Style’s war



By Roberto Bottazzi

The French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard famously said that ‘style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style; like the outside and the inside of the human body they cannot be separated’. Consequently any dialogue about style is invariably also a conversation about broader issues, to the point that Bruce Mau − almost 40 years after Godard − concluded that style ultimately determines the way we live.

These points were very clear in the minds of two of the finest connoisseurs of architectural styles − Charles Jencks and Patrik Schumacher − who used the platform provided by the Royal College of Art in London as a means to discuss the state of architecture at the turn of the century. According to the predetermined format followed by all the lectures in the series, each speaker outlined his point of view on the subject in a short presentation as a way to instigate a final debate.

Jencks, who took the stage first, immediately turned the audience’s attention to how much power and style are historically tangled up. By recalling how in the mid-19th century Lord Palmerston twisted George Gilbert Scott’s arm to make sure that the new Foreign Office building in London followed the Classical style (and not the Gothic one Scott had pursued throughout his career), Jencks reminded us that when power dictates style it does so to limit choice and control its public image.

He then went on to show how such reduction of stylistic choice eventually led to the birth of the Modern Movement and Le Corbusier’s call for a universal style. Through this excursion in history, he implicitly accused Parametricism − or, as he preferred to call it, digital baroque − of following Modernism’s footsteps in its attempt to seize diversity to become the only legitimate contemporary architectural style.

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