Interview with Professor James Stevens Curl took place on 15 May this year in Oslo,
where we met on the occasion of a conference "Beauty and Ugliness in Architecture".
James Stevens Curl, portrait photo from 1990, author's archive (JSC)
Dear Professor, thank you for accepting the oer of an interview for the Czech
magazine Stavba, which published the first review of your book Making Dystopia
in 2019. We are now sitting in a hotel reception in Oslo, where we are both
attending a several-day conference on "Beauty and Ugliness in Architecture". In
hindsight, we can talk again about your book Making Dystopia and the context.
Could you please tell the story of how your book came about and what made you
write it?
It is also very nice to see you again. It is great to be here for this conference and
thank you for making this interview happen, which I look forward to. As for the
origins and inspiration of my book Making Dystopia, it was linked to writing the
Oxford Dictionary of Architecture. When I was working on that book with my
colleague Susan Wilson and preparing it for Oxford University Press, she said to me:
You know, in all the biographies of 20th-century architects, and also in the various
movements associated with Modernism, there are references to the various problems
of these people and movements. She implied there might be another book out there
somewhere. I thought about it and suggested it to the commissioning editor at
Oxford University Press. He thought it was a very good idea, so I took it on and
started writing the book in 2014. It came out in 2018 and I think it really helped to
consolidate all my thoughts about what was wrong. It seemed to me that it wasn't
just the early so-called International Style, but everything that's happened to
architecture since then. I also found it very strange that alternative aspects of
architecture (such as neoclassicism, which was prevalent throughout the 1920s and
1930s in many countries) were ignored by conventional modernist historians who so
deliberately distorted architectural history to tell only one side of the story. In other
words, it was not history at all. It was a kind of propaganda. So I decided to try to
balance that, not just with my dictionary entries, but with a carefully researched and
argued new book. Making Dystopia was actually Susan Wilson's idea, and when I
thought about it, I thought it was a pretty great idea and it would allow me to kind
of blow o steam, if you will.
I am, of course, familiar with your Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, and I confirm
David Watkin's words that it is the best book of its kind that has been published.
It is interesting that it was your colleague Susan's suggestion that helped you to
create the book Making Dystopia. What other aspects inspired you to write the
Well, I just said what inspired me to write it and also explained how it worked. But
of course the actual writing of the book didn't just pop out of my head. It's 60 years
of thinking about it, architectural experience, and also a huge amount of reading
over many years, because I've read all the holy texts, if you like, of Modernism, and
frankly, I haven't thought they were very good for a long time. So I've incorporated a
lot of the early history of modernism into the book and questioned the basis of any
solidity within that early history that I don't think is really there. And I think that
what's happened since then with postmodernism, deconstructivism, parametricism,
and everything else, has just been more and more distortions of movements that
started out as pretty incoherent and became even more incoherent as they continued
on their path of destruction. And then I think the environmental degradation filled
me with despair because when I visited various cities in Europe and America, I was
horrified by the dehumanization of much of the environment and the colossal scale
of some of these huge structures that seemed to have no regard for human beings. So
I thought of the basically pernicious influence of modernism, and I thought it would
be an essential part of the book to point out its perniciousness and how destructive it
is. Yet his claims about the scientific, the rational, the mathematical, and the functio-
James Stevens Curl & Susan Wilson - Oxford Dictionary of Architecture 2016, (OUP)
nal all seemed completely false, because the result was the opposite of what was
So, all the false claims of modernist architects and architectural historians that
have been made from 1918 to the present day that do not correspond to reality at
all have been exposed by your book Making Dystopia, and their origins and the
ways in which they were made have been explained. In the course of writing this
book, while you were uncovering the truth, did you come up with anything else?
And how satisfied are you with the Czech edition of the book that we have in
front of us?
Obviously, reading and research has only confirmed what I originally suspected.
And then, as I delved deeper into the matter and read more and more absurd texts, I
realized that I was actually just scratching the surface to begin with. And when I
finally put the book together, you can see that it's a pretty big book. Still, I realize
that there's a lot more that could be said about the people responsible for this
disaster. At least I've started a kind of discipline that others can build on.
James Stevens Curl - Making Dystopia 2018, (OUP)
How are you satisfy with Czech edition of book we have in front of us?
I am very grateful to my Czech colleagues for their kind work and for putting this
together. It's really quite a faithful translation, although obviously I'm not very
familiar Czech, so I can't comment on the quality of the prose!
I will try to compare the two language versions in my second review of your book,
because the two languages are dierent.
I can't check every nuance of a sentence to see if it has the meaning I originally put
into it. Because language is very dicult. Nuances can be missed. Sometimes subtle
sarcasm or even twisting endings can be missed in translation.
That is why we now have two books side by side, one original and one Czech, and
we can read line by line and compare.
Well, Mr Obtrlik, the translator, if he found that he didn't understand the meaning of
a sentence or a paragraph, he wrote to me and I tried to explain to him in other
words how it actually worked. I hope he understood in the end.
So you communicated even during the translation?
Yes, of course: I said I would be happy to try to help as best I could. But sometimes it
was clear that there were diculties in translating what was really meant in the
English original. But that is perfectly understandable because, as I said, translating
into any other language is fraught with such diculties.
So if I ask you, as we talked about yesterday, do you think this book will be
identical, for example, in Chinese? Is that possible?
All translations are fraught with diculties and dangers where complete
misunderstanding can occur.
I understand. Still, it's amazing that such a translation exists. Let's also move on to
another language, for example, as you explained yesterday, German or French, and
perhaps also Chinese. And in the case of Chinese, in particular, I think your book
could have a huge impact if the Chinese world woke up and took a lesson from
your book. I think it could have a global impact.
Yes, that would be great! Of course, all negotiations for foreign language editions
have been through Oxford University Press, and it has to go through Oxford
University Press, not me. If someone approaches me, I can then pass it on to people
in Oxford. But basically the details have to be handled by the Press.
What was your most surprising response after the book's release?
The truth is that I was not surprised at all, because the modernists and their critics
didn't answer any of my questions. They simply insulted me. It was an ad hominem
insult, pure and simple, without trying to refute any of my arguments or anything
like that, it's just insulting. That's what totalitarians do: they don't engage in proper
argument. They just stick to their entrenched attitudes no matter how unsustainable
it is. And that, I'm afraid, is what has happened. But of course there were others,
more perceptive, who saw the importance of the book, saw that it would provoke
debate, and many others praised what they called as my courage to attack what was
essentially a position of stablishment, indeed establishment which I think has no
right to be there.
I see what you mean. Your book is provocative to the target groups and their
reaction, as you expected, has been confirmed. So the purpose has been fulfilled.
One of the worst aspects was that in the RIBA Journal, which is supposed to be the
journal of the professional institute, the editor at the time, as well as mocking my
book, rejected my work on the grounds that "I can draw a bit" and implied that I was
mentally handicapped.
But that's not true. You are an excellent artist and a great painter.
It's nice of you to say so: but he insulted me in the press. It was vicious and
Oh, really?
Yes, of course. And he described me as insane, in other words, crazy. Disagreement
with the fundamentalist quasi-religious cult of modernism will not be tolerated by
the bullying and bored people in charge. And then he indulged in a series of private
James Stevens Curl, portrait drawing from 2020, contour chalk drawing, by Jerey Morgan
tweets with his horrible friends, some of whom said I was going to die soon anyway.
So this is the editor of a so-called trade journal. It shows that this professional journal
is no longer fit to represent a professional institute.
This is undignified! How dare they do this to you? You're also a great artist. Did
they even see your work before they told you?
No, it just appeared in a monthly magazine.
It's nonsense.
And it was just an ad hominem insult, that's all.
I don't think such acts should happen.
Well I got an apology, a letter of apology from the then president of the RIBA. But I
said that it shouldn't have happened at all, that it was irresponsible for someone to
insult a scientist like that without addressing the issues that I had raised. (loud
modern music started playing in the hotel lobby) Another thing - noise pollution.
Ah yes, as Sir Roger Scruton once remarked, this ubiquitous modern music is just
noise that is annoying and distracting. So we have visual pollution, we have noise
It's true. It's horrible. So we've got visual pollution, noise pollution, and it's
That's right.
We have a corruption of language.
That's right, pollution is everywhere, nonsensical music with no meaning, and it's
intrusive and annoying.
Not exactly. Some so-called lyrics in pop music are very violent. (calling to the hotel
sta) Excuse me. Turn it o, please!
That nonsensical sound is really annoying. I'm a quiet person and I seek out
silence or nature. This noise is shallow and doesn't enrich me at all.
It's horrible and it's everywhere!
It's very disturbing.
It's everywhere. A month ago I was travelling around Yorkshire and Lancashire
looking at old buildings. And I went into a wonderful old pub that I've frequented
for years where they have good beer, good food, it's a very nice building and it's just
been taken over by new management. And the first thing they've installed there is
Muzak, reproduced music, which is absolutely terrible and spoils the atmosphere. I
don't want it. I used to use that pub because it didn't have that nonsense: I don't
think I'll bother going there anymore. But the problem is that it's getting harder and
harder to find places that aren't ruined by this reproduced noise. And it's not good,
it's completely mindless, it's ugly, it's like everything else associated with
Modernism, it's unbearable.
I also can't stand the ubiquitous noise, so I prefer to be in nature. They've finally
turned the noise o, so we're back to peace, hopefully. Can you please explain the
title of your book Making Dystopia?
The book is also subtitled The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism. I
mean that architects (with honest exceptions) decided to ruin environment. In other
words, they creating a dystopia. And I find it very weird, very strange, very sinister
that this cult of ugliness is gaining more and more followers, that it is now seen as
normal, it has survived all the criticism, and yet it goes on and gets worse and worse
and more and more expensive, and yet the buildings last only a very short time and
then have to be demolished. Buildings that don't work, that leak and that nobody
wants to live in are imposed on the rest of us by dogmatic architects who think in
abstractions and don't actually care about humanity at all. It is a huge waste of
resources. Why is this happening? And I suppose the explanation is, again, very
strange, because I think that what it is is actually a kind of quasi-religious
fundamentalist cult which brooks no opposition, that is self-referential. In other
words, architects criticizing and pat each other on the back, award prizes to those
most obscure projects, call themselves "starchitect" - "star architect", scratch each
other's backs when nobody likes their stu. For example, there are high level
walkways that are used by thieves, vandals and criminals, and there is always litter
around. In other words, it's an uncivilized environment created by barbarians and
should never have happened in the first place. It is the result, I repeat, of a quasi-
religious cult. And a quasi-religious cult, like all fundamentalist cults, cannot be
opposed with rational arguments because its adherents are brainwashed and cannot
be convinced of anything else.
Follow the dogmas and ignore everything else.
Yes, that's right. And you know how dangerous religious cults can be.
Oh, yes. But this is a really dangerous direction!
I think the secular quasi-religious cult has actually deified, made gods out of
monsters like Le Corbusier: it's actually blasphemy to make false gods, isn't it?
Yes, it is. But why bless a fake who has spontaneously appeared out of nowhere?
Can we not criticize this?
Well, they elevated him and the others above criticism.
Is there no better alternative or competition?
Oh, no, no, they're gods, you know. Well, I've dared to show that they have feet of
clay and that their pronouncements are worthless.
This is the perfect explanation of the title of this book.
I remember many years ago a friend of mine wrote a book, a short book, called
"How to Tear Down a City". And he dedicated it to one of the city councilmen who
was pushing for the destruction.
I understand. So here comes the real question. Who are the people who should
absolutely read this book? Which people should absolutely read this book?
I think one of the problems is that schools of architecture are not educational
institutions, they're indoctrination centres. People are indoctrinated. If they don't
follow the latest fashion line approved by the Modernists, they are not eligible. In
fact, it is not an educational facility at all. I think this book should be read by
everyone involved in decision-making about the built environment: politicians,
urban planners, architects. The trouble is that they are all so brainwashed to believe
the opposite of what I point out in the book: that whatever I would consider to be
destructive is actually a kind of mandatory perfection that should be followed. And
it clearly isn't. But it will continue as before until we completely change architectural
education. And that means that I really think we have to set up alternative
educational institutions and get the political support to recognize that. Modernists
are unable to use materials. They are unable to think, as an example, about how to
put bricks together to make a pattern.
For example, the brick pattern we saw in the church recently?
The other day at Paulus Kirke Church I pointed out how everything depends on the
way the bricks have been put together and used in dierent colours and how they
blend in with the stonework. Now you have to know what you're doing with
building materials and the Modernists have no idea. They design as if buildings
were made of cardboard and they use concrete ubiquitously. All because people like
Le Corbusier visited the Golden House in Rome, the great imperial palace in Rome.
And there are these concrete structures. And so he thought: "Well, that's amazing, the
bare concrete." And he just made it sort of the essence of his crazy philosophy that it
should be used. He completely ignored the fact that it was originally clad in marble,
frescoes, mosaics and other accessories. It was never intended to be seen as bare. But
the sight concrete was created almost as a part of religion. It had a stamp of a kind of
moral purity, which is nonsense. How can a material be morally pure? It's as absurd
as the analogy I made with Ruskin, who was another brain that moved in the
strangest ways. Ruskin argued that Romanesque mouldings are moral, but triglyphs
in the Doric order are immoral. That's ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense. This
man's thought processes were very odd (and I mentioned in my book that he was
one of the people Gropius pretended to admire). In fact, I doubt Gropius ever read a
word from Ruskin, who wrote damnable prose full of nonsense. Gropius also
claimed to have been influenced by William Morris, but he could not have been so
influenced because William Morris insisted on craft, handiwork and beauty. Gropius
and his gang never used the word beauty. They completely rejected it, even banned
its use. And what they claimed was a false association with the Arts-&-Crafts people
to give themselves a kind of respectable pedigree they didn't have.
So by William Morris do you mean that architects should know handwork, should
know how to compose and combine materials, should have practical knowledge,
They should know their history. They should use their hands to understand how
dierent materials are used. For that reason, look at this (pointing to the pictures in
the Making Dystopia book): it's all factory production, prefabrication in a factory.
And the crane is used to glue the prefabricated parts together.
Yes, and then the structure leaks.
And then it has to be demolished because the water that has seeped into the
structure is a source of mould, freezes in winter and causes cracks.
It is not only that, but also the fact that the metal rods inside rust, expand and erode
the concrete. Look at the number of bridges we now have to replace. We spend
billions of pounds trying to make proper mistakes. In the old days, bridges would
have lasted hundreds, even thousands of years. Look at some of the bridges the
Romans built. Or Charles Bridge in the Middle Ages, all made of stone. How many
reinforced concrete bridges fall?
Yes, I have heard many times about the collapse of Modernist bridges, and the
other day in London we were talking about the bridge disaster in Italy.
Yes, I'll remember that. You know, so many inconveniences that occurred with all
those metals. As a specific example, I'll give you one road in Cambridgeshire and
Huntingtonshire in England, the A14. They had to replace all the bridges, every last
one, because the concrete was crumbling. After a very short period of time.
The quality of Roman concrete buildings therefore lay not only in the actual
composition of the material, but also in the chosen method of design and
construction. That is, they used the earth's gravity and the compressive strength of
the stone.
Yeah, that too. But Roman concrete also contained no metal. They often used
volcanic ash as an aggregate to create concrete that was waterproof. But the concrete
in buildings like the Golden House in Rome was hidden from view from the inside.
It was covered with marble, mosaics, plaster and frescoes and other decorations.
And yet it lasted because it had no metal reinforcement and because it did not
contain all the other chemicals in modern concrete that ultimately caused it to fail.
Roman concrete buildings are therefore watertight, they strengthen with age and
the building structure takes advantage of compressive stresses and the laws of
gravity. Today's Modernist buildings use composite reinforced concrete structures,
are suspended, stressed in bending, and due to gravity, rain, and geological forces
soon collapse on their own, are demolished, or are expensive to maintain.
Yes. That's right.
So your book Making Dystopia was written between 2014 and 2018 and the Czech
translation was published in 2022.
Yes, it was. When Susan and I finished the dictionary, it was first published in 2015,
but we obviously finished it in 2014. A paperback edition followed in 2016 with one
or two minor changes. And I didn't start writing on Making Dystopia until after Susan
and I finished the Dictionary in 2014, and that was finished, I think, in 2017,
published in 2018, and the paperback followed in 2019. The Czech edition came out
in 2022.
And which chapters in this book do you think are more essential for the reader
who is going to open and read it?
Well, I think it has a coherent argument all along. I think it's important to understand
the feet of clay of people like Gropius, Miës van der Rohe and the so-called Le
Corbusier. And also to correct the falsity that has been perpetuated about these
people, that they were sort of quasi-democrats and rational human beings. That was
not the case. They were all about their own egos. Megalomaniacs.
As I understand it, the megalomania and the beginning of the problem can be
seen in Germany after the First World War. Since when is that the beginning?
Well, I really think, again, that the Bauhaus was built into a kind of pedagogical
institution that was considered breathtaking. But in fact it was a flop, as I pointed
out. There were people like Itten, who were absurdly obsessed with arcane religions,
who insisted that the students be subjected to compulsory enemas and that they
consume huge doses of garlic mash and that their skin be pierced to let everything
rotten out of their bodies: then they got infections and had to go to hospital. These
were write-o cases.
This happened in 1919, when the Weimar Republic was established at the same
Well, it wasn't just the collapse of everything in Imperial Germany, but the rise of all
sorts of strange religious cults, such as the cult of Madame Blavatsky, Mazdaism
(which was derived from ancient Iranian religion, Zoroastrianism, and so on). So,
well, that's what Itten & Co. were doing. There was an obsession with spiritualism
and things like that and a rejection of all conventional religion. And even, of course,
the acceptance of atheism.
Do you think that these circumstances were influenced, for example, by the book
Ornament and Crime by Adolf Loos?
He was very weird. Remember, he was a pedophile.
And he was under the protection of President Masaryk.
Yes, I know. What do you think of Masaryk, anyway?
As far as I know, he is probably an illegitimate son of Emperor Franz Joseph I
himself, but this has not been proven yet.
Are you serious? Oh, my God!
There was controversy about it, even a book was published about it. His great-
granddaughter wouldn't allow a DNA test.
Is it even possible that she was completely ignorant of his origins?
His mother was intelligent, educated and German-speaking. This refers to his
father, who was allegedly an illiterate and uneducated Slovak coachman.
But didn't he go to America during World War I?
Yes, he had a lot of support, especially from the American President Wilson.
However, his real reason for the destruction of Austria-Hungary may not have
been some noble national ideals at all, as we have been indoctrinated, but it may
have been his personal hatred of his biological father. And these and other
circumstances call into question the idealised image of his unwavering authority,
because in the end it could have been very dierent. And I certainly don't think
Masaryk should be worshipped or even deified, as unfortunately often happens.
That's very remarkable, I had no idea.
There is a book about it and also several papers. I think it may be one of the clues
that could be related to your book Making Dystopia.
It's not one of those sensational cases, is it? I mean, we have absurd books about Jack
the Ripper's killer, mere speculation, exaggerated claims about who he might have
been, including the royal family: it's not that kind of book, is it?
The book The Emperor's President by Glockner (Dundr) and Spácil investigates
the traces and traces the circumstances, including the Emperor's notes in his diary.
This is then followed by contributions by Štědron and other authors. DNA
analysis may confirm or refute this hypothesis. It has been widely debated among
Czech monarchists.
This is indeed very remarkable. Crown Prince Rudolf was a very special case, wasn't
he? He was constantly going around suggesting to various actresses that they
commit suicide together.
Just like the idea of creating an artificial state, of which Czechoslovakia is an
I mean, it was a fabricated state, wasn't it? But the total destruction after the end of
James Stevens Curl, portrait oil painting from 2020, by Jerey Morgan
the First World War was not just on the battlefield. It was the confusion that formed
in the formation of individual states and the giving away of parts of other states as
rewards. For example, the annexation of Transylvania to Romania, South Tyrol to
Italy, or the formation of Czechoslovakia.
Yes. That's right. Hungary lost the most territory. They broke o from the original
unified territories and became rival successor states, instead of maintaining a
grand empire with one monarch.
Austria-Hungary was a huge, enormous state. Part of today's Ukraine was also part
of this empire. Lvov or Lwów was Lemberg. Przemyśl, now in Poland, was a large
fortress, pulverized in the 1914-18 war.
All these events take place at the same time and in the same scenario and are
reflected in the architecture. That's why I associate them with your book Making
I think they're interconnected. I think it's all connected.
What obstacles were encountered in writing this book? Did you encounter any
I mean, I had some trouble. Unfortunately, the editor of Oxford University Press,
with whom I got on so well, had a severe stroke, and although he was a young man,
he was quite incapacitated. Some of the people I had to deal with in the final stages
of writing the book and submitting the pictures and text to Oxford were not friendly
to me or the book. In fact, it was stuck in the system for quite some time before it
was finally published. Fortunately, my original editor returned after a very long
time, and although he was physically quite damaged, mentally he was fine. And
finally he solved things and book was printed. I think a published book went very
Prof, Dr, DiplArch, DipTP, PhD
is a highly respected British architect, architectural historian, painter and designer
who has published dozens of books and hundreds of articles on architecture,
landscape architecture, urbanism and the classical tradition. He studied architecture
at Oxford, was for a time editor of the architectural journal Survey of London, and has
worked in both the private and public sectors. He was an advisor to the Scottish
Committee for the European Architectural Heritage Year (EAHY) in 1975 and
worked full-time in academia from 1978-1998. He is a Fellow of the Royal Irish
Academy (MRIA), the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (FRIAS), and the
Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA) and has received numerous awards and
honours, including the British Academy President's Medal for 'distinguished
services to the humanities', which recognised his 'contribution to the wider study of
architectural history in the UK and Ireland', and the Arthur Ross Award for
Excellence in the Classical Tradition (History and Writing) from the Institute of
Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA) in the USA. In 1991-2 and 2001-2 he was twice
Visiting Fellow at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge. His pioneering book, The
Art and Architecture of Freemasonry (1991), won the 1992 Sir Banister Fetcher Prize for
the best book of the year on architecture and the visual arts. He has published
extensively on classical, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian and funerary architecture, and
has written a comprehensive study, The Egyptian Revival (2005). He is co-author of
the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and a passionate critic of modernism, as he
makes clear in his book Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural
Barbarism (Oxford University Press, 2018, 2019). He has lectured in many places
James Stevens Curl, portrait bust from 1996, plaster by Alexander Stoddart,
court sculptor to King Charles III of Scotland.
including Antwerp, Armagh, Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton, Dublin, Bologna,
Boston MA, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardi, Chesterfield, Coimbra, Coleraine, Denver
CO, Edinburgh, Ghent, Glasgow, Den Haag, Halifax NS Canada, Leicester, London,
Londonderry, Manchester, Monaghan, Montréal, New Orleans, New York, Norwich,
Oxford, Louvre in Paris, St Andrews, Schwetzingen, Seville, Sheeld, Southampton,
Stamford, Washington DC and York. His most recently published books include The
Art and Architecture of Freemasonry: Architecture, Symbols and Influences and English
Victorian Churches: Architecture, Faith and Revival, both 2022. He is currently working
on a major book on classical architecture.
So it wasn't easy at all.
No, because there were specific people, and remember, they go to outside readers for
their opinions. I don't know who they were. There were two or three people
designated to read the text externally, supposed professionals. I know that one of the
people reading the book was very hostile to the book, for ideological reasons. He
was a member of that cult and was very unfriendly to the book.
One of the readers?
What we call "pre-readers" were two or three people outside the press who were
charged with reading the text. And one of them supported me, but there was another
one who obviously didn't support me and was strongly opposed for ideological
They didn't want this book published?
No, no, of course not. So it was quite dicult for a while. But in the end, I think it
turned out well. And then I was invited to America. I lectured in America. I did book
signings in Philadelphia. I stayed in New York. In New York I gave a lecture at that
excellent university club by McKim, Mead and White. And then I went to
Philadelphia. And then I went to Washington, D.C.
I made Czech subtitles for the video recording of your expert lecture at the
National Civic Art Society and ICAA Mid-Atlantic conference in Washington,
That's great! Thank you. And then I went to New Orleans, which was unusual
because the city was flooded. It was terrifying. Terrible humidity and heat, very
uncomfortable. And then I went on to Denver, Colorado, where I signed a lot of
copies of the book and got an extraordinarily good reception. They provided a very
good dinner at the club where I gave my talk. And then I went to Boston,
Massachusetts. And after Boston I spent the day with my Czech friends whom I have
known since the sixties and who now live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I remember you describing it to me.
Well, these are the people I knew in the 1960s who returned home at the time of the
invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops and allegedly absurdly claimed to be "saving
socialism". My friends are now American citizens.
So from that perspective, is your book more appreciated and accepted in America?
It was received with great respect in America and was very positively reviewed.
Overall, it appears to have been received with more enthusiasm in America and on
the European continent than in contemporary Britain.
But I recall you mentioning in our correspondence that something had happened
in the British Isles. Is your book less well received there than in continental
Europe and America?
The modernist cult is more aggressively established in Britain.
More aggressive than in continental Europe?
I think there is more resistance to the cult on the continent. There is no such thing in
Britain. People are still brainwashed and things like that.
So what is generally defectible about architecture today? If someone sees your
book, Making Dystopia, they might be surprised, because they've gotten used to
the idea that all the ugliness is standard.
Actually, I think it's part of looking with your ears. You only see what someone tells
you. Instead of forming your own judgement with your eyes, you only perceive
what is the result of your brainwashing. And that's why I think that because there is
such a huge amount of ugliness around us, people have become desensitized. I don't
think they're equipped enough to make aesthetic judgments on their own anymore.
They are very bullied and intimidated. And don't forget that a lot of these
Modernists are very violent.
Very violent?
Yes, violent. It makes people think in a dierent way. It's like enforcement. It's
Like ubiquitous advertising?
Partly, but it's much worse, especially in education. People are told what to think.
And they're ridiculed if they don't think such things are wonderful. They're
ridiculed, so they keep quiet. They are afraid to say what they think because they no
longer have the courage to stand up to these people.
Are they tired of it?
They're basically scared. That's exactly what I consider to be acts of enforcement and
bullying. It's like a bunch of brown shirts beating everyone around to make them
believe something. I call them the Commissars of Modernism.
What challenges will face next generation of architects if they start collaborate and
learn from your book?
Well, I hope that it will help them to be committed to their own decision and to see
that there is an alternative kind of contemporary architecture which may not at all be
parametricism, deconstructivism or any of these isms, but may in fact be truly
rational and based on reasonable planning, on the use of materials that are applied
with intelligence and sensitivity.
Do you think that the current globalism, as you mentioned, the international style,
do you think it's really its job to make this global world more interconnected?
No, it's to impose uniformity everywhere. And of course, it doesn't matter at all what
the climatic conditions are or anything else.
Is this the goal of globalism? Who benefits from it?
Yes, it is one of the goals of globalism. Who benefits? Greedy architects who can't do
any better.
But someone must be very interested in building something like this.
The point is that these people are considered heroes, so-called star architects. The
media makes them almost gods. As I said, it's blasphemy. And as for the politicians
and business entities, the big global companies that are only interested in money,
their apparatchiks think it would be profitable to have extremely expensive
Modernist projects because it helps their advertising profile.
And they like it?
No, they don't like it. But the media tells them it's great. You don't think they have
eyes to see anything? They're all opportunists. They're all about money and power.
The emperor has no clothes. The media, the media reptiles, insist that the emperor
has a beautiful dress when he is actually naked.
The media reptiles, including the school system, all those teachers, the whole
system that teaches this style?
They're all corrupt. Everything has been corrupted.
So in the hope of a better future, after someone who teaches architecture in
schools, practices architecture, or sits on a city council reads your book, do you
ever hope for a better future?
I don't have much hope, because everywhere I look I see disconnectedness,
everything unrelated to everything else. There is no cohesion, no urbanism. Look at
the disjointedness of some of the large housing estates that I describe and illustrate.
Just today I saw from the outside and was also inside the National Opera House
in Oslo, which is promoted in the media and also in lectures at architecture
schools as an iconic and famous building. But I have to say with certainty that it is
a truly horrible thing.
It is. Yes.
Someone in a YouTube video piled ordinary binders on top of each other or just
casually crumpled paper and "created" a final model of architecture.
And all you have to do is get a computer to build it. And these things are built.
They're always much more expensive than the estimates. Look at the Scottish
Parliament. It cost ten times more than the estimates!
Not only is it much more expensive, but it's retardedly trivial. If Modernists claim
that the traditionalists' classical architecture is more costly because it contains art
and ornaments, compared to unsustainable materials and buildings of
Modernists, aren't these more expensive?
How can buildings that fail as architecture, that leak, that don't work and that have
to be demolished soon after completion be cheaper than architecture that lasts and
works in all aspects, and especially as architecture? Much of of what is being
imposed at present is absolutely not architecture at all. And then, you see, the
Modernists claim that Classical Architecture is tainted because of lies about the
National Socialists: they insist that National Socialism is "right-wing", and of course
it is not. The National Socialist German Workers' Party was firmly on the left.
And if you look at how all the technology, new appliances and new ideas are
developing, what do you think, for example, about the fact that some buildings
today are created by computers, by artificial intelligence, with all the errors that
cannot even be controlled. Where will all this evolve in the future?
It gets worse: it's madness. It's absolute madness! So there you have it. I mean, I've
forensically dissected the matter. I tried to explain what happened. I think the whole
mechanism of how buildings are promoted and the way some architects are made
into deities has gone mad. I think all these things need to be reviewed and changed.
We cannot continue the way we are doing it.
But according to your book and your conviction, you think that we should start
with changes in architectural education because these schools produce architects,
I think it has to start in education, yes.
Schools of architecture are publicly funded and strive to produce results that can
satisfy the public and taxpayers. In reality, however, the results fall far short of
their expectations. Have I got that right?
If you'd let me look at it for a minute, I really should have gotten the English edition.
I mean the so-called "star architects" of the original deities of modernism, Le
Corbusier, Gropius, Miës van der Rohe. I think it would be correct to call them all
full Hubris, but in the end after Hubris there is the Nemesis, the goddess of revenge.
And I think we will see revenge because these buildings will fail.
Hulme Crescents, Manchester, by modernist firm Wilson & Womersley, once the most dysfunctional
housing estate in Europe, demolished.
Photo from 1996, MEN (Manchester Evening News) Media Archive
Blobism is in fashion today. And even worse, and on a much larger scale, is the
disrespect for the original historical construction. As I showed in my presentation
on the almost completed giant building in the centre of Prague by Zaha Hadid. It
is created by computers without human scale, without details.
Yes. Of course. That is correct. It's terrible. It is absolutely horrible! I think it gets
even worse. You can imagine that back in fifties, sixties and seventies the buildings
were pretty bad, but Oh, my God!, I think it's gone mad now.
So would you support the idea that there might be an alternative in architecture
Unfortunately, I think that most architecture schools are currently unable to educate
students to think. Because all techniques are based on terror, bullying and
brainwashing. That's not education.
But contemporary state schools of architecture already exist. How about splitting
these schools in half, with the traditionalist part of the school taught by experts
specializing in classical architecture?
Most of them have cancelled history classes. Personally, I think the people who run
architecture schools are intellectually very weak. And they simply follow party lines.
They are like gauleiters or commissars. No profession is as politicized as
What about sculpture and the arts and crafts that come with architecture?
Not coming. It's no longer coming.
There is therefore very little hope for the future.
Yes, I'm afraid it is.
That's why words like Making Dystopia and Architectural Barbarism appear in
the title.
Let me ask you about something we discussed together on the conference panel.
Can you please explain how the introduction of the metric system has led to the
dehumanization of architecture?
I think it's just one aspect of the triumph of abstraction over reality and human,
humane architecture. Metric system is based on dividing distance from the North
Pole to the equator into millions of meters. Now, instead of being based on a foot
divided by twelve, with subdivisions of each twelve, which by the way can be
divided by three as well as by two, a more rigid abstraction of the metric system
cannot be divided exactly by three. It can be divided into two, but not into three.
And since the unit of measurement, the metre, has no connection with the humanity
of the imperial foot, which again had the advantage of being divisible by three, it is
another sign of alienation from human values and human beings, whereas the old
foot-inch system was connected with human. Incidentally, this system is still in use
in the United States. You can split any size, even a fairly small size, into three in the
imperial system, but you can't do it in metric system, not exactly, without having
repeating decimals. Metric system is another manifestation of dehumanization and
abstraction. And Modernism is full of these abstract ideas that never have anything
to do with humans.
So, if we build two equally tall buildings side by side, one of which is a
skyscraper with many floors and the other is a cathedral that is divided into three
parts, then...
Some of the earliest skyscrapers were successfully built by Americans in a sort of
base, center and top system. In other words, classical principles were applied. The
classical language was infinitely adaptable; it could be applied to skyscrapers.
The metric system therefore dehumanizes architecture.
The metric system is just another example of how architecture and construction and
the built environment have fallen victim to dehumanization and abstraction instead
of reality and a measurement system that is based on the human figure rather than
abstraction. I am referring to the x-millionths division of the distance from the North
Pole to the equator. What the hell does that mean? How does that relate to it? And I
still think in feet and inches because it makes me feel more comfortable. And I know
plenty of craftsmen who prefer feet and inches.
I used Viennese footprints and thumbprints when making sculptures or
designing a villa. It made sense: measures divisible by two and three.
Two days ago we visited the impressive Norwegian folk architecture, including a
wooden church. Can you describe a relation between small volume Norwegian
wooden column church outside and large interior?
Well, I think it's because when you look at the exterior, it's a mixture of very small
things, like porches, sort of a cloister around them, bits of decoration with dragons
and things like that. It's very complicated, whereas the space inside is quite simple.
So I think it's the amount of geometric shapes and pieces that are sticking out all
over the place that makes a church feel strangely small, and then you walk in and it's
a really majestic space inside.
We also visited the Oslo City Cemetery together. What was interesting for you?
It was another example of what we call a garden cemetery, which evolved from an
18th century English garden with several buildings. The French then began to create
gardens punctuated by eye-pleasing buildings, often concerned with memorising. In
England, of course, there are extensive gardens with mausoleums. For example,
there is a huge mausoleum by Hawksmoor at Castle Howard and another beautiful
mausoleum by Wyatt at Brocklesby Park in the north of England. The French built
an English garden in Paris and created the Bois des Tomb ea ux, the forest of tombs. But
these are just tomb-style buildings. And then some French theorists thought it would
be more interesting and more powerful to bury real bodies in gardens. And so
English-style gardens were created, developing the idea of the tomb in the garden.
This is also supported by some English poets known as cemetery poets, Edward
Young, Thomas Gray and Robert Blair. And Young's Night Thoughts have been read
all over Europe, translated into every European language, including Turkish and
Maltese: they deal with life, death and mortality, melancholy and memory. And then,
in the early 19th century, the French decided to acquire very large plots of land in the
suburbs because of the disastrous state of the cemeteries in Paris, which were
frighteningly overcrowded. And there they would create a huge garden cemetery,
which they would then decorate with monuments for people to admire, so that the
Père-Lachaise cemetery, the father of the garden cemetery, was created. The result was
that in the 19th century no metropolis anywhere in Europe or America could
function without a new cemetery. And they were often combined with gardens, this
being an example. Oslo's model cemetery is relatively modest: it is not as grand as,
for example, Glasgow's Necropolis, London's Kensal Green or the great Italian
Cimitero Monumentale, such as those in Milan and Rome. There is, of course, the
Certosa in Bologna and the Staglieno in Genoa.
Yes, in Bologna, and you also mentioned, I think, Vienna?
Ah, yes, Vienna has its Wiener Zentralfriedhof. But it's later, actually quite late. It's
spectacular, but it's not in the first wave. Père-Lachaise is from 1804, in this period.
And then Kensal Green in London, 1833, Liverpool, 1825. The last one was badly
damaged by vandals and the city council, which did more damage than the Luftwae
after the 1939-45 war.
Really the city council?
Oh, yes. Philistines. However, England and Scotland have some wonderful examples
of 19th century cemeteries that are well worth a visit. Edinburgh has one such early
example. Greyfriars Cemetery was built in the 16th century because the Scots, being
very aggressive Protestants, separated the living from the dead. This created a
cemetery that was not connected to a church. Well, because one of the central things
of Catholicism was prayers for the dead. And that was forbidden in extreme
Protestantism. And so it would help keep the practice alive if the dead were seen too
close to the living. That's why Scottish cemeteries have their own character.
Could you explain the relations between English Gothic Revival churches and
Central European Baroque churches?
I think both need to be seen in the light of the anti-religious reformation. After the
devastation caused by the Thirty Years' War, there was a massive programme of
church building and restoration, particularly in Germany and central Europe, where
whole families of architects, sculptors, fresco painters, cabinetmakers and so on,
created magnificent masterpieces of Baroque and Rococo churches. This was
encouraged by the Counter-Reformation, which wanted a kind of visual and
theatrical revival of Catholicism to win back the faithful after the disasters of the
Thirty Years' War, which had decimated the population of Germany itself and, I
think, the Czech lands. In the southern part of Germany in particular, there are some
absolutely stunning, exquisitely beautiful Baroque churches. And that involved
training people to work with plaster, frescoes, the complex geometry of ellipses and
interconnected ellipses and things like that. So you had whole families like the
Zimmermanns, the Dientzenhofers, the Assams, etc. As for the Gothic Revival in
England, the Gothic had to be relearned by architects and craftsmen after centuries
of Classicism. And there was also a religious revival to emphasize Catholic traditions
within the Church of England. Let's not forget that they were all working in the
classical style, classical stucco and so on. And almost from one day to the next
people had to re-train themselves in Gothic, Gothic ornament, Gothic colour, Gothic
joinery, Gothic sculpture and so on. And so almost all of the architects who were
involved in the most successful aspects of the Gothic Revival, which I'm going to
illustrate, were high-ranking church dignitaries, deeply religious, who were imbued
with knowledge and scholarship about church history and what the various parts of
churches were for. Under extreme Protestantism, and after three centuries of Puritan
iconoclasm, few knew the purpose of such things as the sedilia, the seats for the
clergy, the piscina where the holy vessels were washed after Mass, the lectionary,
and the like. All this had to be re-learned in the 19th century. Therefore, their
meaning also had to be explained, through what came to be called ecclesiology.
As far as I know, Gothic architecture kept its secrets.
Yes, that was a by-product. But in the great church building phase of the 19th
century, not only the architects had to learn Gothic, but also the craftsmen, especially
the artisans who did the work. You had whole groups of people working on stained
glass windows who had to relearn the art from scratch. Sculptors, masons,
stonemasons and others were retrained.
Do you think that resuscitating the tradition of Freemasonry in sacred architecture
can positively benefit the design of contemporary architecture?
I think Freemasonry was very important in the 18th century and early 19th century
for various reasons associated with the Enlightenment. I don't think it is significant
today because most modern Freemasons know very little about the architectural
symbol. I think Freemasonry was extremely important in Britain, America and
Europe. Look at Mozart. If you compare Mozart's Masonic music with his church
music, Masonic music is much better. It is much more deeply felt. And the two great
masses that Mozart wrote, the great mass in C minor and the Requiem: both are
unfinished. So he was bored with one and too ill to finish the other.
What are you doing now? Is it a planned book on classical architecture? What
should your fans look forward to?
Yes, this is a forthcoming new book on classical architecture. And I should have it
ready by the end of the year. I published a book on classical architecture in 1992. A
second edition came out in early 2000, published in London and New York. Norton
Publishing did it, it went out of print for a while, and all the rights came back to me,
so I figured this book was too good to let it sit. Unfortunately, the original book
wasn't stored on the computer, but Nicola Willmot-Noller, who has worked with me
on some of my other projects, scanned it, so I'm now working on those scans,
updating the book, adding illustrations and other things, and it's turning out a very
comprehensive volume indeed.
Is there a technical fault?
Well, it's just part of the electronic process. So I have to read everything carefully to
make sure and fix it. And then I edit it and add more illustrations and improve the
glossary. And then, of course, it will have to be indexed. But finally John Hudson,
who published my English Victorian Churches: architecture, faith and revival in 2022, has
oered me a contract. So I hope to finish it by the end of December, and then it will
be up to John to publish it.
So what is your message to today's world of modernist architecture in terms of the
the principles of classical tradition, Gothic revival, Egyptian revival, Freemasonry,
I would encourage all architects to get educated and read up on history and study
precedents. Because if you don't understand the precedent and the language you
learn doesn't express anything, it's meaningless. In other words, it's so abstract, it
doesn't mean anything. How can you create an architecture that has a vocabulary,
that has syntax, that has coherence, or anything else? And I think without education
and without knowledge, we get what we deserve. Waste.
Yes, this is very visible nowadays. We only get what we deserve. How are your
views received by contemporary architects who are involved in modernist
architecture? Do you think that some of the Modernists may convert to your side?
I think if people are brainwashed, it's very dicult. As I said earlier, you're dealing
with a fundamentalist, humorless, quasi-religious cult. People who are brainwashed
by extremist, fundamentalist cults cannot convert easily. The damage is already
done. You ask how my views are received by Modernists: they are of course ignored
or devalued.
I understand. It's an unfortunate situation. How did your book do in Britain and
in other countries and dierent social classes?
Well, there is another point I would like to make. When the robber barons, if I may call them
that, of the trade unions, particularly in the mining industry and in some of these industries,
who behaved like dictators when their power was broken a few years ago, unfortunately there
was no attempt to retrain the workers who were displaced and lost their jobs in mining and
heavy industry and all similar industries. Too many skilled and semi-skilled British workers
were thrown on the scrap heap instead of being retrained for other trades. The result is that
we now have perhaps a second and third generation that is completely dependent on a culture
of dependency, where they are on the dole from the state, and they do not know what work is.
And that, I think, is a serious problem. And it is all very well to destroy the robber barons, but
Plan B should have been to retrain the displaced workers. Because there's a very large section
of the population who don't even feel part of the state anymore and are far removed
Thamesmead, London, GKC architects' department, used by Kubrick as a backdrop for his film A
Clockwork Orange, a district now also largely demolished.
Author of the photo: Geo Brandwood
from the power brokers in the government in London. I think you have a potentially
dangerous situation, especially if you are forced to live in places like dystopian hell
holes where the unfortunate inhabitants retaliate by demolishing the environment
they have been thrown into.
Yes, people must feel very unhappy and hopeless there. It's no pleasure to be
there, is it?
Yes, that's right. Of course, what I have stated is a generalization. There are people
who have managed to escape out, who have reinvented themselves, gotten out of a
tight spot, but a very large number of them have actually been thrown on the scrap
heap. There were some individuals who were fortunate enough to be able to get out.
The professions and media are largely controlled by Modernists, so my work has
been condemned by so-called special interest groups intent on giving us all "more of
the same" or worse, and of course the desensitized population, intimidated by the
acceptance of the unacceptable, will hear nothing of my work, but will simply
demolish in protest the supposed paradise to which they have been thrown into. The
commentators who saw the point of my book were thinkers, concerned historians
and writers who were not afraid of being ostracized by the establishment. It was
interesting how some English writers had no courage, hesitantly chose neutrality
and did not want to engage, so afraid were they of rocking the boat, so that the most
positive views of my work were expressed mostly outside the British Isles or by the
few independently minded people who were not intimidated into silence by
"received opinion" and the "party line of totalitarianism".
The day after tomorrow, the 17th, is a public holiday in Oslo, and the celebration
of the Norwegian monarchy will be similar to the coronation in London, where I
When the Germans invaded Norway without warning in 1940, the royal family had
to flee because they might be captured and used for propaganda purposes. They
tried to settle in Sweden, but King Gustav Adolf V was very pro-German, so it was
clear that their presence in Sweden was not welcome. Because the Crown Princess
and the Prince had met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt before the war, a meeting
that went very well, the President arranged for a ship to take them to the United
States, where they spent most of their time. But the Crown Prince was in London
with the King and the government in exile, while a Nazi government was formed
here under a Norwegian collaborator. The current King, by the way, is almost as old
as I am.
You've had a successful response to your book, Making Dystopia in America, and
you've had an adventurous journey there.
After my American marathon, I was completely exhausted. First I had a long flight
from New York, then a horrible train ride down to Philadelphia. Terrible. The creepy
Pennsylvania Station, which is like a horrible hell of a rat underground (the great
terminal and masterpiece by McKim, Mead & White was destroyed, an act of
cultural vandalism, encouraged of course by Gropius, who was a nobody compared
to the great architects of the American Beaux-Arts classical tradition, and who wasn't
even fit to lick the boots of masters like McKim, Mead & White). And on from
Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. And then from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans.
Through floods and humidity. Then Denver, Colorado. And then a huge cross-
country flight from Denver right across a completely empty landscape. I had a lay-
James Stevens Curl and Emil Adamec, joint photo after a conversation
in a hotel lobby in Oslo, 2023, archive of the author (EA)
over in Detroit, "which is bad news". Then Boston. And then I flew back from Boston
airport. I spent the day with my dear Czech friends in the New England countryside,
who of course are perfectly happy in America. They bought a beautiful old farm in
New England and started working on it. They had to straighten it out because the
wooden structure was leaning quite alarmingly to one side. They found a lot of
arrowheads and other weapons from the Indian wars in the garden. But they did a
beautiful job. It looks absolutely amazing. And they have a beautiful garden. It's a
very nice space. And there are craftsmen there. Blacksmiths, carpenters and so on.
Real people who work with their hands.
When I sculpted in Maine, I also saw traditional craftsmen.
I hear it's very pleasant in Maine. I've never been there myself. I've traveled in parts
of rural Virginia and Massachusetts. I found some of the coastal towns in
Massachusetts quite interesting. It was a little unnerving because some of the older
buildings looked so English, but they're kind of longer. The proportions are weird
and stretched out. In America, I was received very politely and warmly everywhere I
went: it was really warm and cordial.
In a moment we will move to the conference venue, where you will present your
second paper, this time on Gothic Revival in England.
I will explain the Gothic Revival from the point of view that it started in the 1930s. In
fact, however, it began a little earlier, because the Gothic was already manifest in the
18th century and even in the 17th century. Gothic in some places, such as Oxford,
never really died out. It just continued through the 17th century into the 18th
I visited Oxford a few days ago and was impressed. It is a very impressive city.
Did you work in Oxford when you were young?
Yes, I worked at St. John's and All Saints' Universities.
So hopefully they will shine and not be ruined by the modernism I have already
seen in Oxford.
I have to admit, terrible things were happening in Oxford. Parts of the centre have
been destroyed: Cornmarket, for example. It's terrible because there's a Saxon church
in Cornmarket. Before the conquest, you know, before 1066.
I wish you every strength in your tireless work and thank you very much for
providing this interview.
It's nice to meet you. I hope the conversation was useful.