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Crumbling Of Democracy Bodes Ill For Urban Design

Ironically, some of the greatest architecture of the past came from the most nefarious of sources: monarchies and dictatorships. Democratic design, though, can be bland and generic. What of design in our new undemocratic age?
March 13, 2017, 1pm PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Ekaterina Pokrovsky

"The trouble is, recent history suggests that (Francis) Fukuyama’s theory (about the ascension of democracy) faces peril, if not outright obliteration. What this world will look like—figuratively and literally—in a generation or two is anyone’s guess. So much for the architecture of democracy. But the continuing process of democratization, and the process of its undoing, has deep implications for actual architecture."

"In my travels to places that have fulfilled Fukuyama’s vision—often heroically—I cannot help but feel a certain lament. While I would never trade freedom for anything as petty as aesthetics (or for anything else, for that matter), I fear that the free world may never again see the type of greatness that those old kings and bishops wrought."

"While history has yet to judge their artistic merit, the autocratic design tradition lives on in Dubai, Baku, and the metropolises of China. Those places are building moments that are superficially distinctive, mostly in the form of high-rises and other places so much larger than life that they seem more grotesque than inspiring. Notre Dame invokes awe at a human scale, as rich in detail as it is impressive in its engineering. The bright skyline of Doha, endless superblocks of Beijing, and odd follies of Baku, do no such thing."

"Many ascendant autocracies are enlisting western architects to build their monuments, in part because they do not have domestic talent capable of slaking their thirst for superlatives. They end up with a sort of cosmopolitan capitalist authoritarianism, in which nations spare no expense to create placelessness."

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Published on Monday, March 13, 2017 in Common Edge
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