Join us at Freeman’s Auctioneers and Appraisers’ fabulous showroom for a lecture by distinguished architectural historian James Steven Curl on his new book, Making Dystopia. Making Dystopia tells the story of the advent of architectural Modernism in the aftermath of the First World War, its protagonists, and its astonishing, almost global acceptance after 1945. He argues forcefully that the triumph of architectural Modernism in the second half of the twentieth century led to massive destruction, the creation of alien urban landscapes, and a huge waste of resources. Moreover, the coming of Modernism was not an inevitable, seamless evolution, as many have insisted, but a massive, unparalleled disruption that demanded a clean slate and the elimination of all ornament, decoration, and choice.
Tracing the effects of the Modernist revolution in architecture to the present, Curl argues that, with each passing year, so-called “iconic” architecture by supposed “star” architects has become more and more bizarre, unsettling, and expensive, ignoring established contexts and proving to be stratospherically remote from the aspirations and needs of humanity. In the elite world of contemporary architecture, form increasingly follows finance, and in a society in which the ‘haves’ have more and more, and the “have-nots” are ever more marginalized, he warns that contemporary architecture continues to stack up huge potential problems for the future, as housing costs spiral out of control, resources are squandered on architectural bling, and society fractures. Curl’s message contains salutary warnings that we ignore at our peril. And it asks awkward questions to which answers are long overdue.
Professor James Stevens Curl has been Visiting Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge University, and is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. His many publications include studies of Classical, Georgian, and Victorian architecture, and the most recent edition of his Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (with contributions on landscape from Susan Wilson) was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. In 2017 he was awarded the British Academy President’s Medal for ‘outstanding service to the cause of the humanities and social sciences’ in his wider study of the History of Architecture in Britain and Ireland.