What future for Traditional Architecture in Europe in the new multipolar world order?

I publish on what was supposed to be my speech at the TAG24 conference (Traditional Architecture Gathering/Group 2024), which was set aside when I was asked to change subject to participate in a debate with the plasterer Patrick Webb, the architect Jack Duncan flanked by fellow stonemasons, and entrepreneur Micah Springut.

Let's say that it was not exactly good manners for the latter to "throw the stone" at us calling us anti-Semitic fascists and then "hide the hand" by refusing to participate in the debate, thus denying us the possibility of defending ourselves from the defamatory and gratuitous accusations made against us. However, while waiting for the TAG to release the videos of that conference, I am publishing the content of the originally planned intervention, completing and expanding it, taking advantage of the no longer required need to stick to the tight schedule of the online debate.

The International Style is the style of liberal globalization

What we call "modern architecture" today is the result of Pax Americana and incorporates that sort of metabolization of formal socialist programs by the capitalist system which already occurred in the 70's and 80's of the 20th century. It is substantially and in broad terms the evolution of the Corbuserian white cube into the Miesian glass cube which then morphed through the Venturian flat building, and then in the Zahahadidian parametric tower block of nowadays.

Semiologically we live in a post-post-modernism wrapped around itself in what is effectively the Globalist and stateless Architecture of "Western values", that is, Anglo-American liberal capitalism. The values ​​it expresses, the constructive and profit logic adopted are its own, heavily based on supply chains, i.e. the use of global supply and labor value chains in order to exploit comparative advantages.

The result is the same architecture in New York, Milan, Ankara or Beijing...
With the appearance of the multipolar geopolitical model we are experiencing changes in supply chains, in global trade flows and in currency arrangements that derive from the changed relationships of military and technological power between the actors on the international chessboard.
These upheavals of the global international relations largely originate from the intrinsic consequences of the choices (read: mistakes) of Western liberal capitalism of the last forty-fifty years, and particularly the last twenty-five.
"Civilization-States": culturally self-sufficient, with a long history and complex identity, they possess their own humanistic and philosophical "cosmogony", which leads them to their own characteristic action on the international level.
Many rapidly developing States are involved in this process of reorganization of the economy and global alliances, and they aggregate around a small number of more influential countries such as China, Russia, Iran and India whose peculiarity is being "civilization-States": culturally self-sufficient, with a long history and complex identity, they possess their own humanistic and philosophical "cosmogony", which leads them to their own characteristic action on the international level.
Obviously these features have always been expressed in local and traditional architecture, which in various measures and cases is constituted by the original cultural substratum that survived the colonizing overwritings (*) of globalist culture, contrary to what happened with Western building traditions, in general, and European ones in particular.
(*)It would be interesting to ask those who vandalize monuments to protest against "colonization" why they don't attack McDonald's restaurants, the offices of multinationals or investment funds, and so on...


The BRICS opportunity

Given the premises, we investigate the ongoing trends to understand the evolution of a New World Order with winners and losers... from the point of view of traditional architecture.
The broad areas covered by our analysis are the so-called "collective West" block and the BRICS+non-aligned area.
Identity is a fundamental element of Traditional Architecture and its revival.
Starting with the latter: the new economic impulse - due to technological sharing, multilateral treaties, energy agreements, etc. - combined with the newfound relative political autonomy will, in my opinion, open the way to a rediscovery of the identity of the involved people/countries. Let us remember that Identity is a fundamental element of Traditional Architecture and its revival.
But how will traditional architecture return to the multipolar world? Just in a formal way? Or even a substantial, constructive and material one? The intuition is that it will be mostly formal and that in general the use of recent industrial materials and processes will remain, and this is because in the "status symbol of progress" traditional materials are abandoned -at least in an initial phase. We will probably witness the formation of local styles resulting from the hybridization of traditional forms with nowaday's "international style" constructions, while small architects and craftsmen will seek the authenticity of materials and forms.
The favorable economic context (or a little more favourable, in case of a very likely global economic crisis) will certainly facilitate all this.
The prediction is therefore: a new economic dynamism will lead to the rediscovery of cultural identity and therefore to the reappearance of traditional forms and typologies in public and private architecture, opening a formal cycle that could last decades.

Europe's decline

Europe, on the other hand, goes through hard times -weak and fragmented (irony of the EU, the United €urope), a NATO which does not accept military defeat in Ukraine on the very battlefield it has chosen, disastrous demography, rotten economy, rusty industry, divided society, fading identity, uncontrolled immigration... Everything goes to hell, while the €urocrats concoct new "green" rules, sanctions on Russia and cumulative inflation increased by a good 20-30% structurally, in the midst of the delusions of sociopathic warmongers who want to (make us) go to war while European industry has been devastated by decades of austerity and deindustrialization due to "globalizing dynamics" (in a nutshell: relocating to China to pay workers less and depriving any John-Smith-metalworker of an instrument of class struggle, Work, when it was convenient; now instead, everyone is crying because «there is China»).
We are paying the price for the globalist policies followed for more than 30 years..
All this, in our area, leads to less money available for customers, whether public or private. The prices of building materials rise, their availability decreases, energy prices almost double, as do the prices of imports (as you know, between Covid lockdowns, self-sanctions and Houtis with rockets, goods no longer circulate as before!). "Green" taxes mainly affect buildings, especially housing and workspaces, and this leads to an increase in expenses, etc. These are the well-known regressive policies of European Union (wage deflation due to the lack of economic policy levers in the hands of individual states, and the contemporary political refusal of integral debt management by the ECB, which make the Eurozone the most economically asphyxiated area on the planet), which regressive policies add to the complete European cultural submission to Anglo-American neoliberalism (nothing personal, dear fellow Traditional Anglo-Americans).

This is the economic paradigm which determines the availability of resources that are channeled into the architectural field.
The architectural panorama in Europe and its future outlook are therefore quite bleak for traditional architecture, with some controversial trends to examine.
  • increased use of renewable building materials,
  • "green" buildings and lack of supply of renewable building materials,
  • risk of an elitist traditional architecture,
  • formal trivialization.
•If energy costs, "green" taxes and self-sanctions increase the cost of products such as steel, concrete, bricks and insulation panels, it is legitimate to expect an increase in the use of local materials of natural origin such as for example hemp (blocks, insulation), straw (roofing, insulation), timber, lime and earth (plasters, floors...), which is certainly positive from the point of view of the environmental impact of construction waste (I don't hide my skepticism regarding energy budgets and CO2 footprint -and I admit that within the Polemicarc collective there are different opinions, but this is my post, and therefore...).
•The shortage, which was very acute for a certain period, or the high price of construction materials following the sanctions, clashes with legislative obligations and this causes a further increase in prices. An example is the French regulation RE2020 (also here): it heavily encourages the use of timber, only that the Russian one (the best, the one we used to import) is "sanctioned" and therefore the European offer is not enough.
The Scandinavians therefore find themselves forced to loosen forestry regulations in order to supply the EU Commission's "green" plans with timber (always in quotation marks, and thanks to this article by the Polemical Architect we know why). This may work for a while, but if trade with the Russians doesn't resume quickly we will have problems satisfying the "mandatory" demand for certain materials, or offering them at decent prices.
•The increase in inequalities within society which is even more accentuated in this phase leads the upper classes to have an extraordinary availability of wealth, a portion of which is reinvested in real estate projects. A considerable part of them are in traditional style (think of Poundbury, a project by King Charles of England) - because yes, the truly rich keep the "international style" for the plebeians. The scarcity of supply (small number of traditional architects and craftsmen) combined with the scarcity of demand and its concentration in the most prestigious social strata automatically determine a market niche characterized by high prices and quality, which however outprices the less well-off social groups, the which are aimed at with "architecture for masses".
The reinforcement of this trend, which has already been present for some time, could undermine the efforts made so far by the Traditional community to democratize the use and knowledge of local architectural traditions.
•On the other hand, while traditional forms and materials slide further and further away from the reach of ordinary people, increasingly banal, trivial and standardized solutions take hold among the "mainstream" common people. Sure, the natural materials mentioned above will be used, but to replicate an endless series of boring, stereotyped and characterless boxes. We know this, because this already happens. Building materials change under economic, regulatory and fiscal pressures, but most of all according to fashion wich is mainstream by definition. And if the new materials, together with their installation, are more expensive than the previous ones (and at the moment this is the case), it is even worse.
We had already denounced this state of affairs some time ago and the trend shows no signs of stopping, confirming that we were right!
The conclusion of all this is that I expect a revival of traditional architecture, at least "State" architecture, in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America at the very least, while in the so-called Eurozone we will experience a new pass of abrasive globalist paste which homogenizes the European urban fabric even more.
If you are architects, artists or traditional craftsmen, my advice is to start looking far away, towards other continents where you can unleash your potential instead of being crushed by the bureaucratic and deflationary leviathan: work will be elsewhere!
The facade of the new Indian parliament
Traditional and contemporary language at Shanshui Firewood Garden, China
Contemporary rammed earth in Accra, Ghana
Pure traditional architecture in Jordan
...if all this were done in Europe it would be defined as "fascism" by the very liberal (progressive AND conservative liberal!) subculture responsible for the collapse.
Instead, these things are preferred, which are unnecessarily expensive and architecturally redundant:
...when it would be much simpler (but much less woke and virtue-signalling) to do this:
(Wooden structure, hemp blocks, straw or wood fiber insulation = Superior performance, building quality, healthy living, self-repair, zero disposal costs. Thanks to @BurchertMichael for the pic)
But what can we Traditionals, united in an international network of laboratories, summer schools, associations, shared projects and conferences, do? We are like the embers that burn under the ashes until the morning. Our task is to preserve knowledge and culture, raising new generations of traditional architects, craftsmen and artists, "creating monasteries", as our Round Table vice president, Noé Morin, says. It is up to the people to regain control of politics, it is up to politics to regain control of the economy, it is up to the economy to create favorable conditions for the economic and cultural growth for countries and peoples, which passes through the continuation of the identity and of traditions expressed through -but not only-the built environment.

The Polemicarc Group (which now has 4 members in Flanders, 3 of whom are Italians or of Italian origin) is fighting together with the Round Table to obtain these results. Support our initiatives and participate in our activities!
Posted: 22/06/2024 19:14 — Author(s): Arc_Riccardo


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