Neither the long-drawn-out studio practices ending up with plenty of all-nighters is enough to change your perception about architecture completely, nor is the theory taught in the school sufficient to realise into a brick-and-mortar as our perception is often susceptible to change due to many things. But instead of focusing on perspective, a quite vague concept, let us delve into the percept of architecture, whether it is your house or an iconic skyscraper from your city. Ayn Rand’s the fountainhead, J.G. Ballard’s High Rise or Le Corbusier’s Radiant City… Different philosophical norms lie under these seemingly similar vertical blocks, which come down to Mies van der Rohe’s less is more?
Ballard’s Tower Block | Less is More
G. Ballard’s iconic novel High Rise is about a brand new forty-storey apartment building which is isolated yet self-sufficient with all facilities like stores, banks, schools and whatnot. Dr. Robert Laing moves to the 25th floor in this high rise, and gradually the characters in the building feel less interested in the outside world. A string of events unfolds an interesting analysis of characters; however, the building somehow manages to trap all these different personalities, some tenants Charlotte and Richard. The building starts to fail the residents with some power cuts and disruption of amenities. Then the tenants rampage in the building, and a class conflict occurs; the dynamic power changes, leading to complete chaos. This dystopian novel underlines the social hierarchy of the status quo, where the upper echelons have more control, and certain malfunctions of the system run other tenants into anarchy. The takeaway from this story of Ballard’s multi-storey building would be (in the architectural sense) sometimes design is not enough to meet every need of chaotic, unpredictable human beings; perhaps it should be somewhat open-ended instead of being a panacea.
Less is more?
To summarise, Ayn Rand’s promotion of individualism was discussed as it was shaped around the idea of building something ahead of its time and then remarked on how Ballard’s building provided all the means to live in a collectively utilitarian yet stratified society. Ville Radieuse, on the other hand, was designed to create more spaces for the public realm and incorporated large blocks of apartment buildings with vast open spaces. The exact form of buildings, perhaps the same typology; however they bear entirely different meanings; while one is to promote individuality, the other is for collectivity; one is more attributed to capitalist thinking, while the other was adopted by the ‘commies’, it was used to create a utopia, but then the other was dystopian. Turning back to our title, unlike how your architectural minds thought, it was not Mies van der Rohe’s mantra referred to here. Still, the original attribution to Chiron of Sparta’s less is more, meaning, brevity is the key. If Howard Roark had chased fame and fortune, he would have never gotten the chance to be innovative. If Ballard’s high rise were not built with the idea of trapping people inside like guinea pigs and ranking them in a pecking order, perhaps the shortage of supplies would only be a matter of the following management meeting. If Villa Radieuse were more in proportion, like Lewis Mumford called the plan, buildings floating in parking lots would not have created wastelands in these developments. However, these are personal takeaways from these three different cases for architecture’s role in changing perception, built in similar forms but promoting distinct values.
Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse
Ayn Rand’s fictional character Howard Roark was inspired by prominent architect Frank Lloyd Wright. However, he was not alone in his struggle to create something original against all odds, thinking of Adolf Loos or, most notably, Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse is not out of a film or a book; in fact, it is perhaps the most controversial unrealised master plan in the history of modern architecture. It was noted for being a functionalist utopia following the failed attempts of Ville Contemporaine and Plan Voisin. Le Corbusier sought to design an ideal city to coalesce the public into the environment. Still, unlike Ville Contemporaine, this plan must have been linear, attributed to his famously abstract allegory of the human body. This masterplan was based on the principle that the high-rise apartment blocks proportionally integrate with the public plazas and green spaces. Even though none of the masterplans by Corbusier were built in the spheres of Paris, his Radiant City movement has been a muse for the period’s Russia to be adapted into commie-blocks as referred to them today. After CIAM conferences, starting from Brussels, this master plan started to increase around Europe and later in the world as it was subjected to provide housing for the increasing population.
Howard Roark’s Enright House | Less is More
If you have read Ayn Rand’s iconic piece The Fountainhead, apart from her out-of-sorts misogyny and glorified objectivism, you will find an essential message for all architects and architectural practice. Architecture school drop-out Howard Roark (the protagonist architect) works for an architect Henry Cameron, ill-reputed for his radically modernist style for 1920s New York, where high rises are built in Gothic, Classical or Renaissance revivalist manner. Following the death of Henry Cameron because of a commercial loss, his protégé Roark takes over the office. After long-time losing jobs and commissions for refusing to mimic conventional styles, Roark crosses paths with self-made multimillionaire Roger Enright, giving him all the freedom he needs to build this ahead-of-its-time masterpiece, Enright House. The conformists start a smear campaign against Roark, but he is an individualist man who does not need any public appreciation. Howard Roark is the manifestation of Ayn Rand’s individualist ideal man. For him (her), every great invention, idea and product has been achieved as an imposition from an individual’s mind. Therefore conformists (who resemble parasites) cannot reach the independence of a creating man for him, and they are assimilated into being slaves, so he rejects collectivity.
Ballard, J. G. (2012). High-rise. Liveright Pub.
Curtis, W. (2006). Le Corbusier – Ideas and Forms. Phaidon Press.
High-rise. 2015. [Film]. Ben Wheatley. UK: Recorded Picture Company.
Kunstler, J. H. (1993). The geography of nowhere: the rise and decline of America’s man-made landscape. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Rand, A. (2005). The Fountainhead. New York: Plume.
Urbanópolis. (2021). El PLAN VOISIN y la VILLE RADIEUSE de Le Corbusier.
. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4mKVjqb0Dc. [Accessed: 08/ 12/ 2022].
Figure 1: The Fountainhead. 1949. [Film]. King Vidor. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Figure 2: Zandri L. (2019), Divirase Journal Available at: https://divisare.com/projects/416176-chamberlin-powell-and-bon-lorenzo-zandri-the-barbican-estate
Figure 3: Architectuul., Available at: https://architectuul.com/architecture/radiant-city