Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of appearing on WPRO’s Coalition Radio with Pat Ford and David Fisher (6 p.m. Saturdays, 630 AM and 99.7 FM). I was preceded on the air by Elizabeth Guardia of Right to Know RI, which supports legislation in the Rhode Island General Assembly to require labeling of GMO foods in this state. As Elizabeth and her associates filed out of the studio, I had the most alarming epiphany:
Modern architecture is GMO architecture.
GMOs are foods produced by manipulating the gene content of agricultural products. The acronym stands for genetically modified organisms. Instead of mating cows that produce more milk or corn that resists bugs better, as has been done for centuries, strains of corn or cattle feed that accomplishes those goals is produced in a laboratory by manipulating genetic material. GMO opponents think people have a right to know whether food they buy at their groceries was produced using this process. The big fear is that the practice, and research into its safety, has not gone on long enough to ascertain whether it carries hidden dangers.
Likewise, as I pointed out yesterday for the listening audience, modern architecture turns centuries of design practice on its head. Modern architects pride themselves on the novelty of their designs. They ignore best practices evolved over generations to produce the safest, most useful and most attractive buildings. They specialize in, and indeed revel in, the untried and (reluctant as they’d be to admit it) the untrue.
But what scientists are learning is that human neurobiological traits that hark back to our evolutionary survival of the fittest are embedded in traditional architecture. Ornament in particular reflects the information that early humans gathered from their environment to detect, often by instinct, threats ranging from poison in vegetation to tigers in trees. We do not need that sort of information today, but our brains still crave it. Architecture without embellishment literally makes us uneasy, according to such theorists as Nikos Salingaros, a mathematician at the University of Texas in San Antonio. (Full disclosure: I am editing his latest book on the biophilic healing properties in architecture.)
Over a quarter of a century I have blazed new trails in the art of demonizing modern architecture. In recent years, science has become a major ally in that endeavor. So I thank Right to Know RI and Coalition Radio at WPRO for identifying another arrow for my rhetorical quiver.