Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Architecture #35

In the end, pure white light was to survive only as the weapon of the Secret Police interrogator, the brain-washer and the terrorist. But before that relegation to the underworld of Western culture, it had almost a two-decade career in the visible and progressive overworld, as architects of the International Style—with the noblest aspirations, and clear consciences which the clarity of the light was supposed to symbolise, no doubt—subjected doctors, art-collectors, publishers, teachers and the other law-abiding bourgeois who were the clients, to Gestapo-style luminous environments, with light streaming from bare, or occasionally opalescent, bulbs and tubes and glaring back from white walls. Even when allowance is made for the fact that many of the interiors they designed were for the specialised purposes of exhibitions, and may have needed unusual intensities of lighting, the published record of the work done by the Bauhaus and like-thinkers down to 1934, combined with the memories of survivors, leaves an impression of a luminous environment close to the threshold of pain, probably mad e tolerable only by the notorious willingness of intellectuals to suffer in the cause of art.

Reyner Banham, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment (1969)