Architecture is an inherently political act, which is precisely why it is so contested. It is the grandest and most permanent marker of a civilisation, and the clearest and most dramatic expression of a society’s relationship to power. Consider, on the one hand, Trump’s executive order, one of the last of his administration, mandating neoclassicism as the house architectural style of the US federal government; on the other hand, see the New Statesman’s neurotic fear of classical architecture as a form of fascism wrought in stone. Architecture is not just the expression of our positive political values, but also of the pathologies and debilitating culture wars enfeebling our civilisation.

A recent episode at the birthplace of classical architecture, and of a self-consciously Western aesthetic tradition, the Parthenon, is instructive of where we find ourselves today, in politics as well as architecture. Taking advantage of the COVID epidemic, the Greek government recently installed a ramp for wheelchair access on the top of the sacred hill of the Acropolis, leading directly to the Parthenon.

Built in the archetypal material of modernity, concrete, it is a work of breathtaking ugliness. Being impermeable, unlike the stones and earth it replaced, as soon as the winter rains hit Athens the runoff flooded the sacred site for the first time ever recorded: the ideologically-asserted practicality of industrial modernity has once again shown itself impractical in reality, unsuited to both place and climate.

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