Of Melancholia – The Life of Memory (1932-1980)

Architectural histories usually pay homage in glowing terms to the emergence of the white palaces of the Modern Movement. But they would do well, I believe, to link them more closely to the times in which they emerged, the bleak 1930s, the long decade of the Great Depression. Such purity of form in such dark times. The link, to my reasoning, is that this was architecture as antidote.

The poison of the 1930s, as well as being due to financial mismanagement, was a throwback to the war. And just as the white walls of the Cenotaph allowed survivors to cope with the immediate aftermath, so the white walls of the Modernists allowed them to cope with the long-term effects. The tabula rasa plays an obvious role: it was the template that would blank out the world, both present and the past of a decade previously, and allow it to start from the scratch of a draughtsman’s pen.

What the architects did not realise, of course, was that this process, given momentum by the popular acquiescence to the principles of the Modern Movement and the tabula rasa, would lead, not to more pure white walls, but, as with Jagger’s scenes of horror on the Artillery Memorial, to the New Brutalism.