The hugely influential artist, architect, sculptor, painter and social engineer revolutionised the way we think about the built environment and then drowned in the Mediterranean
Translated by Danvers Couchmere from the original haughty French
April 4, 1954.
One of my female students at the École des Beaux Tailles impertinently asks if there is any point in studying old buildings: ‘We’re living in a world of Hydrogen Bombs, Bubble-Gum, Tele-Vision, Frozen Peas & cetera, daddio. I dig what you’re saying about things being even newer in the Modern Future. So who cares about the past?’
I take a deep breath, pediment my brow and close my eyes. I explain that Architecture has many traditions but only Three Important Periods.
- The architectural tradition of Ancient Rome is exemplary and instructive. Its empire was based on ruthless Mathematics. Barbarians – along with their primitive angles and curves – were widely derided, and crushed to death.
- Architecture was at its most horrific from the Renaissance until 1918, when German Rococo was finally defeated in the Great War. Decorative frippery makes this period a historical distraction. Please do not give it the satisfaction of looking at it.
- The architectural tradition of the last decade, including much of my mature work, is aesthetically definitive.
I open my eyes to discover that this doltish girl has not been listening to my summary at all. No, she has been covertly reading a ‘mag-a-zine’ called French Beatnik Chick Journal. I confiscate it at once, cuff her about the head with it, and expel her. I warn the class that a similar fate awaits anyone who calls me Daddio instead of Master.
Of course I loathe ‘popular culture’. However, it is always gratifying when one’s scholarly pre-eminence permeates it. I was invited on-to a wireless programme, Jazz Up Your Pad, to speculate on what The Family Home Of 1970 will look like.
At last, Mme L’Obscurier is impressed! We settle ourselves for the transmission. It is with some pleasure that I hear myself correctly describing the House-Hold Of To-Morrow:
‘It will be a machine. A machine for being in. Its inhabitants, the happy cogs and fly-wheels. Everything will be perfectly managed and just so. There will be a moving stairway. A phono-vision receiver. A retractable roof. A personal helicopter landing area close by, next to the servants’ barracks, perhaps.
‘Meanwhile the Mistress of the House enjoys every possible convenience. Giant-size fruit, a radio-phonic oven …’ (here I detect some stifled laughter) ‘… an ultrasonic laundry, a nuclear-diesel heating system. Most significantly, the Family Home of 1970 will be an entirely dust-free environment.’
‘Amazing, M L’Obscurier!’ twitters the interviewer. ‘How will Man conquer Dust?’ I clear my throat, authoritatively: ‘It will become an anachronism, and therefore simply cease to exist!’
At this the studio audience – and Mme L’Obscurier – ‘fall about’. Insufferable. With appropriate hauteur I withdraw to the study, where I formulate my Two Reminders on the Subject of Popular Culture and Wives:
- Popular culture is a philistine irrelevance.
- True genius requires wives of the highest specification.
Tomorrow I sail in my yacht, The Paradox. And swim in the immortal Mediterranean. And immerse myself in dreams of concrete, and parallel lines.
Ian Martin is away