Modernism. The International Style. Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier, etc.
A clean, white world of clean white buildings and glass boxes. Machines for living in. Born of the utopian hopes of early Modernism. Destined to become the opulent apartment blocks and corporate skyscrapers of Chicago capitalism.
Based on a dream of optimised people in an optimised world. You had to be perfect to live in a glass box. And the glass boxes were going to make people better, cleaner, fitter, healthier, more productive, and now this sentence is (tellingly) becoming the lyrics from that Radiohead song. Because that’s where that kind of top-down utopianism ended up; the dream of Modernism became the malaise of late-C20th/C21st modernity.
|Prora, the elephantine Strength Through Joy holiday camp. Nazi Butlins.
Whatever the admirable radicalism – and there is much admirable radicalism in Modernism – it culminated in a convergence with the Nazi fantasies of order and hygiene (even as the Modernists were hated and driven out by the Nazis) and, in the end, with the corporate capitalist fantasies of perfect and rational utility. The skyscraper as a machine for doing business in.
In both iterations of the same anti-human and elitist reactionary fantasy, the individual becomes a cog, to be permitted as long as they play their role within the machine, as long as they do not disgrace the gleaming interior of the glass box.
It found its way into another iteration: C20th century elitist reformism, the provision of rational living units for the drones, the erection of housing estates and tower blocks. Look at those 60s constructions – built along the same elitist/top-down/utopian lines as all Modernist architecture – and today they seem like ugly sinkholes (the vile word used to describe them), but at the time they were supposed to be clean, ordered, rational, humane and utopian.
So, in ‘Paradise Towers’, the tower block becomes the once-hopeful/now-decaying symbol of entropic utopianism. Social democracy, with its aesthetic roots in Modernism, falling apart in the neglect and ruin of the dawning neoliberal age. Inside, of course, are trapped the archetypes (in parodic form) of Thatcher’s Britain. Feral kids, Daily Mail readers, the Police.
And the roving, murdering cleaners are clearing up the “human garbage” to make way for the return of Kroagnon’s anti-human and authoritarian vision of cleanliness and order. The dark side of the Modernist dream returns from the gothic basement of repression to take revenge on the last remnants of Modernism’s own light side. The authoritarian variant tries to reconquer the self-defeated social-democratic variant.
And Kroagnon’s shocktroops the cleaners are clean, white constructions in straight lines. They are miniature, mobile buildings in the International Style of high, early Modernism.
They are like Corbusier houses crossbred with Mies skyscrapers, come alive and on the attack.
Corbusier was friendly with a fascist sympathiser, Pierre Winter. They both joined the right-wing Faisceau Party.
Fascism lurks within the utopianism of Modernism, which lurks within the utopianism of social democracy. As Benjamin might say, fascism lurks within the entire C20th.