “I will live in these sort of house – but you lot must live and work in the modernist (or post modernist) stuff I design”, no I do not like that.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – there is nothing “fake” about this house.

    The idea that a particular style must only be done in a particular century is nonsense. It would have, for example, forbidden architects in past centuries from Ancient Greece and Rome – “you are centuries after this period – so it is FAKE for you use this style” is silly.

    The great architects of the past, such as Brunelleschi, or Palladio were not “fake” architects, what they built was not “fake” even though they were inspired by styles that were created many centuries before they were born.

  • Ellen

    Paul Marks
    December 20, 2018 at 12:21 am

    As for “modernist” and “post modernist” architects – some of them do indeed live in the sort of buildings they say they like (and I respect that). But must of them choose to live in the sort of building they do NOT build – and I have no respect for that at all.

    “I will live in these sort of house – but you lot must live and work in the modernist (or post modernist) stuff I design”, no I do not like that.

    The building that, for me, most represents the hypocrisy of the (whateverist) architects is the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus. The link function does not seem to work for me here, so I’ll paste the URL directly: https://wam.umn.edu/visit/tours/ . If you go there you will see on the left the outside of the building, a stainless-steel Cubist nightmare. On the right is the basic rectilinear internal space.

    If they wanna shove the Cubism in our face, they should have the honesty for the internal walls to match the external walls in form. but as you say, Paul …

  • Julie near Chicago

    All I can say is, that a University worthy of the name must be built in the great Gothic Revival style of the Quad at The University of Chicago.

    Scroll down to the photo of Harper Library, Photo # 09 (taken from the interior of the Quad), for one example. After that, we get into UC’s idea of good modern architecture (I suppose, else why would they commission all these buildings in styles that I can only think of as UC Modern Perverse?).

    https://www.thoughtco.com/university-of-chicago-photo-tour-788526

    Good photo of the south side of the Quad, including Harper Library, from Wikipedia. The Quad is the core of the original University, and is, as one might suppose, a square. This is a shot of the south outer face of the Quad, taken from the Midway Plaisance running E-W south of the Quad, and slightly east of it. Harper Library is the building with towers, more-or-less in the center. The building in the corner is (IIRC) Business East, in whose library my Honey and I spent many an evening studying together.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Chicago#/media/File:Harper_Midway_Chicago.jpg

  • Julie near Chicago

    The Midway Plaisance, looking northwest from slightly west of the south side of the Quad:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midway_Plaisance#University_of_Chicago

    UPDATE: Oh, Wow! Terrific photo of Harper Library (though I have to say it’s a bit blurry):

    https://architecture.uchicago.edu/locations/william_rainey_harper_memorial_library/

  • bobby b

    Ellen
    December 20, 2018 at 2:15 am

    “The building that, for me, most represents the hypocrisy of the (whateverist) architects is the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus.”

    Oh, amen to that! And it’s worse when you’re blinded by the reflected sun off of the stainless steel surface no matter what your approach angle as you drive to and from work each day. You quickly learn to hate it with a passion.

    And just so people don’t think you chose the worst angle to display, here’s a wider shot.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Wooo! My tummy lurched. Now that is definitely Modern Perverse.

  • Mr Ed

    But genuine antiquity everywhere can feel rather dispiriting too, because it can feel like you are living or working in a gigantic museum rather than in a place with a future, as well as a mere past.

    May I take that as a slight to Venice?

    The ‘mere past’ is what got us where we are today, every invention, every bit of capital accumulation, every puzzle solved, every drop of sweat. The past is constantly growing, the future shrinking.

  • Jacob

    The most terrible modernist-brutalist blocks were built by bureaucrats, for the proles.

    When people build for themselves a house, or buy an apartment with their money, they chose nice things.

    When bureaucrats build spending other people’s money (taxes) and hand over the apartments to proles at no cost to them – the results are horrible. The architects that plan these monstrosities – they should be hanged. Bad taste is not, by itself, a sin, but imposing your bad taste on others is.

    Here our ideology comes in handy: it is better to give the proles money to buy whatever house they like (or nothing at all), and not have the government shove public housing projects down their throats.

  • Jacob

    The Weisman Art Museum ? You can like it or dislike it (I dislike it), but at least you don’t have to live there, you even don’t have to come within sight of it…

  • Surellin

    I’ve always been fond of the architecture of Edwin Lutyens. He could do everything from country houses in the Arts and Crafts or Tudor manner to the sort of Hindu/Palladian look of New Delhi to the enormous Romanesque edifice of Liverpool Cathedral (never built). Perhaps one of the last architects to transcend “style”.

  • Dalben

    “think if that was the rule rather than merely something that used to happen if you were rich a hundred and fifty years ago, architecture would be much more fun to look at, and in general, much better.”

    While I agree that people should be able to build what they want and if we got rid of restrictive rules there would be a little more variety, I think the ma uk n factor is that un general people simply care more about things like cost than on the exterior facade. Bot that they dont care at all about the looks of the house or that there aren’t exceptions who care a lot, but I don’t think your see many Scottish baronial castles or the like springing up. More like people extending their houses closer to the property line than previously allowed and things like that.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    And here‘s a new-ish house just north of the Cotswolds.

    It’s noticeable that houses which respect “the vernacular” around where I live are being permitted. They tend to be very large and to be built by the very rich (of course, the latter is implied by the former).

  • Fred the Fourth

    The ugliest building, inside and out, on the UC Berkeley campus, is the School of Architecture.
    https://ced.berkeley.edu/images/made/images/uploads/features/wam_400_300.jpg

  • Fred the Fourth

    According to my daughter, the main problem with this MIT building

    http://philip.greenspun.com/images/20061003-boston-aerials-r44/stata-center-5.jpg

    is that the bathrooms are nearly impossible to find.
    I always found it literally vertigo-inducing.

  • Umbriel

    @Ellen

    The rectilinear internal space is probably just a concession to the difficulty of actually hanging artwork when you don’t have any flat, vertical walls.

  • Dartmouth College used to have the Shower Towers, which got their nickname for having a façade of shower tiles. (You can click on the photos for bigger images.)

    I remember visiting my aunt down in Cary, NC in 1994 and finding that their public library looked exactly like Kiewit (which was next to the Shower Towers).

  • Back in the 1980s, when the Prince of Wales was publishing and speaking strongly (and quite effectively) against modern concrete-brutalist architecture, he was accused of “supporting fascist architecture” by members of the architectural establishment.

    I would call this an example of ‘Everyone’s a conservative about what they themselves know’, except can we say those architectural elitists did not know architectural – after all, they often had qualifications (and awards – from architectural establishment bodies).

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Ellen – what a mess.

    Clovis S. – yes that house in the Cotswolds does look a bit big. However, the people living in it like it – otherwise why would they have it built. And the house that Brian’s M.s post shows is NOT particularly big. The “modern” or “post modern” style is presented as cheaper than traditional styles – but when one takes into account that such “modern” or “post modern” buildings have to be repaired almost as soon as they are built (for example because the roof leaks – as it does with the Play Factory, built at great expense in Kettering only a couple of years ago, the roof leaked from the start), and has to be constantly worked on ever afterwards (till the “modernist” and “post modernist” buildings collapse or are demolished – at least they are not around long) the “it may be ugly – but it is cheap” argument for “modernism” or “post modernism” collapses.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Paul Marks
    Indeed. I have no problem at all with people who can afford it building large houses; more power to their elbow(s). My point was rather that I don’t see any small ones in a traditional style and I would like to. Partly because they are more functional and so probably cheaper in the long run, as you imply.
    I wondered whether planners might only be allowing larger properties to be constructed in traditional styles.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – it is clear that the traditional buildings at the University of Chicago are better than the “modernist” or “post modernist” buildings, just as John D. Rockefeller was a better man (in every way) than his useless descendants.

    The modernist and postmodernist buildings at the University of Chicago are NOT all ugly (I can see that) – but they just do not compare to the original buildings which were built in the early 20th century (where John D. Rockefeller was still alive – he died, I think, in 1938). And the “argument” that “one should not build in the Gothic style – because that was invented centuries ago” is just wrong.

    I also disagree with Brian M. and agree with Mr Ed – mixing “modernist” and “post modernist” buildings in a street scene with buildings in traditional styles is NOT an improvement. It is better than the street scene (or the university) being all “modernist” or “post modernist” – but all the buildings being in traditional styles is better (much better) still.

    As for “Fascist architecture” – as Niall knows (and Prince Charles’ ignorant critics do not seem to know) the Fascists were MODERNIST in their architectural tastes – indeed they did Modernism rather BETTER than many Modernists and Post Modernists do. I am not a great admirer of the buildings built by order of Mussolini – but they are much better (even though Modernist) than the buildings put up in Italy (and most other countries) after World War II – many of the buildings put up after World War II were DELIBERATLY ugly (for example the “Brutalist” movement – which was a sort of Marxist protest against beauty, like throwing acid in the face of a beautiful woman BECAUSE she is beautiful). The Fascists were “Modernists” in architecture – but they tried their best to make their Modernist buildings attractive.

    Sir Norman Foster (and I hope he does not take this the wrong way – in the incredibly unlikely event he ever reads it) sometimes reminds me of the works that Mussolini had created – for example the work of Sir Norman Foster at the British Museum would have pleased Mussolini (and is NOT bad – it really is not bad). Whereas the work of Rodgers would have been rejected, with contempt, by Mussolini – not because it is Modernist, but because it is BAD Modernism (could-not-care-less Modernism).

  • Paul Marks

    “could not care less Modernism” was going too far – and I withdraw it.

    And one can learn by error. For example WHY do buildings have the wiring, the pipes and so on the inside of the building – why not on the outside? The reason is because the weather damages such things if they are on the outside of the building, the walls and roof of the building PROTECT these things from the weather. But the public might not be aware of this without Sir Richard Rodger’s “Lloyds Building” which places these things on the outside of the building, “we will get so much more interior space this way”, and suffered the consequences.

    “He who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom” – yes, but without bold experiments (most of which will fail) there can be no great advances.

  • Sam Duncan

    “https://www.thoughtco.com/university-of-chicago-photo-tour-788526”

    Oof. What is it about university libraries? It was all going so well there. Here’s Glasgow (fortunately not quite visible from my window), and St. Andrews, which they at least have the decency to keep hidden away behind some less offensive buildings so it isn’t visible from the street. But there’s definitely something about libraries that brings out the worst in architects.

  • Ellen

    Having seen your library, I’ll raise you an art museum. At least the museum I worked at https://thebakken.org/visit/ (a science museum) had its addition done in relatively compatible style. No credit to the architects; they were trying to design something not unlike a ziggurat, but saner minds talked them down.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul,

    “He who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom” – yes, but without bold experiments (most of which will fail) there can be no great advances.

    :>)))

  • Stephen Lindsey

    This has been a popular style in Belgium for at least 40 years.

  • Patrick Crozier

    What is “fake” about “fake antiquity”? Surely any twiddly bit – from a “form must follow function” perspective – is an example of fakery? Perhaps “[insert name of architectural style here] revival” would be a better way of putting it.

  • Ellen

    “Fake” carries a negative connotation. I have Viking garb (I’m in SCA) and use tortoise brooches and penannular cloak pins. Occasionally I am asked if they are “real”. I reply that “Of course they are. I use them to keep my hangerock up and my cloak on. They just aren’t old.”

  • Michael Lorrey

    I likewise enjoy most styles and eras of architecture, but despise fakery like nonfunctional shutters, etc. However, when it comes to modern design, it is disgusting how designers claim that modern design is intended to emphasize function and utility, but ignore the negative externalities, like a large concave building face of glass, or several flat faces that all reflect sunlight into a focused area, which is then expected to be used for something like parking cars (when the heat of the focused sunlight literally melts the plastic car bodies or the interiors, bakes the paint off the metal, etc) or people, or plants. You would think a utilitarian would foresee such problems in the design process and avoid them in the finished design.

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