Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism

ISBN : 9780198753698

James Stevens Curl
592 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
Aug 2018
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  • A significant new critique of Modernism from distinguished architectural historian James Stevens Curl, and a major contribution to urban and architectural studies.
  • The story of the advent of architectural Modernism in the aftermath of the First World War, its protagonists, and its astonishing, almost global acceptance after 1945.
  • Argues that the triumph of architectural Modernism has led to massive destruction, a waste of resources, and the elimination of all decoration and choice.
  • Based on prodigious research, it draws together a vast range of material and includes original drawings by Stevens Curl.

In Making Dystopia, distinguished architectural historian James Stevens Curl tells the story of the advent of architectural Modernism in the aftermath of the First World War, its protagonists, and its astonishing, almost global acceptance after 1945. He argues forcefully that the triumph of architectural Modernism in the second half of the twentieth century led to massive destruction, the creation of alien urban landscapes, and a huge waste of resources. Moreover, the coming of Modernism was not an inevitable, seamless evolution, as many have insisted, but a massive, unparalled disruption that demanded a clean slate and the elimination of all ornament, decoration, and choice. 

Tracing the effects of the Modernist revolution in architecture to the present, Stevens Curl argues that, with each passing year, so-called 'iconic' architecture by supposed 'star' architects has become more and more bizarre, unsettling, and expensive, ignoring established contexts and proving to be stratospherically remote from the aspirations and needs of humanity. In the elite world of contemporary architecture, form increasingly follows finance, and in a society in which the 'haves' have more and more, and the 'have-nots' are ever more marginalized, he warns that contemporary architecture continues to stack up huge potential problems for the future, as housing costs spiral out of control, resources are squandered on architectural bling, and society fractures.

This courageous, passionate, deeply researched, and profoundly argued book should be read by everyone concerned with what is around us. Its combative critique of the entire Modernist architectural project and its apologists will be highly controversial to many. But it contains salutary warnings that we ignore at our peril. And it asks awkward questions to which answers are long overdue.


Prolegomenon, Timothy Brittain-Catlin
Preface & Acknowledgements
1: Origins of a Catastrophe
2: Makers of Mythologies & False Analogies
3: Modernism in Germany in the Aftermath of the 1914-18 War
4: The International Style 1920s & 1930s
5: The International Style Truly International
6: Universal Acceptance of the International Style: A Surprising Aftermath of 1945
7: Descent to Deformity
8: Dangerous Signals
9: Some Further Reflections
10: Epilogue
Select Glossary

About the author: 

James Stevens Curl, Architectural Historian and Professor Emeritus
Professor James Stevens Curl has been Visiting Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. In 2014, De Montfort University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Arts in recognition of his 'distinctive contribution... to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation and region'. His many publications include studies of Classical, Georgian, and Victorian architecture, and the most recent edition of his Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (with contributions on landscape from Susan Wilson) was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. In 2017 he was awarded the British Academy President's Medal for 'outstanding service to the cause of the humanities and social sciences' in his wider study of the History of Architecture in Britain and Ireland.

Timothy Brittain-Catlin

Curl, a veteran architectural historian with a string of big books to his name, certainly tells us what he thinks... - Richard Morrison, The Times

A storm is brewing in the world of architecture thanks to James Stevens Curl's lightning bolt of a book ... although Curl's polemic is fierce, and well-written to boot, it is far from a blinkered rant. - Jonathan Glancey, The Telegraph

Making Dystopia, the most gripping and complete account of how architecture and urban planning were corrupted in the 20th and 21st century leading to a catastrophic deterioration of the built environment, is a brilliant, thoroughly researched, and completely novel book... This book, surely the greatest of the many written by Professor Stevens Curl, should be read by staff and students in all schools of architecture who are still pursuing destructive, irrelevant, outdated paths, as well as by everyone concerned about the erosion of civilisation itself. - David Watkin, Emeritus Professor of the History of Architecture, University of Cambridge

A milestone in architectural history... this marvellous book suggests that study of the past (denied in Modernist ideology) can liberate the present from what has been a damagingly restrictive straitjacket. - Nikos A. Salingaros, Professor of Mathematics, University of Texas at San Antonio

This brilliant text is a timely marvel... Making Dystopia is unquestionably a major contribution to the history of architecture and quite possibly the most important publication in Stevens Curl's enormously prodigious oeuvre. - Frank Albo, Adjunct Professor of History, University of Winnipeg

A coruscating, driven, and passionately committed book which should be read by anyone who believes that a house is more than a machine for living. - Katharine Wilson, author of Fictions of Authorship in Late Elizabethan Narratives: Euphues in Arcadia

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