Plumb Lines

May 26, 2009

The Modernist Mistake

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 1:58 pm

I have been reading Lewis Mumford columns in the New Yorker, which have been happily collected into paperback form. Mumford’s aesthetic judgment is always keen, but sometimes he uncritically accepts the modernist philosophy of building then regnant too uncritically. He writes approvingly, for instance, of a house built with windows flush to the outside wall, because this arrangement “maximizes interior space.” There is no pause to consider that it does not require modern technology to build a window flush with a wall, and therefore it is supremely unllikely that windows had been placed on a plane a few inches interior of the wall for centuries without any reason at all (the reasons are that windows don’t leak so easily when they’re inset, and more importantly that lips around window edges shade the interior in the Summer). Mumford’s failure to think this through was typical of his age, but we are still living with the costs of that age’s failure.

David Schaengold

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