Museoligicalisation – the transformation of a living tradition into a museum piece, which deprives it of an active meaning or significance.—Guillaume Faye.
On my first stroll through Belfast’s Cathedral quarter in Northern Ireland, this sticker popped up a few times:
It criticizes the local university, even claiming it’s ‘destroying’ the city. I figured it had something to do with the massive, £250m construction project happening across the street from the school’s main building. Every morning I got off the bus, I was greeted by loud, mechanical chugs and the stench of progression.
The Orpheus, an Art Deco style building completed in 1932, was famous especially for its ballroom which peaked in popularity in the 1960’s. In efforts to protect not only the sentimental value of the building for locals, but the significance for Belfast’s fragile identity, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) has urged the University, after rejected offers on the property itself, to reconsider its demolition. The young city, after all, only began to blossom in the 18th and 19th centuries. Despite their efforts, the Orpheus building was torn down last year. In its place will be a new, modern style building for Ulster University, which has plans to converge campuses that are currently scattered throughout Northern Ireland into a single hub in Belfast.
It’s hard to ignore the aesthetic clash of Ulster’s main building with the majority of architecture in Belfast. With the University’s expansion and the shimmery-new, ultra-modern Titanic building raking in tourists and students from all over, one gets the sense that Belfast, although benefiting economically, for now, is losing any sense of identity it might have begun to acquire. The Titanic building itself it a museum, merely a container displaying glimpses of greatness from the past, sparks of flame which instead of fanning, we suffocate. According to the UAHS, more Art Deco buildings are under threat of demolition in the future, as they are not protected ‘by conservation area or listed status.’
Robert Adam is a member of the Traditional Architecture group based in the UK. In a 2011 piece in The Guardian, Adam points out that “getting through an architectural college pursuing traditionalism is extremely unlikely.” Architects who wish to pursue work in a more old-fashioned vain are barred from expressing themselves in big projects because all the biggest are funded by those interested in modernism.
The politics I extract from this issue is the extraction of national identity from a city. In other words, modernism has a uniform aesthetic that promotes a singular global culture, the end that open-borders leaders strive for. No so-called ‘right-wing’ movement will have a lasting effect if it doesn’t reach the youth and influence culture the way the internationalists have since the 1960’s.
Architecture once complemented nature. Geographically, Belfast is almost valley-like; passed the cranes and construction zones, one can see green mountains. The impersonal geometry of modern buildings combat nature and distract one from it. Also, where’s the craft? At its root, European architecture has reflected ambition, persistence, even divine inspiration. Huge blocks of glass don’t reflect beauty in human nature- they reflect the atheistic quality of contemporary ‘art theory’. Nature will always win out in the end, so why fight against it? An international culture isn’t possible, to quote Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, it “always has National character and Roots.”
Masterful skill and divine image have been sacrificed for mass production (short-term capital) and international appeasement. If Modernism is really a style of ‘elegance’ than why is it the style of every home furnishing you can buy cheaply at Target?
What the issue comes down to is Tradition versus Modernity, Identity versus Sameness, respect for tangible roots versus praise for hypothetical fruit.
Sources: BBC News, Belfast Telegraph, The Guardian, UAHS.org,