A recent essay by The School of Life asks: “Why is the Modern World So Ugly?” Here’s how it opens:
“One of the great generalisations we can make about the modern world is that it is, to an extraordinary degree, an ugly world. If we were to show an ancestor from 250 years ago around our cities and suburbs, they would be amazed at our technology, impressed by our wealth, stunned by our medical advances – and shocked and disbelieving at the horrors we had managed to build. Societies that are, in most respects, hugely more advanced than those of the past have managed to construct urban environments more dispiriting, chaotic and distasteful than anything humanity has ever known.“
Naturally, it turns out that this is, at least partially, the fault of greedy and unscrupulous real estate developers:
“When property developers heard that the artistic avant-garde was now promoting a concept of functionalism, they rejoiced. From the most high brow quarters, the most mean minded motives had been given a seal of approval. No longer would these developers have to spend any money on anything to do with beauty. Out could go the symmetry, the flowers, the nice but slightly more expensive materials. It could all be as quick, ugly and cheap as possible; after all, isn’t that what the great minds of architecture had advised?“
The author goes on:
“Yet this nuance was lost on the property developers who came after them. Their constructions weren’t elegantly pared down with grace. They were something far worse: sloppy, mean-minded and ugly. Except that now, because of the words of the modernist masters, there was apparently nothing one could do to charge them with a dereliction of duty. The concept of beauty had been rendered old-fashioned, it smelt elitist and woolly. No one could any more complain that beauty was missing from the world without sounding soft-headed.“
To be fair, the essay doesn’t entirely blame developers. It, more specifically, outlines six possible reasons for the ugliness of the modern world. And I do agree with some of them.
Click here for the full essay.