New York

Leon Krier

Max Protetch Gallery

“The Reconstruction of the European City, 1967–1980” is a project of drawings and manifestos by Leon Krier; it is also an extraordinary critique of modern architecture, indeed of modern capitalism. The drawings show the European city (specifically Paris, West Berlin and Luxembourg) in detail and in total, in neo-Beaux Arts cityscapes and town plans. The “reconstruction” of each city is according to street, square and quartier (the prototype does seem to be pre-Hausmann Paris). More importantly, it calls for seeing the classical architectural mode as the only standard. Such, in brief, is the project. Now, is it a return or a departure? Is it reactionary or radical?

To Krier modern architecture is the monster of modern capital. Like capital, it is hostile to community, precedent and place—it has rent the fabric of the city, zoned it into a monolithic, abstract no-man’s-land. The public disgust with the city is to him a natural, not philistine, response, and in the “reconstruction” drawings he effaces the modern just as Le Corbusier effaced the premodern. (Le Corbusier, especially as seen in Ville Radieuse, is the negative example here.) This would be mad if it were not rhetorical, but Krier’s is not a naive return to the past. He wants to reconnect, not repeat, history; he wants to reconstruct, not merely resume, the urban tradition disrupted by modernism.

“I can only make Architecture, because I do not build. I do not build, because I am an Architect.” This is Krier’s credo of Architectural Disobedience—not to partake in capitalism’s urban scheme of abstract zoning, architecture and design. To Krier such a city induces only amnesia and alienation. Instead, he offers “reconstruction” which he sees as both resistance to the present and revision of the past. Krier’s “reconstructed” city is to be “articulated into public and domestic spaces, monuments and urban fabric, Architecture and building, squares and streets.” Only through such a dialectic, says Krier, can collective culture exist.

Like any true manifesto, this demands doubt if not outrage. By “architecture” Krier means only classical architecture, and by “culture” he means humanist culture, one of artisan and intellectual, hand in hand. Even if this is tactical, it is hard to dismiss its archaism and Europocentrism. Is classical the one and only standard? What good is “reconstruction” but for a city or two in Western Europe? How can we return to craft when our economy is wed to technology? Will a dialectic of classical and vernacular erase or merely reinscribe class lines? How can we go back to an architectural style and not be affected by its ideology?

Krier writes, “A row of doric columns is not more authoritarian than a tensile structure is democratic. Architecture is not political, it can only be used politically.” Or tactically. Krier espouses the classical per se—but he does so against the modern. His “reconstruction” is a refusal of abstract architecture and technology as much as it is a return to symbolic architecture and craft. In Krier’s assertion,“There is neither reactionary nor revolutionary Architecture. There is only Architecture or its absence, that is its abstraction,” “reactionary” and “revolutionary” can be replaced by “critical” and “visionary”—such is the character of his “reconstruction.” At first it seems regressive, suffused with humanist nostalgia; then it seems to be a critique of capitalism from the right; at last it renders any such distinctions of left and right irrelevant.

The “reconstruction” is not a pastiche. Krier inveighs against “stylistic pluralism” as much as against abstraction—to him they are symptoms of the same disease. The project is rigorous, its formalism perhaps no less total than Le Corbusier’s. There is a monumentalism in these cityscapes, a mastery in these bird’s-eye perspectives. The power of representation that infuses the drawings is heady, and of course the mere idea of the reconstruction of a city is a grandiose one, especially when Krier speaks of it as a “global alternative.” But he is careful to parody the vision somewhat, to render it human while not unserious. He introduces anachronisms (old cars, planes) to deny any pretense to a final architecture, an architecture beyond time, and he also adds surreal forms to question architecture’s rationality and representation of reality. There is too, of course, Krier’s refusal to build. But why then such an involved program? “A critique,” Krier writes, “without a vision gazes as impotently at the future as the historian without a project gazes at the past.”

Hal Foster