Book Review: Chapter 4 From Shock Of The New

I’ve been re-reading The Shock of The New by Robert Hughes. This week, I jumped into Chapter 4, Trouble in Utopia.

If you’re new here, I read this book in the Spring of 2018 and really enjoyed it. However, I felt it was so dense with great content that I wanted to revisit it chapter by chapter. The book and the video series (linked below) are pretty much the same-almost word for word-so if sitting with a book isn’t your thing you can watch the video series instead.

This chapter was awesome, because it was all about architecture. Oh man, I love architecture! If my life played out differently I could totally see myself as an architect. I live in Chicago known for it’s innovative architecture, and more specifically I live in Oak Park, IL which boasts the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world. I’ve also worked in a Mies van der Rohe home and a coach house built by Prairie School architect E.E. Roberts. I’ve always said, and Robert Hughes echoed, architecture is art you live in.

In this chapter, Hughes speaks briefly about the history of architecture and the technical innovations that influenced design. Hughes spends most of the chapter criticizing different architectural projects. While less pleasant than hearing about the amazing successful architectural achievements, Hughes provides important reflections on projects that failed and why. In doing so he elevates architecture to one of the most important art forms.

Most notable examples was a project by Le Corbusier and a project in Brazil. Both were attempting to create utopian environments that include living facilities, shopping, recreation etc… Unfortunately, both projects failed miserably at considering the people who would use the space. They neglected the culture, history, and environmental elements. The details in these examples were excellent at supporting Hughes argument that architecture is an art-form that MUST put viewer first.

If you love considering city planning, societal norms, or thoughtful design you’ll enjoy this chapter of the book.