BAD TASTE: THE MON­U­MENTS

Esquire (UK) - - Esquire Design Special - Taste: The Se­cret Mean­ing of Things by Stephen Bay­ley (Circa Press, £29.95) is out now; cir­ca­press.com

‘The Cham­ber of Hor­rors’, 1852

Henry Cole, an over-busy Vic­to­rian civil ser­vant, put the sur­plus of The Great Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1851 on dis­play in Marl­bor­ough House in London. Al­though The Great Ex­hi­bi­tion of the Works of In­dus­try of All Na­tions had been con­ceived as an im­pe­rial syn­op­sis of con­tem­po­rary pos­si­bil­i­ties, Cole and oth­ers were so hor­ri­fied by the ma­jor­ity of the rub­bish on dis­play that he cre­ated

“The Cham­ber of Hor­rors” to demon­strate what he called “false prin­ci­ples”, or bad taste, in de­sign. Thus, a stuffed stoat hold­ing a para­sol was pre­sented as a rep­ri­mand. Cole’s ini­tia­tive was one of the great conceptual gen­er­al­i­sa­tions of his age, pro­vid­ing a ba­sis for Vic­to­rian de­sign the­ory as well as

The Mod­ern Move­ment which evolved from it.

Schloss Lin­der­hof, 1886

Mad King Lud­wig II was in­fat­u­ated by Louis XIV and de­cided to im­i­tate Ver­sailles in Bavaria. But Lud­wig was rather more the Night King than the

Sun King: a favourite oc­cu­pa­tion was trav­el­ling across Lin­der­hof ’s sub­ter­ranean lake in a boat towed by a team of rapidly pad­dling swans. Twelve elec­tri­cal dy­namos pro­vided power to il­lu­mi­nate Lud­wig’s Venus Grotto.

Fon­tainebleau Ho­tel, 1954

Sixty-three years ago, the world’s big­gest ho­tel (with 1,504 rooms) opened in Mi­ami Beach, Florida. A lo­cal news­pa­per wrote, “Gi­gan­tic? There must be a big­ger word.” The de­signer, Mor­ris Lapidus, spe­cialised in what he called “wog­gles” [ame­boid shapes], an ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture un­known to the an­cients since they had a finer vo­cab­u­lary all their own. The din­ing room could seat 800 and fea­tured a floor which as­cended and de­scended with hy­draulic as­sis­tance. Visi­tors some­times de­scribed a sense of eu­pho­ria ex­cited by the flambé pa­rades in the res­tau­rant. De­spite it be­ing a bad taste land­mark, the ho­tel has ap­peared in both

Goldfin­ger and The So­pra­nos.

Con­sid­er­ing the Fon­tainebleau, it is im­pos­si­ble not to rec­ol­lect Søren Kierkegaard’s ob­ser­va­tion that “the best demon­stra­tion of the mis­ery of ex­is­tence is by the con­tem­pla­tion of its mar­vels.”

Dis­ney­land, 1955

The year af­ter the Fon­tainebleau, Dis­ney­land opened in Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia, se­cur­ing for the West Coast of the United States a mon­u­ment to bad taste at least as dis­may­ing as Lapidus’s le­viathan ho­tel. The sig­na­ture castle of the Magic King­dom was mod­elled on another of Swan King Lud­wig II’s com­mis­sions, Neuschwanstein, it­self an ig­no­rant ar­chi­tec­tural fic­tion. Ever since, to de­scribe some­thing as “Dis­ney­fied” —

The Na­tional Trust, for ex­am­ple — is to say it is founded in false un­der­stand­ings and un­sub­stan­ti­ated retro fan­tasies.

Cadil­lac, 1959

The ’59 Cadil­lac El­do­rado Brougham Seville is the most ex­treme prod­uct ever pro­duced by in­dus­trial civil­i­sa­tion. The ses­qui­pe­da­lian name merely hints at the ex­cess of the ac­tual au­to­mo­bile. De­signed care­lessly to mash molecules of air and with no re­gard what­so­ever for ef­fi­ciency, the en­vi­ron­ment or safety, the clas­sic pink Cadil­lac was The Amer­i­can Night­mare. Har­ley Earl, its de­signer, se­duced the pub­lic with epic vul­gar­ity while gar­bling English mag­nif­i­cently. One of his finer in­struc­tions to a cow­er­ing un­der­ling was: “I want that line to have a du­flunky, to come across, have a lit­tle hook in it, and then do a rashoom or a zong.”

As­tro­turf, 1965

Short-pile syn­thetic turf (favoured for the ex­pe­di­ents of low cost and high dura­bil­ity) was a fea­ture of the Hous­ton Astrodome, once the world’s big­gest en­closed sport­ing venue. Grass would have been bet­ter, but more ex­pen­sive and less hardy: in the same way cash­mere is not as tough as ny­lon. Fac­sim­ile ef­fects have been con­demned by aes­thetes ever since Henry Cole’s “Cham­ber of Hor­rors”. As if to con­firm the Astrodome’s in­sti­tu­tion­alised bad

taste, its largest at­ten­dance (68,000) was for an event called Wrestle­ma­nia X-Seven in 2001. The Astrodome closed in 2008 and cur­rent plans are to re-pur­pose it as a park­ing garage. As­tro­turf has, how­ever, sur­vived as a bas­tard medium.

McDon­ald’s, 1971

When he saw the first Tokyo McDon­ald’s at the Mit­sukoshi store on the Ginza in 1975, Andy Warhol de­clared it “the most beau­ti­ful thing in the city”. Warhol was, of course, a con­nois­seur of crap.

Sad­dam’s Vic­tory Arch, 1989

Dic­ta­tors nor­mally have bad taste. On the site of the Mu­seum of Gifts to the Pres­i­dent in Bagh­dad, Iraq’s lead­ing sculp­tor, Adil Kamil, built “The Swords of Qādis­īyah” in 1989. The heroic schema was sketched by none other than Sad­dam him­self, while Kamil mod­elled Sad­dam’s own mus­cu­lar and hairy fore­arms. The points of the swords meet 40m above the ground and were cast us­ing me­tal sal­vaged from the Iran-Iraq war. De­spite Desert Storm forces bomb­ing and in­vad­ing the Iraqi cap­i­tal in 1991, Sad­dam’s arch has been re­stored and still stands to­day.

‘Du­pli­tec­ture’, 2004

In 2004, the Chi­nese built a per­fect replica of Le Cor­bus­ier’s ma­jes­tic chapel at Ron­champ… but in Zhengzhou. Ten years later, as fast as con­trac­tors could build Zaha Ha­did’s Wangjiang Soho com­plex, pi­rates were copy­ing it on another site. “Du­pli­tec­ture” is the Pho­to­shop­ping of ar­chi­tec­ture: new build­ing tech­nol­ogy al­lows the rapid imi­ta­tion of any­thing, any­where, re­gard­less. There is now an ar­rondisse­ment of Paris in Hangzhou, a pas­tiche Am­s­ter­dam near Shang­hai. Af­ter Isis de­stroyed Palmyra’s Arch of Tri­umph in 2015, a scale model re­pro ap­peared in London’s Trafal­gar Square six months later.

A House for Es­sex, 2015

Grayson Perry, an Es­sex ma­niac, is en­gaged in a know­ing and on the whole suc­cess­ful, as­sault on good man­ners. “Steal, copy, col­lage” might be his motto. Perry, who was born in Chelmsford, says his house is “a homage to the sin­gle mum in Da­gen­ham, hair­dressers in Colch­ester and the land­scape and his­tory of Es­sex”. This fic­tion is now so pop­u­lar that it has caused paralysing traf­fic prob­lems on Wrab­ness’s Black Boy Lane, and Es­sex High­ways has agreed to in­stall new road signs and mark­ings to dis­ci­pline the ad­mir­ing crowds of Mon­deo Men who want to wor­ship the Es­sex cult le­git­imised by the Turner Prize-win­ner Perry.

The Al Wakrah Sta­dium, 2022

The late Zaha Ha­did, in de­fi­ance of all sound prin­ci­ples of naval ar­chi­tec­ture and hy­dro­dy­nam­ics, once de­signed a su­pery­acht from Ham­burg ship­yard Blohm+Voss (builders of the WWII bat­tle­ship

Bis­marck) which was mod­elled, ap­par­ently, on a cy­cling hel­met. For the 2022 Qatar World Cup, an event al­ready mired in ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and slave labour, she de­signed a sta­dium which, when seen from the air, ap­pears to be in­spired by gap­ing labial folds. Ac­cused thus, Ha­did replied that if you think any­thing with a hole in it is a vagina, then that’s your prob­lem.

Mar-a-Lago, 1924 — present

The orig­i­nal Palm Beach ha­ciend­aburger (in Span­ish Mis­sion style) was built by break­fast ce­re­als heiress Mar­jorie Mer­ri­weather Post and ac­quired by a crass, but am­bi­tious, prop­erty de­vel­oper called Don­ald Trump in 1985. Not con­tent with the 118 rooms, the fu­ture Pres­i­dent of the USA im­me­di­ately added a 20,000sq ft ball­room. At one point in the midEight­ies, Trump recog­nised that ar­chi­tec­ture was a use­ful tool for self-ex­pres­sion. The pur­chase of Mar-a-Lago was syn­chro­nous with the de­ci­sion to build Trump Tower. They say the Pres­i­dent likes hard, shiny things.

A small slice of the 800ca­pac­ity din­ing room at the Fon­tainebleau Ho­tel, Mi­ami Beach; Dis­ney­land’s Sleep­ing Beauty Cas­tle takes its in­spi­ra­tion from Neuschwanstein Cas­tle in Ger­many; a Fifties pink Cadil­lac de­signed by Har­ley Earl; ‘The Swords of...

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