“Less is more.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
“Less is fussy.” -Sippican Cottage
If you’ve never heard of him, van der Rohe is the patron saint of Minimalist architecture. He, and his Swiss partner in crimes against humanity, Chuckie Jeanneret, have done more to make humans miserable than anyone since Deimos and Phobos.
Mies, as his toadies like to call him, is one in a long line of frauds who taught their acolytes that ideas are more important than people. If you run totalitarian states, ideas like that idea lead to mass graves while you convince everyone your ideas are peachy. If you’re an architect, people just have to live in the sterile concrete birdhouses you built for them, and lump it. Think I’m exaggerating? He built this, in Chicago:
The main idea, if you can call it that, behind “less is more” leads to all the botoxed Instagram strumpets on Better Homes Than Yours tearing out all the walls in every house they encounter. Less must be more! They’ve got weird ideas about how people should live, and ideas trump reality every time.
The central theme of the Minimalist movement is to remove all surface decoration, and when you’re done with that, get rid of anything that looks structural if you can manage it. Rohe’s most famous home is a double-wide terrarium in Illinois that no sane person would want to live in.
It’s underwater every couple of years, because on top of a dumb design, it’s built in a dumb place — a flood plain. Anyone trying to live in it would have to keep the blinds closed morning, noon, and night. You’d have to buy a thousand acres in every direction to get any feeling of privacy, but the house is surrounded by other houses. It depended on hand-waving fraud for its pizzazz, just like all modern architectural messterpieces. A house is a form of shelter, and part of the feeling of shelter is strictly visual, not just massive walls between you and the outside. A feeling of shelter is deliberately made impossible in that house. If you prefer to live like an ant with a demented child holding a magnifying glass over you, instead of a normal human person, Rohe’s your man.
I’m sure there’d be a line to live in it if it were for rent, don’t get me wrong. There are lines to get grommets inserted into your earlobes at the mall, too. The idea that you’d really like this house if everyone else on earth was dead appeals to a certain clientele. The architect blames society for looking into your transparent house, and global warming for building a low-slung house in a flood plain in the first place.
But my real beef with stuff like this is that it’s fussy. You heard me right. I’ve had a hand in building Minimalist houses, and you can’t believe how fussy a complete lack of ornament can get. Push past simply stripping all the trim out of a building, and go to work on hiding the structure, and the fussiness goes hyperbolic.
The reason that there is trim around your doorframes, and windows, and the join between the floor and the walls, is only partly aesthetic. It covers up the transitions from one thing to another. It’s the simplest, most inexpensive, un-fussy way to do it. It’s not just coverup, either. Done correctly, it appeals to a human’s sense of proportion, and safety, and color, and texture, and a lot of other stuff.
Ask a child to draw a house. They’ll draw a rectangle with a triangle on top of it with smoke curling out of a chimney, and a door and windows that look like the symmetrical features of a face. That’s because children are smart, and not jaded yet. Ask Mies to draw you a house, and you’ll get an abbatoir.
You can boil the trim in a house down to their plainest version if you must, but you can’t get rid of it unless you’re prepared to spend ten times what the trim costs. The construction tolerances for that human goldfish bowl he built in Illinois are space-shuttle-ish. It’s a complete waste of time and money and effort to achieve such studied simplicity and stupidity. There’s a reason why your iPhone costs more than a phone with a screw showing. It’s not a good reason, but it is a reason.
I’ll teach you, if you’re interested, how to spot something stupid masquerading as something simple. Simply look for this word:
If it says it’s elegant, it’s fussy and stupid. Whenever you spot that word anywhere on the internet, just substitute “fussy” for it, and whatever you’re reading will make sense. If you’re a crank like I am, put fussy and stupid in there instead. You’ll never put a foot wrong with the translation.
Look at Rohe’s alleged masterpiece, the German entry for the 1929 International Exposition held in Spain, and generally referred to as the Barcelona Pavilion.
This might be the fussiest structure of any kind I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around the architectural block, a lot. It’s in the running for the fussiest object ever made by humans, especially when you consider how useless it was. It’s fussier than the Chartres Cathedral or a Faberge egg. It cost a small fortune. Well, actually, a large fortune, and they demolished it right after the exhibition was over anyway. Why not? It’s useless, no matter what it cost. It turned into a place to get in out of the sun for people who grew tired of looking at more interesting things at the exhibition. You could have managed that with a canvas tent, a bucket of water, and some dixie cups.
There were a couple of Barcelona Chairs on display in it, which he also designed, and one lumpy statue, but that’s it. Barcelona Chairs got famous from this event. You can buy copies of them today, and people do. They’re elegant, according to their sales blurbs. They’re uncomfortable, according to my ass, but discomfort is a small price to pay for something that looks comfortable, but isn’t. Besides, did we mention it’s elegant?
Let’s take websites, for another example. Web designers are often asked to make the text “more elegant.” What this actually means in practice is “less legible.” The Apple cult has convinced the public that nearly invisible, thin, goofy fonts rendered in light gray text on a light gray background are not only easier to read, they’re elegant. They’ve also convinced that public that a wafer thin phone is elegant. I guess it makes it easier to fit inside the mandatory gaudy oversized ruggedized case, so I guess they’re only 99% full of merde.
On a good day, elegant is Brutalist, which is the opposite of actually elegant, and no way to live like a human being. On a bad day, you’re up to your shins in water, with your neighbors looking and laughing at you through your glass walls. Luckily, there are no partitions in your house, so there are no electrical plugs about to take water and shock you back to your senses. Keep living your elegant life, until you can palm your masterpiece off on the National Park Service. It’s the elegant solution.
[Thanks for reading and commenting. Please recommend Sippican Cottage to your most discerning friends, and all the rest of them, too.]