Pioneers Of Modern Design:
FROM BRITNEY SPEARS TO CHRISTINA AGUILERA


By "Mickey" Pevsner aka Adam Sobolak
(Special to the omnitectural forum)

 

 





From www.fametracker.com (Christina Aguilera celebrity forum)
"Sleeze Sister", posted August 15,2003 11:52:36 PM EST


"In my completely informal, half-assed, and unprofessional survey of
cultural studies academics, I've found that almost all prefer Christina
to Britney. I once spent a good fifteen minutes on a business phone
call with the acquisitions editor of a major university press
discussing the merits of "Dirrty.""



OR, IS IT SO CLEAR-CUT as that? One wonders…
             Once the Omnitectural Forum WTC Transcendence opus had travelled its warp-speed wavering way from Al-Qaeda to Aguilera, it was obvious that a spinoff was called for. (A spinoff which'd also serve as a de facto followup to Omni's "hit single", the New York SpiceScraper opus.)
             And the jumping point: the eternal Britney Spears vs Christina Aguilera argument. As framed in Modern vs Moderne, Futura vs Kabel et al terms. The orthodox, versus the anti-orthodox. Harmonious, versus disjunctive. Although at times, one wonders which is which…

RIGHT FROM THE DAWN OF time, common judgment has revelled in the pitting of parties off against each other; here a Plato, there an Aristotle, Classic vs Gothic, Classic vs Baroque, Classic vs Romantic, etc. And like team sports (or human coupling, for that matter), it works best as a one-on-one; more than two parties clutter the implicit message. In practice, by tiptoeing around all kinds of nuances, one-on-one is only a crude reflection of the greater picture--but for better or worse, it establishes a framework, an easel upon which we may mount our picture. Rather paradoxically in the process, the oppositional tactic becomes subverted through its versatility; we're enriched (and sometimes befuddled) by the age-old intertwining plethora of easels.
             Once art history became a "science" in the late c19, historians such as Heinrich Wolfflin codified oppositional methodology--and it proved seductively advantageous with the educational advent of double-screen slide projection. (At least until relatively recently, when PowerPoint overtook slides and Wolfflinian dogma came into question, art history survey courses were nothing without it. On the left side, David; on the right side, Delacroix. Discuss.)
             Above all, it's a fine way to tell a story--but in order to avert banality, one must choose one's oppositional parties with care. The story works at its mythical best when the parties belong, a bit duellingly, to a similar milieu. With Bernini and Borromini, the milieu was c17 Papal Rome; with Britney and Christina, the milieu was Y2K Mousekepoptartdom. True, an Avril Lavigne could come along to be labelled the "anti-Britney", but Britney vs Avril would be more like Bernini vs, say, Sir Christopher Wren. It works at a certain level, can make for fascinating scholarly arguments--but it misses the myth. Or in pilfering from two myths, it fails to meld into one.
             Then again, myth melted down in the Modern period; and therefore, it's a tortured task to judge what belonged in which camp in the c20. One can discern basic patterns; but things intertwine, tangle. Thus Britney vs Christina may superficially seem the equivalent to Modern vs Moderne; but in certain periods, cultures, geographies, the identities can be reversed, or exist concurrently, or be a matter of perspective. Which is Modern, or Moderne, in the end?
             Maybe it'd help to explain where, for this observer, it more or less started.
             Perhaps around the summer of 2001, I was casually mulling over a subject which has long fascinated me; mid-c20 Modernist school architecture. In Toronto and around Ontario and, indeed, across North America and perhaps the world, the public elementary school was the (almost literally) primal proving ground for Modernism. As children, we were educated there; this was the future, our future, a progressive future. True, the idealism was faulty; but half a century on, the physical legacy is poignant. (Especially as the buildings themselves fall to age and physical and stylistic obsolescence; through their bread-and-butter omnipresence, these most universal of minor Modern monuments are also our most misunderstood.)
             In Canada, the epochal breakthrough building was Sunnylea Public School in Etobicoke (1942-43), a stark knockoff of the Saarinens' Crow Island School that established the architect John B. Parkin at the forefront of Canadian Modernism. (With its publication in the RAIC Journal in 1943, one can truly sense a corner being turned for Canadian architecture, previously a little leaden in what passed for its indigenous commitment to Modernism.) While the classic, no-nonsense "Parkin Modern" style didn't fully kick in until the Harvard-trained (and unrelated) John C. Parkin joined John B.'s office after WWII, the message was clear; it was through the humble school building, the laboratory for our childrens' education, that the Modern message was first emphatically propagated. The stark, sprawling single-storey (and in the case of high schools, two-storey or more) facility, devoid of extraneous "style", became the symbolic anchor of the postwar suburb, the serenely iconic intersection of Deweyan educational philosophy and Charles M. Schulzian wistfulness.
             By the mid-50s, the Parkin firm and its young professional compatriots had the formula down cold--chilly cold, so that what was meant to be serenity came to denote cold-war machine-age sterility. There was much more of a dawn-of-a-new-age experimental ingenuity in the decade immediately following Sunnylea, which seldom fails to intrigue; even the earlier Parkin schools tended to be "artier", albeit in a wannabe-sophisticated Corbusier/De Stijl way. But comparable purity of expression wasn't always so easy to come by. Many of the early "modern" schools were heavy and blocky. Some strange hybrids (especially prevalent in places like Hamilton, Brantford, Kingston) combined post-Sunnylea planning precepts with Beaux-Arts symmetry, rounded bays, ornamental stone entrances, incised lettering, in such a way that a 1985ish observer would certainly have viewed as Postmodern avant la lettre. (The Parliament Oak School in Niagara-On-The-Lake may be the most "familiar" of this hybrid 1940s type, if only for its incongruous and subliminally resented presence in the middle of Ontario's most renowned, revered, "perfect", and perfectly overtouristed pre-Confederation "historic town". Needless to say, I'm perverse and subversive; it's my nose-thumbing favourite building in NOTL, a weird-looking "ugly" Xtina floating in a sea of Britney saccharine.)
             But the eagerest beacons of a new age were the schools of postwar Scarborough, designed by Murray Brown & Elton, veterans of the Art Deco era now making a bold and brazen move with the times. The earliest MB&E schools and additions (not all of which were in Scarborough; some strayed as far afield as Swansea and Long Branch) aggressively, even expressionistically, took their cue from the red-brick Midwest-modern mode of Perkins & Will (the Saarinens' Crow Island collaborators). They were typified by rather tipsily assembled wings of sloped-monitor-roofed classrooms along single-storey corridors (all the better for natural "cross-lighting" in a pre-fluorescent era), soaring sentinel-like slab chimneys, gabled entrance "porticos" with pipe columns and porthole openings, and "40s Moderne" cast-metal lettering (think of arched A's and M's, or an N as an upside-down U). And each school had a sweetly clumsy humanizing signature of pidgin-Cranbrookian architectural ornament: a generic triplet of cast-stone squares depicting children hard at work at the Three R's. (By the early 50s the architectural vocabulary in Scarborough had evolved to a more moderate and cohesive "Scandinavian contemporary" a la Eric Arthur's Wymilwood--but the trademark cast-stone "Three R's" was maintained.)
             The Scarborough schools were eager, alright--too eager. They took the Sunnylea cue and went much, much further than they really needed to. They tried so hard to be "current", to bend over backwards and fly off in all directions in accord with perceived new precepts in school architecture and planning, that they, with their cocked-hat classroom roofs, dipsy-doodle compositions and decorative flourishes, appeared mannered and self-conscious--evidently the "Modern" products of a firm whose beating heart and sensibility remained fundamentally 20s-30s Deco/Moderne. As the architectural profession mastered Modernist orthodoxy in the 1950s, these early, earnest yet peculiarly primitive design "experiments" were rendered dated and forgotten. Yet from a present-day standpoint, common opinion would likely prefer a screaming-bloody-1940s Murray Brown & Elton school to a contemporary Parkin design--less "orthodox", perhaps, but also less sterile. They suggest an earthier, raunchier, more "soulful" exploratory strain of early postwar Modernism, a strain hitherto suppressed, and even the fact that they tried too hard is part of their fundamental appeal.
             And then, in 2001, my epiphany. The Parkin schools--Britney. Murray Brown & Elton's Scarborough schools--Christina. Suddenly, a whole lot in the realm of architectural aesthetics--and aesthetics in general, including pop aesthetics--came to make sense…

             Keep in mind that this was post-"Lady Marmalade" and the initial nipple/genital piercing murmurs, so Christina was well along the path toward becoming the dreaded Xtina, Britney was just on the snake-charming verge of becoming a Slave 4U, and 9-11 was around the corner. And in that aftermath, the duality becomes more intensely resonant, not less. Britney still needs Xtina as a foil, and Xtina still needs Britney--and their continued codependency was proven by their spit-swapping with the Vitruvius of poptartdom, Madonna, at the 2003 VMAs. And it'll remain the case as they chronologically advance to the level of "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane". Otherwise, well, they'd be just…entertainers. Ho hum…

WHILE BRITNEY/XTINA COROLLARIES are discernable in the pre-1900 roots of the Modern (usually relating to the whole philosophical argument over beauty vs. the sublime), from today's glib perspective it might as well all be Britney. Yes, when one reaches back to the official survey-course start of the "Modern" period, a higher-concept Britney-idealism underlies the Enlightenment quest for pure elemental rational learned architectural form via Laugier, Boullee, Ledoux, Gilly, Durand, Thomas Jefferson, etc. And there's a very strong case to be made for Ruskinian Gothic, especially in its hardcore, masochistic, vomit-inducing William Butterfield etc. strains, as the all-time pinnacle of architectural Xtinaism. (Certainly, "streaky-bacon style" is a label redolent of how Xtina looked in the "Dirrty" video and her Maxim pictorial.) But washing over it all is how everything pre-1900 resonates today as, somehow, "likeable", familiar, innocuous, and appealing to the kind of mentality which feels that everything in art and aesthetics fell apart after French Impressionism. Even at its most radical, pre-1900 is a middlebrow, commonplace comfort food aesthetic concept--not Britney-idealism, so much as Britney-innocuousness.
             Is there really more than one Britneyism? On the one hand, Britneyism can denote the Platonic ideal, the familiar ideograms of artistic perfection and greatness--for instance, the Parthenon is the ne plus ultra among Britney icons. But it can also denote the banality of said ideograms turned into logos, repeated and reproduced ad nauseam, transformed into hack coffee-table imagery. Whatever it is, it seems to nearly always have the cultural upper hand…to a fault. Britney equals overly familiar, insufferable perfection, so high as to be low, or at least to be co-opted by the low. It's the Parthenon; yet it's also salon painting. It's the vacuity that all the lumpen folk train their eyes and cameras toward. The basic survey course narrative, and a whole lot of middlebrow junk besides. The profound, and the painfully glib, at once--with the glibness distracting us from the profundity.
             Whereas Xtina is the interstitial, the imperfect, the clumsy and disturbed and tormented and misshapen and otherwise "difficult"--the stuff of advanced seminar courses, not survey courses. Not the Parthenon or even the Athenian Acropolis, so much as Athens at large. Inclusive of said Acropolis. The Aristotelian foil to Platonism…and beyond.
             To some degree, architecture at large is the Xtina of the so-called fine arts--which may explain why within university fine arts programmes, architecture is the ungainly, unruly "other", its study fitting so awkwardly alongside that of painting and sculpture.
             Still, even within the architectural canon, a sort of Britney upper hand prevailed (the Parthenon is architecture, after all). It probably has something to do with the foundation for all architectural canon, Vitruvius. Because if there's anything ever so clear, it's that Vitruvius = Madonna. (Even down to their respective "mediocrity"; i.e. Vitruvius = mediocre architect, Madonna = mediocre singer-actor-performer-looker.) And at the 2003 VMAs, where the two bridal-garbed hotties competed for the Pop Vitruvius's attention, whose kiss grabbed the spotlight? Madonna-Britney's. Even though there was arguably more raw girl-girl energy between Madonna and Xtina, it was Madonna-Britney that "stuck". There, and thereafter. For all her efforts, Xtina was left unmoored, stranded at the "Like A Virgin" altar. Not virgin enough, one presumes.
             But a funny thing happened as the c19 approached its finish; bowing to the inevitable, to the inexorable drift toward Modernism, Xtinaism began to overtake Britneyism. Without precedent, the ledger tipped the other way.
             Yet by the mid-c20, Britneyism once again took command--albeit Britneyism of a somewhat different feather. What happened?
             Blame it on the epochal 1932 MoMA exhibition and catalogue "The International Style"; it took the newfound Xtina Xeitgeist and made it Britney. And as for its co-curators/authors, while Henry-Russell Hitchcock's dizzying learned taxonomic magpieism always inclined Xtinaward, Philip Johnson is architecture's Britneyest figure ever. Everything he touches turns to Britney.
             And having lived long enough to know it, he'd probably agree. Which renders him Britneyer still.
             At this point, the in-depth Modernist Britneyxtina Blowout must begin. The most useful ordering system is geographic.

 

FRANCE

AS A CODA TO
an Art Gallery of Ontario-sponsored 1980 March Break group tour of Egypt, the family spent several intensive days in Paris--my first time in Paris, and stilted as she goes. A lovelorn adolescent, already Modernism-besmitten, but without an adequate guide at hand other than Michelin, I made a conscious pilgrimage one day to, of all things, Le Corbusier's Pavillion Suisse, out in the Cite Universitaire by the Peripherique in the 14th Arrondissement, far from any conventionally sane Parisian tourist paths. (But big deal, there was an even more potent of-our-time aesthetic buzz to channel from Paris's peripheral boulevards with their interwar blocks of social housing--my logical response to Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project would be a Peripherique Project, bien sur.) Upon getting to the Pavillion Suisse, I minded my contemplative time beneath the main block amidst the epochal, sensuously polymorphic concrete pilotis (with their miniatures supporting a tennis table!). As I left, in a gesture of good luck and hope, I kissed a piloti...and nine months later, on December 18, 1980, Christina Aguilera was born.
             Problem is, except by the automatic default virtue of date and architectural style, the Pavillion Suisse isn't all that Xtina. In fact, Le Corbusier was the Britneyest of the early Modern masters. Not that Corbu couldn't inflect Xtinaward on occasion; and I found the proof further east that day, in the 13th Arrondissement. No, not the Salvation Army Cite de Refuge on rue Cantagrel--although it's more Xtina than the Pavillion Suisse, if only for its harrowing physical history. I was looking for it, but without an adequate map that could take me beyond generalities, or any cross-streets called "Cantagrel" coming by me, I couldn't find it (though older, wiser, and better-equipped, I made up for that in '87). But in the process of that futile quest, I encountered what's perhaps Corbu's most underrated yet honkingly visible (by virtue of its location on the banks of the rushing monoxide river that is Boulevard Massena) Parisian landmark, the exquisitely jarring Maison Planeix of 1924-28. In fact, I didn't know it was Corbu until I got home (and couldn't believe my dumb luck when I found out); but with a façade composition partaking in more quirky herky-jerky white-stucco De Stijlness than usual for Corbu, it blares out its street-wall presence with a panties'n'chaps vengeance that totally characterizes 20s/30s "International Style" subversion. Even if one didn't know who did it, the very sight of the Maison Planeix imprints itself upon the solar plexus for keeps. Planeixtina?
             Anyway, what otherwise renders Le Corbusier so Britney? Well, any co-creator of an art movement yclept "Purism" naturally invites parallels with a pop icon so, er, "pure" and "virginal". Within the greater context of early c20 artistic movements, some might claim that Purism is as bland as Britney. (But virtuously so, its propagandists and defenders would claim.) And throughout his career, through La Roche-Jeanneret, through Villa Savoye, through Ronchamp and Chandigarh and all that Modulor bushwah and more, there was a marked professed plasticity to Corbu's architectural approach--and as we all know, "plastic" and "Britney Spears" are synonymous.
             And inextricable is Corbu the propagandist, whose chirpy, determined optimism and ingratiating cleverness of phrase, through the pages of L'Esprit Nouveau and Vers Une Architecture and many, many other publications turned him into the savvy archetype of the c20 architectural guru--or, in the eyes of Modern-haters, the biggest quack that ever hit the profession. In the Corbusian spin, conceits that promised to be threatening, barren, frightfully inhumane, were made to look quite…nice. Clean. Virtuous. Classic. Fit and healthy. The way of now, and of the future. Smooth running "machines for living", no snorting beasts here, no androids, no horror, just clean Voisin automobiles and a leather punching bag in the studio. Happy machines, so happy you could just pinch them. Many would love to pinch Britney, her purr as sexy as the engine of a Voisin automobile; she's a jiggly, squishy machine for entertaining, for selling, for masturbating--and there's no horror, for she's so antiseptic and perfect. A pinch'd make her giggle like Pillsbury.
             And to give the gloss of gravitas, Corbu adored the Parthenon, he adored the classics as well as the unadorned Mediterranean vernacular…as well as those masterworks of the modern machine age, the grain elevators of the Americas. Yet when he illustrated the latter, he did a sort of airbrush/photoshop job on them to make them look even more perfect than they were. Talk about propagandists' license…
             Of course, Corbusian reality proved to be different, as many a Ville Radieuse-aping urban disaster and the technical failures and mixed real-world reception of his own work proved--and he'd probably just say to it all, "oops, I did it again". Just like "virginal" Britney smokes and parties and gallivants and may, in fact, be a bigger harlot than Xtina, who at least wears her excesses with a noble mantle of shameful humility.
             In an important sense, Corbu's oeuvre was less prescriptive or proscriptive than a conceit, an aesthetic vamp on the same--but boy, it was sexy. Or at least "purty", like a wholesome fall-fair dairy queen or debutante. Or Britney. Were Corbusiana to be personified, everyone'd want to ask it out. Architects and students aped Corbusian motifs and swore by the Five Points in order to partake in some of that sweet-young-thing jiggly bits and karma. They fell over backwards on behalf of the iconic Corbu. And they still do, in spite of all the "disasters" attributed to the master's influence--and oh dear Stockholm Syndrome, we've even learned to love and live with the "disasters". We've been brainwashed by the beauty queen, and we like it, we like it, and if we're architects we really really really like it…
             …Le Corbusier was so pure and wholesome, that he was an antiseptic tart, a slut, a whore for architecture. He didn't just perfect an architectural look for the c20; he perfected the architect's look for the c20. His horn-rimmed owlish personage became the personification of the profession. And it was cribbed wholesale by the Britneyest of them all, Philip Johnson--who even went so far as to openly dub himself a "whore".
             Well, actually, "whore" is demeaning to Britney/Corbu. Let's think more along the lines of the self-styled virgin as a "machine for deflowering". A distinctly unmaidenly maiden, her breasts and curves "the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light". So delightfully sweet and luscious that her temptingly, miraculously intact hymen is manna from the heavens. She's begging you to break it. The implication being that once it's broken, it triggers the Five G-Spots i.e. Points of a New Architecture. She's squealing with delight, in indescribable ecstasy, erupting in her love juices, more more yes yes, omigod omigod, she love you long time, etc. And she'll do anything, try anything, every act, every position in the book, everything for you, to pleasure you, to be pleasured in return--whether you're male or female. She's a slave 4 U. Once her cherry's popped, she's Cherry Poptart; the eternal deflowering fantasy come true…and the hymen's renewable. It's there for everyone to break; and she'll be the same delightful, wholesomely, epiphanously slutty way, each time. It's the seductive temptation of a New Architecture, that which shall renew our cities and renew our lives. From Dom-Ino and Citrohan came the utopian schemes, the high-rises and Unites. The single utopian dwelling became part of an interlocking, assemblable mass production system; for everyone, a Britney…
             But maybe don't just blame it on the man; also blame it on the Parisian milieu--after all, when all's said and done, Le Corbusier did a little Xtina-izing jig in his characteristically art-schooly Swiss beginnings at La Chaux-de-Fonds (and was arguably returning in that direction at the rigorous end of his career with Zurich's Centre Le Corbusier, bowing to the art-school high-tech avant-gardists of the 1960s).
             That's because from at least the time of Louis IV, by positioning itself at the dead centre of high style and culture and cuisine and couture, Paris epitomised Britneyism. (Okay, even before that--after all, French Gothic is the Britneyest Gothic of all.)
             A Britneyism that could sometimes get pretty darned pretentious--but it's a very Britney form of pretentious intellectual posturing, so it justifies itself. Beaux-Arts Britney, Belle Epoque Britney, Andre Breton-ey Spears: it's practically a song lyric. The iconic Britney as an objet d'art, a happy-go-lucky bauble, as symbolic and familiar as the Eiffel Tower. Even if real profundity and inspiration and vocabulary-advancement existed, it was but adornment, a happy coincidence--but the fact that Parisian art and style and intellect has been so influential all along, such a thing of legend, along so many paths, only further affirms Britney's dominance. It's all about delight, Haussmann boulevards full of Britneys--and who can resist the chestnut puree, or the Cherry Poptart?
             Take the event which opened up the Parisian c20, the 1900 World's Fair. On the surface, it'd seem obvious; the icing-sugar festive Beaux-Arts pavilions were Britney, Hector Guimard's absinthian-apparition Art Nouveau subway entrances were Xtina. But in actual fact, as eternal crowd-pleasers, they're both Britneys--if of a different feather.
             As with Guimard, so with Perret, Sauvage, and others--all curiously Britney. Even Mallet-Stevens, in so many ways Le Corbusier's indigenous "Moderne" foil (or would that be Roux-Spitz? Whatever), gives off a net Britney effect--despite the etymology, Parisian Moderne is as Britney as the Moderne can conceivably get. In fact, the 1925 World's Fair almost came to reverse the equation; that is, it was a place where the Moderne served the Britney role, and the Modern (mainly in the form of Corbu's shunned Pavillion de l'Esprit Nouveau) was Xtina--and an Xtina which itself turned out to be pretty Britney. (Role reversal's a common pattern within that Parisian aesthetic milieu. For instance, Picasso's all the more Britney for being Xtina, while Matisse is all the more Xtina for being Britney--and the macro-Britney envelope encompasses them both, too.)
             And it spreads throughout France--Tony Garnier may seem more Xtina for being based in Lyon rather than Paris, but he isn't, really. In fact, to Michelin-motor around France is like happily travelling Britney's curves.
             The Franco-Parisian condition is all about style. Seductive style. It took the techno-futurist Modernist vision and made it stylish. And within its primordial-Britney example lay the foundation for Hitchcock & Johnson's International Style framework.
             With this truly, madly, deeply Britney pattern in mind, it becomes plain and clear how architecture in France performed its unparalleled plummet into Jerry Lewis/Johnny Hallyday-worshiping inanity after WWII. And once it started to recover…well, the Pompidou Centre (followed closely by Mitterrand's Grands Projets) really initiated the contemporary "starchitect" era of coffee-table architectural monument-building. Thus we can't be speaking of "Xtina de Portzamparc" quite yet; through substance or lack thereof, the Britney boulevardiers have kept on strolling into the c21. (Thus explaineth Phillipe Starck.)
             But it isn't all as simplistic as it appears. For instance, contemporary Parisian urban studies (and not simply the Situationist International) tend to be fairly Xtina--and the more fine-toothed the comb, the better. Indeed, the language-barriered inscrutability of the French intellectual world has, at least over the past century, tended to out-Xtina--albeit ever so self-consciously--the plain aesthetic world. (France: aesthetically Britney, intellectually Xtina. Germany: intellectually Britney, aesthetically Xtina. Perhaps?) And even within said aesthetic world, there's an important Xtina exception to the Britney rule: Marcel Duchamp. Not only does Duchamp's disconcerting tubes-machines-violation-apparatus spin on female sexuality presage the entire "Dirrty" gestalt (Xtina "Stripped" Bare By Her Bachelors, Even?), but he even had the double-R schtick down cold as his female alter ego, Rrose Selavy…
             Unfortunately, Duchamp wasn't an architect. Not until September 11, 2001, anyway.

 



GERMANY

NOW, THE GERMANIC
situation somewhat inverts the Gallic situation. Here we're faced with a Modernist culture that played most of the Britneyan pure-simple-modern cards right to the letter, to the point where it was recognized as the spiritual base and proving ground for the clean, unadorned, functionalist "new style". Yet chalk it up to Teutonic severity and a certain untranslatable something weirder; the net aesthetic result is very, very strangely, intensely, peculiarly, enthrallingly redolent of a no-nonsense, ever-transfixing Xtinadom--a reminder of what the Modernist nexus was really all about before Hitchcock & Johnson got their filthy hands on it.
             It was not about easy happy purity; it was about a difficult, unsettling, unapologetically spartan Sachlichkeit. Even a concentrated, high-intensity, all-star (including Le Corbusier, for heaven's sake!) programmatic statement of orthodoxy such as Stuttgart's 1927 Weissenhof Siedlung leaves a disconcerting impression rather analogous to Xtina at her greased-up bug-eyed deformed-Edie-on-crank underdressed xtreme…or maybe a Paris Hilton video. Perhaps that's it--Paris Hilton: Britney, Xtinafied. (Maybe the clunky Nicole Richie equivalent would be Behrens' contributions to Weissenhof.) Given the historical facts of the time and place, it was like an architecture sublimely blanked out by turmoil, or in the face of turmoil. But in more strictly Xtina terms, it is an architecture that displays reverse cleavage. Here's where not only Britney got Xtinafied with a vengeance; more properly speaking, it was the primordial Xtina from which Britney Internationalism grew.
             Maybe it was meant in part as a jolting opposite reflex to the Britney-gone-berzerk kitsch stereotype of Bavarian oom-pah-pah beer-toting frauleins mit sauerkraut, plus a few Holy Roman Empire hangovers and no-nonsense Protestant reserve elsewhere. There's no doubt that the Goethe-to-Friedrich-to-Wagner strains of German Romanticism were erected upon a wiry Aguilera-Gothic framework, or that the hack history painting of a Cornelius out-Xtinas the Salon hacks in Paris. And in architecture, Schinkel and von Klenze are too, well, "serious" for Britney. Yet it's mostly the luck of being off the primary survey-course axis (and touched by the toxic waste of what it begat) that bathes the sleeper culture of post-Goethe, pre-c20 Germany in a tentative (still more Christina than Xtina) Aguileran haze--and the further they got from Fraktur, the better.
             But then, almost out of nowhere, things jolted. Over the first third of the c20, Germany became the shrieking-at-all-octaves radical hotbed for the Modern Movement, bar none.
             And the central blame for German Modernism's radically reverse-cleavaged character rests upon the shoulders of Walter Gropius--he who created that central paradigm of a new architecture, the Faguswerke, and who founded the Bauhaus and led it for the first decade of its existence (and espoused its legend forever after).
             Yet the Jugendstil underpinnings of Gropius must be accounted for--the Deutsche Werkbund; the Mathildenhohe artistic colony at Darmstadt; the epochal projects by Peter Behrens for AEG, etc. Already--in the Behrens idiom, especially--there's a hard, tough, ominous demeanour, dodging around fashion on behalf of function; here were the beginnings of industrial design and corporate image-making as we know it today. A radical paring down to no-nonsense fundamentals, nothing fancy, nothing stylish, nothing cute. The stylistic was rendered subservient to the technologic, the scientific, the pedagogic. Even at Darmstadt, a philosophy that appeared to follow in the footsteps of William Morris or the Wiener Werkstatte seemed portentously harder-edged in practice--symbolized by the breathtakingly intense five-fingered strip-windowed totem of Olbrich's Wedding Tower (which, spotlit in the evening, is in architectural orgasmic nosebleed territory). And with Behrens--well, when a steel-framed turbine factory becomes a central harbinger for the architectural future, and, according to legend, nurtures a New Mickey Mouse Club-style family tree where Corbu and Gropius and Mies and whomever else turns up, you know that something's up…
             And truly, there's nothing cuddly chirpy Cherry Poptart about Xtina, nothing nice or clean or virtuous or antiseptic; as erotic lust objects go, she's a turbine factory. A greasy, filthy, metal-bedecked rivets'n'joints turbine factory, AEG yeah you know me.
             It's a dour eroticism that declares there's nothing pretty about eroticism--an unyielding brute energy, maybe, or a disconcerting clinicality, but nothing as insipid as "pretty". With Xtina, the pleasure's inextricable from the pathology, the sensuality from the sublimation. There's no nonsense about the "virginal"; as a witness to domestic abuse, she lost an innocence long before she lost her innocence. Sex, for her, is meant to be ugly and abject; less a means of domestic procreation, than as a tributary to rituals like genital piercing. It frightens people, it appalls people. It is an act of unsettling, transcendent violation. It is, and shall always remain, "the forbidden". And when "the forbidden" is on display a la "Dirrty"/Maxim, it exhibits all the sensuality of a flayed cadaver. Never mind that; it borderline declares a flayed cadaver to be sensual. Like the proverbial Nietzscheian God, "mere" pleasure is dead; this is "the real deal". (Unlike his pilferer Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius didn't deign to photoshop his grain elevator images into "perfection").
             Thus factories and sanatoria and low-cost housing became the exemplars, fetishized for their scientific (or pseudo-scientific) anti-glamour. And it came to be that the idea of German Modernism veritably spreadeagled its credentialled full-frontal vagina dentata before the beholder. Photographic images and real encounters embody a sublimely horrifying/stimulating downloaded-snatch-shot immediacy, as if to unsubtly remind us that, well, this is where the Modern Movement was born…
             So, Gropius. Just like Xtina's reverse cleavage was a contradictory fashion statement, a negation of so-called logic, Gropius performed acts of architectural negation and contradiction at the Faguswerke. Corners which were meant to be solid became glassy stair-tower voids; "columnar" verticals became indentations; glazed interstices carried more visual value than brick supports and enclosures; horizontal "layering" shoved a fatally compromising shoe-last into the remnants of a conventionally Classicizing or Gothicizing impulse. This was the architectural point of no return; things could only get Dirrtyer (not to mention more Stripped) from this point onward.
             Gropius was the most puzzling of the Modern Masters--the negation-contradiction pattern gives his designs a strange, unsettling quality of free-floating, stripped-down inertia that, by implication, only an architect or scientifically-minded (including social-scientifically-minded) design geek could really love. It was logic, self-consciously drained of joy, as if joy had died that Nietzscheian death. The apotheosis, of course, was the Dessau Bauhaus--to say nothing of the whole "Bauhaus myth" generated under Gropius's leadership tenure and thereafter.
             Curiously enough--or maybe not so curiously, given what the Bauhaus begat--while the spirit may have been Xtina, the Bauhaus carapace was exceedingly Britney. Too exceedingly. It was a Britney anesthetized, stripped bare, and laid upon a table for scientific purposes. A raw specimen. It was but a stark rhythm-track diagram of a Britney, hardly flesh and blood and full of life the way that Le Corbusier made her out to be. In fact, it was not Britney, not at all bouncy Britney; it was something more ominous. It was a spindly, self-consciously and very disturbingly vacuous Paris Hilton. A pared-down turbine factory with the turbines and fire-spitting grease and filth flushed out--a far more disconcerting variation on Britney-iconicism than anything yet seen.
             And that's where the Xtina comes in; the Bauhaus was a perversion of Britney. (Affirmed, perhaps, by its most underrated yet most resonant architectural element: the sign. Not the glass walls, the pinwheel plan, the contents and function, but the sign.) But a perversion that ultimately lent itself to be respectably re-Britneyfied by Hitchcock & Johnson, and then by Gropius himself once he left for Britain and then America in the 1930s. Maybe because the perversion was ironically "honest"--that is, it lay Britneyan artifice upon its sleeve. It was all about the packagers, the producers, the musicians and remixers, with Britney but an abstract figurehead, as blandly effective an ideogram as the bent-metal Breuer chair. It's just that "Bauhaus modern" needed to shake off those Weimar Republic Paris-Hilton-video shackles to fulfil its own "virtuous" blandness, and thereby declare its erstwhile Xtinaism to be a didn't-know-better adolescent aberration.
             And because Britney's so all-American, that meant that the approach had to be exported to America. Rah-rah, sis-boom-bah, Harvard gimme a G-S-D.
             Besides, Gropius wasn't the ultimate in German Modernist "logic"; that'd be more like his immediate Bauhaus successor, Hannes Meyer--yet Meyer came across as more uncompromisingly (and purely, without that Paris-Hilton folderol) Xtina than his predecessor, not less. (Even though he was Swiss!) Keep in mind that the term Neue Sachlichkeit which came to mark such extreme-Modernism found its neo-realist artistic equivalent in the art of Grosz and Dix, which is as Xtina as "objective" art got between the wars.
             But as proof that a Britney (Paris-i-fied or not) carapace stands for something, the astringent universe of the Bauhaus and "white Modernism", so insufferable to the Tom Wolfeans who'd rather steer their Britney away from Xtina's operating table, does have its own kind of Germanic Xtina foil; namely, Expressionism. Which, in all the arts--maybe painting, sculpture, and cinema even more than in architecture--was Xpressionistina to the point of stereotype; including when it blended into the early "transitional" Weimar Bauhaus, or into Dada via Kurt Schwitters. Little needs to be explained about the more "cinematic" Expressionist designs (built and unbuilt) of Peter Behrens, Hans Poelzig, Bruno Taut, etc. In fact, the best case in point, and the most apt "Xtina" foil to a "Britney" Gropius, was Erich Mendelsohn, who blended Expressionist dynamism with creamy Modernist simplicity to create an astonishingly successful and versatile archetype which, in effect, zipped right by Gropius at his game while finding time to do a few multi-octave wheelies and other stunts. (Keep in mind re Modern vs Moderne that the populist N American Streamline Moderne would have been impossible without Mendelsohn.)
             Here, in Erich Mendelsohn, was an architect who was wild, wooly, and as Aguilera as could be; his designs were not only the modernest of the Modern, but they had soul. And why not? Unlike most right-minded (left-minded?) Modernists, he was no self-conscious ideologue. He didn't make a habit of hanging with fashionable artistic or political or intellectual organizations, of crafting grand manifestos or statements or narratives. Instead, he chose to "sell out". His primary client base was the Jewish merchant class, because that's where da flava was.
             And as Mendelsohn grew older, he never stopped being Xtina, perhaps because he never stopped being Jewish--carrying his career to Britain, Israel, and finally designing postwar synagogues for the USofA. Throughout, he retained that exotic "otherness"--that flava. Which may be why his role within the classic AngloAmeriWASPy Modernist narrative long remained ill-drawn. (Paradoxically, Mendelsohn's Britneyest masterwork may have been his earliest and wildest: the Einstein Tower.)
             Real or implied, flava might, indeed, be the pivotal factor behind what gives German Modernism its strange aura within the context of its time. And why the increasing looming omnipresence of this stark, clunky, and/or otherwise funny-looking "new architecture" was viewed as an aesthetic and cultural threat. These buildings could be interpreted as Judaic or Arabic or any exotic "other" that was not Volkisch--and worse, this "ugly" strain wasn't confined to a rarefied radical or theoretical realm. In one form or another, its motifs--whether "Dee Snider" Expressionist-Gothic-in-a-light-socket, or various positions within the reverse-cleavaged functionalist Kama Sutra--were "corrupting" the establishment and the public sphere, even that which was indigenously Germanic. Prominent urban structures from Fritz Hoger's heroic Kontorhausen in Hamburg (Dee Snider mode) to Stuttgart's Tagblatt-Turmhaus prong-in-the-sky (reverse cleavage mode). Great housing and/or planning remediation schemes from those of Ernst May in Frankfurt to those of Fritz Schumacher in Hamburg. Everything touched by flava, by that Joel Grey cackle, even through unwitting reflected glory.
             Remember how Xtina compounded the depravity of her 2002 VMA garb by talking "ghetto"? Well, to its detractors, this was architecture that spoke of the Ghetto.
             Like the horrible "guess the Jew" test--a choice between Britney and Xtina; guess who'd win? Like, duh; you guessed it. The funny looking one. Just like Chelsea Clinton versus the Gore girls, or Ringo among the Beatles.
             So it came to be that the flava was stopped dead in its tracks in 1933, on behalf of an induced, horrific giga-Britney reaction. Indubitably Britney. Neurotically Britney. Hysterically Britney. Obsessive-compulsively Britney. Desperately Britney. A Britney meant to pulverize--literally--all that remained Xtina. (And not a shred of Paris Hilton, either.)
             The conundrum being that this intended Britney aesthetic revolution was being orchestrated by a type-a Xtina personality--which is why its output tended to teeter between the ominous and the hilarious. Adolf Britler?!? Too much. Waaaaay too much. It has to be a closeted Xtina to put the "Stripped" into Stripped Classicism. But following all sorts of deformation, this closeted one became Dementia Praecox Britney. Obsessed with the Britneyan ideal. Shepherding the more orthodoxly Britney strains of artisto-archi-urban conservative reaction a la Schulze-Naumburg into a domineering force, as scarily vacuous as Britney herself, Pepsi bottle in hand. Xtina got Floria Sigismondi? Britney got Leni Riefenstahl! Just think of it: Britney Speer
             Of course, all the Zyklon B in the world couldn't stop the inner Xtina from kicking, screaming, crying in agony--and with a voice like that, one cannot help but be affected by the cries. Just as with Gropius, a lot of what the Nazis begat had to cross over into postwar America to truly fulfil its unencumbered Britneyan vacuity. It took the thoroughly Britney Interstates to show how Xtina Hitler's original Autobahn network truly was.
             After WWII, with all the flava scorched out of it, Germany had no choice but to offer itself to a different range of Britneyizing outside forces, from either side of the political divide. Still, it couldn't hide past bruises and scars, psychically and spiritually if not physically. Unlike postwar France, Germany could never be inane. Except in the qualified rusty-Trabant terms of East Germany, which was probably as Britney as the Eastern Bloc became--or it would have been, were it not for constant awareness of its counterpoint with West Germany. Because divided Berlin was the folded-spindled-mutilated centre of the Cold War Xtina universe, bar none. WWII did it, the Wall did it, urban renewal did it, and the various urban experimentations and avant-gardisms and hippy-squat-Baader-Meinhof-Green-radicalisms and historical-awarenesses of the 70s and 80s did it--and the fall of the Wall did it. And the fact that everything was a traumatized response to some other traumatized thing kept Berlin's Xtina gears turning, ever turning, even into the recent/current starchitects' resurrection of Potsdamer Platz, etc. (At the other end of the country, however, century's end did see the Vitra company town of Weil-am-Rhein blossom as the hands-down most exquisite of architectural Britneycropolises--but it's right next door to and practically lap-danced by both France and Switzerland, so whaddaya expect.)
             And one architect has been absent from the discussion so far…Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Because as the Modern Masters go, he represents perfect equipoise. The absolute point of balance between Britney and Xtina. In Europe before WWII, Mies was too rich and glam for the Xtina norm; in America after WWII, Mies was too sublimely solemn for the Britney norm. Perhaps he's beyond them both. Perhaps it's beneath him to be so profanely discussed. He's a classic Chanel or Dior, maybe…but not a Versace. Place either Britney or Xtina within the Barcelona Pavilion--it don't work. Like common magnet poles, they'd be repelled from the joint. And anybody who'd dare confront Phyllis Lambert with Mies van der Ho reverse cleavage is asking for a head shot off…

 



THE LOW COUNTRIES

GENERALLY THE PRINCIPLE GOES
like this: Holland = Britney, Belgium = Xtina. In my 1987 Euro-travelling, I found Belgium strange. Bathed in an odd vomitous-ugly industrial gloom, desperate to be unlikeable--and believe it or not, if that can be construed as praise, please do so. It was a place with magnificent florescences of cultural and artistic history; think of medieval Bruges, think of Van Eyck, of Rubens. (Think of Tintin, for that matter.) And above all for the purposes of this discussion, consider that Belgium was maybe the truest germinal point for Art Nouveau, and by extension all of c20-style architectural/decorative arts radicalism. Yet in spite of it all, Belgium felt masochistically repellent, like it was deliberately torturing itself, lacerating itself, slamming Van Eyck and Rubens and Horta up against Esso and Fina and Sabena and an ugly colonial power legacy as well as all manner of EU bureaucratic philistinism. Maybe it was the language wars, the Flem-Walloon conflicts that left Belgium looking eternally off-target, geographically and culturally marginal, an artificial political construct too constipated to break up a la Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, or the Soviet Union, a diminished default power that was at best like a deformed version of Switzerland. Or an Xtina to Switzerland's Britney. In fact, Belgium's an Xtina to everybody's Britney. (Although the masochism and visual repulsion does kind of tantrically highlight Europe's most luscious street food; waffles, frites, yum.)
             Belgium's seminal Modern Movement figure was Victor Horta, architecture's de facto founding father of Art Nouveau; but it was only in part through his example that fin-de-siecle bourgeois Brussels has got that feeling of buzzing berzerkitude, of whipsaw'd Viollet-le-Duc, of townhouse horror vacuii. Even if this is where Modernism started, the spirit of Belgian Art Nouveau is really more the spiritual precursor to Art Deco and Moderne: stylish, overwrought, picturesquely overloaded, richly slash-shock-whoosh disconcerting, and a super-sexxxy dead end. "Vulgarity" tipping into something unspeakably, portentously un-vulgar--metavulgar, maybe. Predictably, perhaps, Horta's Art Nouveau legacy was prone to abuse and mistreatment through postwar "urban renewal" (which claimed the Maison du Peuple) and what have you. And common consensus re Horta's later "establishment" career traditionally had him bobbing uneasily between blocky migraine-Deco and outright sub-Modernist senility. So, the "Belgian problem" in a nutshell--it's always worn Victor Horta with a furrowed brow. And Horta's arguably more important contemporary, Henry Van de Velde, had to flee for brighter cultural climes in order to exercise maximum influence, and then more as an instigator than as a creator (though it was characteristically Belgian of him to be a philosophical Xtina to Herman Muthesius's Britney at 1914's Cologne Werkbund).
             And of course, if you want Xtina transcending herself, look no further than the absolute indescribable apotheosis of pre-WWI metavulgarity, where, unbelievably, two Xtina xthetic empires collide--Brussels and Vienna: Josef Hoffman's Palais Stoclet.
             So, it was the Netherlands which succeeded in being the more Britney locale, and for a straightforward reason: nowhere else was the Modern Movement more straightforward. Nowhere else did the orthodox archetype become so flawlessly, effortlessly, unselfconsciously commonplace. It was the artistic undercurrents of the Dutch avant-garde that provided the fundamental templates for what ultimately became known as the "International Style". Funnily enough, it wasn't a terribly Britney-looking Britney; it was too pared-down, more along the lines of a miniskirted Kohled-up 60s Warhol gal than a millennial Skechers-grrrl. More neo-plastic than plastic, in other words--a jarring sort of Britney that worked a la Xtina, complete with its underlying quivering stench of Blavatskyan manifesto mumbo-jumbo. And besides, the founding father of the De Stijl movement, Theo van Doesburg, was from all reports pretty personally Xtina-ish--raw, restless, and lacking Corbusian polish as a manifesto-purveyor/journal-publisher--which may be why in his own aesthetics, he couldn't leave well enough alone. (But Mondrian--who could leave well enough alone--was clearly Britney.)
             And the Britney fundamentals begin primally; while the Belgians had Horta, the Dutch had Hendrik Petrus Berlage, that most un-neurotic romantic rationalist--almost uniquely among the first-generation modern masters, Berlage seemed to have a moderating effect on everything and everyone he touched, absorbed, deflected. And it was characteristic of this calming influence that it underlies not only the iconic "International Style" of J.J.P. Oud or Brinkman & Van der Vlugt, but also the brick picturesqueness of the "Amsterdam School", Rietveld's exquisite De Stijl applications, the techno-rationalism of Duiker & Bijvoet, and the "conservative" monumentality of Dudok. Maybe too calming; and it sort of blurs what, exactly, is Britney here, and what qualifies as its Xtina counterpoint. Thus the least "puristic" of the lot--the Amsterdam School--may therefore appear to be the Xtina here. Yet the Amsterdam School is so phlegmatic--much less unsettling than contemporary Expressionist work in Germany or even Parisian Art Deco--that the folksy dominant curvy/innocuous impression it leaves is more Britney, not less. Meanwhile, Dudokian conservatism leaves an Xtina (or more properly, perhaps, Christina) impression for roughly the same reasons as contemporary Cranbrook-era Eliel Saarinen; that is, as an acceptable-face non-ideological moderate Modernism that was a popular success (especially in Anglo-America) but, in the eyes of archi-zealots, an eternal bridesmaid to the International Style bride.
             Even the apparent Britneyism of full-fledged Dutch De Stijl/International Style a la Oud is, at best, highly qualified--perhaps oxymoronically reflecting that in 60s terms, Britney would have been less Warhol-minimal than Wynette-maximal. (Although several of Britney's 2003 attempts at post-pop-tartian hot'n'sexy--the W Magazine pictorial stands out in particular--saw her doing a good Warhol-minimal approximation.) It all accords to context, of course; for instance, Oud's 20s purism only appears sweetly Britney when compared to his outlandishly Xtina later exercise in "neo-eclectic" brain-farting for Shell. (Incidentally, European office buildings for Shell between the wars--The Hague, Berlin, Paris, London etc--all have a mean, ornery, uncompromising/overcompromising Xtina way about them.) Going the other distance, it shouldn't bear mentioning that Rietveld's Schroder House completes its own eclectic block in a wailing off-in-all-directions outburst of Xtina. (Like, if you call that Britney, you're setting the bar too low. Besides, any of these early-c20 "strong woman" clients, or designers, or lovers, are automatically Xtina.)
             Quite plainly, the archi-awe inspired by icons like the Van Nelle factory or Oud's Hook Of Holland housing is too sublimely visceral--and in the end, the only thing that made a lot of this 20s/30s Dutch work seem so Britney was that it fit the Hitchcock/Johnson pretty-white-boxes thesis so well. (Also noticeably absent: the ominously Germanic "Paris Hilton" effect.) Otherwise, the Netherlandish propensity toward perplexment has a way of slopping up the works; we want the tulips and the windmills and the Rembrandt, but we also get turgid aesthetic intellectualizing and red-light meat-markets. We desire a pretty little Britney in wooden shoes, but we get Xtina Hollander. Or maybe we get both, mired in the same below-sea-level mist and muck? It's inscrutably intriguing. If we think of it as a strictly Britney affair, the Britney idee fixe seldom gets as diversely interesting as here. Never is the Britney-the-happy-whore that underlies Britney-the-virgin so conspicuously on display. And a real whore--that is, a step past Cherry Poptart. But very fresh and untroubled about it, not a slice of dysfunction evident. (One imagines those Amsterdam sailor boys as Justin Timberlake or Fred Durst or Colin Farrell types…that is, if they're not after each other, Tom Of Finland-style…)
             And the Britneyan promise was affirmed through self-consciously insular blandness just before and especially after WWII--a reason why Oud or Rietveld failed to scale the late-life reputational heights of Mies, Gropius, Corbu, FLW, Aalto, et al. Holland just settled into a natural state of complacent boredom--but not without bursts of delirium that'd make Van Doesburg blush. Whether through Piet Blom's Rotterdam "cube houses" or, of course, through the guruhood of Mr. Delirium himself, Rem Koolhaas.
             Koolhaas. Britney, or Xtina? Either/or? Both/and? Neither/nor?!? Back when the wouldbe Pamela Anderson movie vehicle "Barb Wire" came out, I thought there was something very EuraLille about ol' Baywatch Pam. S, M, L, DD…
             On the other hand, this much must be said for a putative S, M, L, Xtina synergy: nobody sings the word "delirious" quite like Christina Aguilera does in "Beautiful".

 



SPAIN/PORTUGAL

PACE ALVARO SIZA, PURE
backwaterism automatically renders Portugal the ultimate pouty bridesmaid--a rather mopey Xtina both to its neighbour Spain and to the linguistic-cultural dog its tail wags, Brazil. But with an exoticism inherited from its Muslim past and perpetuated by a rich literary tradition, Spain itself has always carried the attributes of an Xtinaesque oddity, eternally a little off the canonical centre; and as with Portugal, what it's exported across the Atlantic has overshadowed what it is. Except that as ostensible Xtinas go, Spain's more of a Britney, thwarted--thwarted not by instinct, but through circumstance. (For much of the c20, circumstance meant Franco's dictatorship.) As many a frugal traveller knows, the most Xtina thing about Spain is simply to exist there--but when it has broken through persistent provinciality and hit the spotlight, it's acted Britneylike, even when in Xtinalike garb, and been embraced accordingly; that's why Picasso, Miro, Dali have become such middlebrow coffee-table fixtures. (And the Spanish Civil War was that most middlebrow coffee-table of melodramatic c20 conflicts.)
             Of course, when most think of Modernism in Spain, Barcelona comes to mind; and with the Catalan tradition, the 1859 Cerda plan, and, needless to say, the wildest Art Nouveau-era urban vernacular ever created, anywhere, with Antoni Gaudi as the wildest of the wild, Barcelona appears like the overripe acme of Xtina. (Even the name "Xtina" appears somewhat Catalan.) But there's the rub; Barcelona's been so excessively celebrated for its purported Xtinaness that the Xtina's been cancelled out. As an "on-cue" hack sentimental favourite, Gaudi has turned out to be the jiggly-jelly Britneyest of the Art Nouveau. A boring "establishment" capital city like Madrid ought to have been the Britney to Barcelona's bohemian Xtina; instead, it's practically the other way around.
             The provincial pattern meant that Spain barely saw the International Style before the Civil War broke out; but the Corbusian inclinations (and later American career) of its most famed practitioner, Josep Lluis Sert, affirmed the Britney urge. Then came the long Franco slumber--and thereafter, the Britney coffee-table instinct firmly reasserted itself. Tentatively at first--though Spain's most famous Postmodern export became hyperthyroid-Britneyclassical king Ricardo Bofill. But absolutely by the 90s, what with the 1992 World's Fair/Olympics double whammy, architects like Moneo and engineers like Calatrava, and, of course, Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim. Of course, one could go the culturally-quasi-correct route and declare the Spanish (+ Catalan) mood neither Britney nor Xtina, but something appropriately in-between; that is, Shakira. (If only the reference point weren't so banal; and deceiving to boot, given that we're speaking of a Lebanese-Colombian…)

 



ITALY

KIND OF THE INVERSE
of Spain; surely, the land that's acted as an overstuffed ground zero bullseye dead centre for big chunks of the Western artistic (and touristic) canon ought also to be an overstuffed ground zero bullseye dead centre for Britney, huh? Think again. Think even as far back as ancient Rome, which--get this--was an Xtina to the Britney of ancient Greece, right? (Brytnos? Xtinus?) Trouble was, Il Stivale was overstuffed with cultural and contextual riches to the point of simply overwhelming, dizzying horror vacuii. (And it's paradoxically reflected in the scholarship; when Italian art scholars tackle their own work, it's with a sensual ideological "Roberto Benigni" flapping-arm flamboyance that those conditioned within an AngloFrancoGermanic scholarly tradition might frown upon as arbitrary and undisciplined.) Medieval? Renaissance? Baroque? Even at its most purportedly Britney-canonical, Italy was defiantly boiling right out of its assigned Britney pot…and by the time the Enlightenment rolled along, it was exhausted, too plum tuckered out to join except by providing ruins and relics and antiquity and inspiration to please archaeologists and travellers and dilletanti. Toward the end, we had the Venetian Britneyscapes of Canaletto as well as Piranesi single-handedly inventing, in his archaeological drawings as well as the "Carceri", the Dirrtyscape--but post-Napoleonic Italy became, aside from the touristic kitsch, one long weird Xtina flatline. (Even in the usually Britneyish realm of "Beaux-Arts" Classicism, Rome's elephantine Victor Emmanuel monument is too outlandish to not be Xtina.)
             And this explains the very quixotic artistic path taken by Italy in the c20--and (with a brief pause for Stile Liberty) we may start just before WWI with Futurism. For here is the A-1 perfect case of an artistic movement playing the trying-too-hard, shooting-self-in-foot Xtina/Daffy role to a Britney/Bugs paradigm, i.e. French Cubism. Now, if Italian Futurism didn't beat everyone else to the avant-garde punch, whether in non-figurative abstraction or in celebrating ugliness/brutality/violence/speed'n'dynamism, it certainly was louder about it--loud and overstated to the point of self-parody. So loud that Futurism's excesses inadvertently became the first pratfall-laden joke of an avant-garde movement, the first where you didn't have to be a philistine to find it a punchline, all vroom-vroom Fiat-Lingotto'n'stuff. Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto was an Xtina Manifesto, with Her Roaring Snorting Dirrtyness declared more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace…thereby inviting Letterman & Leno & Conan & Jon Stewart & Tina Fey to have their yoks at her expense.
             If ever there was a movement designed to blow itself up real good, it was Futurism; and sure enough, its warfare-mayhem obsession ("Fighter"?!?) led it to dive into WWI head-first. Claiming some of its most gifted practitioners in the process--including the one true high-Futurist architect, Antonio Sant'Elia. And it may be merciful that Sant'Elia's designs almost never went beyond drawn fantasy, as they anticipated all the deliriously megalomaniac non-historicist non-contextual c20 excesses of the International Style, of megastructures, of Buck Rogers sci-fi nutsiness, and whatever else (but they also directly motivated Erich Mendelsohn's flava).
             But if WWI wasn't enough to perversely sully the Futurist name, it was Marinetti's post-WWI efforts toward aligning the style's nationalistic overtones with Benito Mussolini and Fascism. But did Fascism ruin Futurism, or did Futurism enhance Fascism? And so it inevitably happens that if the oppressively scary Aryan sterility of Hitler and Nazism sieg-heils the ever-Aryan Britney, the far more fascinating Mussolini-Fascist tableau, where ideological/gestural ludicrousness did some unlikely/precocious/just plain strange cha-cha-ing with sophisticated avantgardish high style and metafisico, took a twisty-switchbacked trajectory that shrieks, hollers, bellows SPQRtina. (Though the leadership paradox was the reverse of Germany's; a burly, jut-jawed Roman-Napoleonic demagogue like Mussolini was more inherently Britney than a tortured young Werther like Hitler.)
             If Nazi Germany anticipated the dreary, barren conformity of Eisenhower's 1950s (think of how Autobahns begat Interstates), Fascist Italy was so eclectically jarring as to be prematurely Reagan/Thatcher 1980s, PoMo, L.A. Olympix, Madonna-wannabes, etc--as if Gabriele D'Annunzio wuz the Bret Easton Ellis of his day. Whether surreal Neoclassical a la De Chirico (think Piacentini) or a clean sophisticated Rationalist Modern that could match anything being created within less totalitarian regimes (think of Giuseppe Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como--it may look worthy of Hitchcock & Johnson, but consider the function!), whatever might have been Britney anywhere else automatically became Xtina here. (And this on top of such confections as Milan's "Novecento" style!) And go ahead and wander the cities and streets of Italy: Fascist-era building and urbanism is surprisingly, diversely ubiquitous, or brainwashes us into thinking so; even what came before and what came after answers to "the Fascist moment". It was a realm that'd almost convince us, in hindsight, that Fascist Italy was the most sophisticated urban/design culture of the interwar years…
             And maybe it was so--frightening to think, huh? Well, arguably the greatest unexecuted Fascist-era work of architecture was Terragni's Danteum …the Divine Comedy…Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso…maybe that's the Dirrteum…
             But this particular observer's own underrated ItaloFascist favourite of the period is at once the most contextually conspicuous and the most stylistically subtle: Michelucci's Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence. Moreover, Firenze S.M.N. encapsulates what, exactly, a restrained XtinaModerne may consist of in contrast to the BritneyModern. Simple…and yet more stylized, less "virgin" than the Villa Savoye; a thick, rich horizontal-gelato flow, faced in stone but otherwise devoid of historical references, yet also stopping short of intellectualized, dogmatic barrenness. Mysteriously, this cleanly soft-edged 1930s-futuristic transportation terminal becomes wailingly transcendent, especially in evening glow--and all the more for being an exceedingly important urban and infrastructural participant at the doorstep of historic Florence (every visitor knows it), and instantly highlighting that tourist centre as, in its own right, a collective Britney to its Xtina. (No mean feat, given the inherent Xtinaness of Medician-Michelangelesque Mannerism.) Could it be possible for a visitor to be barraged by all that Stones-Of-Florentine artistic and urbanistic and cultural richness…and then embrace, among all the artistic patrimony, the train station? On a cool Tuscan Valentine's Day in 1987, haunted by the Walkman strains of Freda Payne's "Band Of Gold", that'd be, with a little bit of knowing subversive intent, me. (And what of Il Duce "who made the trains run on time"? In this context, no more of a brute than Fausto Aguilera…)
             Paradox-ridden as Modernism under Mussolini (as we have seen, a more complicated matter than "Mussolini Modern") was, it was compounded by the almost seamless flow into the postwar, post-Mussolini era--far from the "total break" necessitated in Germany after Hitler. Not only were numerous urban and architectural interventions mooted by Mussolini carried out as planned, but even the Fascist party surreally survived (and survives) as a valid, if de-fanged, political force. And one almost feels that had Il Duce not been ousted and strung up, had he lasted into the Cold War a la Franco, there wouldn't have been all that much difference in Italy's architectural/stylistic trajectory--it was mostly the same cast that was creating it, anyway. (Ponti, Moretti, BBPR, etc--and of course, if there was one truly Britney figure in the bunch, it was the engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. Although Rome's postwar train station qualifies as something of a Britney to Florence's Xtina.) Stigma or no stigma, there was a continuum; and it was a diverse and disconcertingly "progressive" or "avant-garde" continuum, whether Neo-Expressionist, Neo-Vernacular, or even prototypically (and directly influential upon, at that) Postmodern. And it tended to defy--if not entirely escape--the Britneyizing trend of the day. (True, among 50s Milan skyscrapers, Ponti's sleek Pirelli Building appears as an obvious Britney foil to BBPR's busy-Xtina Torre Velasca--but the former was too poignant for its apparent Britney convictions even before a plane nearly 9-11'd it in 2002.)
             So it was a sprawlingly eclectic tableau in Italy, consistent only in its inconsistencies; truly alla Stripped; as incoherent as the political scene, rather than as lyrical as the cinematic scene. (Er, yeah; for every "Britney" Fellini there was an "Xtina" Pasolini.) And in time it had a way of murking up any clear Britney/Xtina identity; f'rinstance, in out-Fascizing Fascist architecture, was Aldo Rossi more Britney, or Xtina? Or what of Carlo Scarpa--an architectural cult figure who, once posthumously "discovered", became more of a Britney role model by default? And Renzo Piano might have become an Xtina to his Britney of a Pompidou collaborator Richard Rogers…but how clear is that?
             Indeed, if anything about Italo-archi-aesthetic's seemed more "conventionalized" (i.e. Britneyized) over the past generation or so, it's not because of any inherent changes in character, but more because the entire world's caught up to its hyper-polarized, madly-off-all-directionness. Upon close inspection, it's ultimately the same ol' Italy. The place which gave Robert Venturi his complexity + contradiction epiphanies, remember. Instant Xtina; just add (non-)virgin olive oil, and even the Britneys in the audience'll be weeping at the magnifico

 



SWITZERLAND

EXTREME BRITNEY. A HIGHLY concentrated dose of Britney, straight from the science lab. Britney taken as far to the disembodied-automaton-orgasmatron Slave 4 U/In The Zone edge as possible, without sacrificing her virginity purity. Space, Time & Britney. Forget Futura, let alone Kabel; this is full-blast Helvetica. It's where Le Corbusier came from. It's where the CIAM-style Modernist canon (with Corbu and Siegfried Giedion as dual Swiss gurus) felt most at home. It's where book after midcentury book, san-serif black font on glossy white pages with artfully composed B&W photos, celebrating the "new style" in architecture and design, originated from. And no Paris Hilton, either; nothing ominous. With Britneys like this, who needs Xtinas…
             And that's the point. Switzerland's Britney dosage was so lethally, absolutely pure--more of an ingredient, than something to be taken straight--that it escaped the more conventionalized pitfalls of either French-style Britneyism or American-style Britneyism. Giedion was the pivotal ideologue, not Hitchcock & Johnson. That's why Switzerland brought out or nurtured the Xtina-like qualities in Corbu. It's what made Maillart's bridges leap like magical ferroconcrete apparitions. And even Germanic rationalism in the form of the Mosers or Salvisberg (or irrationalism; cf. Rudolf Steiner) was transfigured into sparkling, glistening Alpine-snowflake perfection. And consider Alfred Roth, who was not only the archetype of the Swiss Modernist architect and polemicist, he was the archetype of the Modernist architect and polemicist--period. His built and written oeuvre had all the sweet swoony semi-wholesome blandness of a Britney Spears pictorial portfolio, and how could anyone (well, at least those archi-hormonally-overloaded midcentury architectural students searching for pinup imagery to masturbate their slide rules over) resist...
             Which explains why Roth came to be a hemidemisemifootnote, of utterly no consequence to posterity, except to High-Modern architecture-culture anthropologists. (On the other hand, Herzog & de Meuron have since proven how the Swiss tradition could be usefully translated into ultra-glam, materially sensuous c21 terms: "Toxic" modernity, indeed.)
             Let us go further. France provided the Britney aesthetics. America provided the Britney substance (or lack thereof). Switzerland, most intimate of all, provided the Britney mechanics. The concealed clockwork mechanism, assembled with Swiss precision. Turn the key, and watch Britney move her pneumatic animated-gif moves. It's a delight to behold. Mechanization takes command!
             Le Corbusier's hometown, La Chaux-de-Fonds, was also a Swiss watchmaking capital; given such a milieu, how else could he have obtained his delightful "machine for [fill in blank]" perspective? Britney's a machine for eros. Clean, sexy, antiseptic erotic functionalism. As sexy as latex, as sexy as spermicidal jelly. Just cool, clean erotic fun, nothing gets contaminated, no risks involved. Everyone's happy, everyone's laughing, nobody gets hurt. In the sperm bank. "In The Zone".
             Maybe Germanism rather than Gallicism made Zurich appear more Xtina than Geneva did (obviously)…but Switzerland was more cooly seductive than that. Whenever Xtinaisms entered the picture, the net effect was more like Britney-Xtina lesbian fan literature. Yet Britney remains the primary object of worship…and it's like we, the beholders, take on the Xtina role in the narrative. We're lezzie-seducing Britney, exploring our deepest darkest mutual same-sex desires. Giedion's Bible? Pure lezerotic propaganda. Britney's taking us over, and we like it. And in this cradle of European democracy and civility and well-run perfection, such was the idealest set of affairs that could be. As she who beholds this exquisitely sensual Britneytopia would sing, we are beautiful, no matter what they say…
             Maybe that's why--going back to January of 1987--I liked Switzerland, the land of Toblerone and Ricola, more than I…should have? Bags of soft Euro-wafers simply melt in the mouth on a cool Bern winter evening, and snow, yes, fresh fallen snow, never tasted better than in La Chaux-de-Fonds…where I think I was the only youth hostel guest, just a small snow-tasting stroll away from the Villa Schwob and more. The only one, for the moment…but I could have been Xtina; and imagine another guest, Britney, stopping for the evening. The two of us; the only guests. We have the space to ourselves, and our eyes meet…you figure out the rest…

 



AUSTRIA

SWITZERLAND'S INVERSE; XTINA TO the max and all tied up--what do you expect from the land of Freud? It's like Germany--only more so, and a more downcast "more so" at that. As the archetype of cobbled-tram-track old-world urban Mitteleuropa, Vienna's eternal playing out of the pathologies of Hapsburgian decadence more than fulfills our romantic expectations of what the Germanic city ought to look and feel like. And unlike Germany, Austria's never had the slightest Britney pretense; it's been totally Xtina, through and through. (Musically, maybe, it's Britney, at least in well-worn reputation--remember Mozart, remember Strauss. But the Xtina end could match that with Mahler and Schoenberg--and besides, Britney's never really been about music, remember.) And as a potential object of lesbian love corresponding to Switzerland, Austria'd only lead to a ditsy daze if not outright Klimt-stain queasiness on mild-mannered Britney's part. (Remember that leading into the 2003 Madonna-bussing VMAs, Britney was the shy one, and Xtina was the willing.)
             And the legend of Secessionist Vienna affirms, affirms, affirms this completely overpowering stench of Xtinaness emanating from every single Viennese nook and cranny and coffee-house. True, it could be exploited, celebrated, milked for present-day touristic purposes--but it can't be Britneyed. Vienna ain't Paris, or even Barcelona. Within that clammy realm of Symbolist/Art Nouveau decadence, Vienna was the clammiest, the most decadent. And it may have escaped the worst c20 war damage, yet it feels "damaged" nevertheless: overloaded with weighty Ringstrasse-belt bourgeois baggage, and eternally suspended in a chronically morose, guilt-ridden ooze of post-traumatic neurosis. (After all, Vienna seeded both World Wars, by providing a Crown Prince to be assassinated and by motivating delusions of grandeur on the part of a certain tormented young art student.)
             Consequently the Viennese Modernist legacy feels heavy and gloomy--though it's a mysteriously alluring sort of heavy gloom. And through this Hapsburg haze, it turns out that Vienna's one of those places where the "Modern condition" is said to have been born. Especially in architecture. In fact, Vienna is the place where the very dominant Xtinaness of early Modernism originated. And the milieu provided that ultimate "Stripped" epigram, courtesy Adolf Loos: "Ornament and Crime".
             Yet Loos didn't proscribe ornament; only unnecessary, superfluous ornament. Which obviously contradicts our impression of Xtina as a fashion-gaffe time bomb. But this anti-ornament stance sure packed a lot of Xtinaesque shock value; a minimalism as maximal as the weirdest, creepiest, most overwrought art of the Vienna Secession. And it makes us question; what is a gaffe, anyway? Being "funny-looking" according to mainstream period convention, as Secession art and design surely was?
             Ultimately, overloaded and nearly-nude are two sides of a common Xtina coin. And when the sides of excess and minimalism meet, well, this much must be said: the most fundamental Aguileran ornament--the piercings: facial, nipple, labial/clitoral/wherever-the-heck-she-has-it-down-there--is very Wiener Werkstatte in spirit. (Or maybe, to combine gender-correctness with a geographic pun, "Oyster Werkstatte".)
             In fact, examine the oeuvre of Austria's venerated Svengali of architectural Xtina, the Irv Azoff of Modern Architecture, Otto Wagner. Savour the shiny aluminum studs and bolts and hoops and swags that adorn and envelop that proto-high-tech astonishment of the 1900's, the Postsparkasse. They're piercings. (And for tattoo equivalents, refer to Wagner's Majolikahaus, etc. And just consider the Church am Steinhof as Vienna's Pierced Nipple, or Pierced Clit…)
             And Loos wasn't off base; in fact, it may justly be claimed that the plain-white-cubic myth of modern architecture germinated in Vienna, with the arguable starting point being Josef Hoffmann's Purkersdorf Sanatorium. (Which embodies another early c20 truism: that Central European health resorts and sanatoria wear their Modernism like a glove. In fact, the sanatorium may constitute the most didactically Xtina genre of all. Britney, I guess, would be glam resort hotels a la Miami Beach, or SOM's international Hiltons, etc.)
             But there was a glitch: Vienna's (mostly) plain (mostly) white cubes of the sort Adolf Loos was inflecting toward were too "Stripped" for their own good. As in, stark, denuded, barren. Like simple Classical boxes self-consciously expunged of all detail. A thonged/wedgied Mary Ann booty with no Queen Anne front to speak of. The decoration was removed…but as of yet, with an incomplete aesthetic resolution. That resolution of the non-ornament/anti-ornament reflex only came after WWI, and in other locales, culminating in what was dubbed the "International Style"--but Vienna was no longer a prime participant in its formulation. In fact, in Viennese/Loosian terms, the reflex was negative, even pathological. It's why Britney is a successful tease, but when Xtina tries that Britney thang, or even to go dramatically further, she lacerates herself. And the Xtina embodied by Vienna is Xtina at her most abjectly self-flagellating: the weird-looking Dirrty Maxim slut-dressing strip-clubbing childhood-abuse 57-Varieties-of-venereal-disease bar-hopping cat-fighting weight-fluctuating rival-dissing hip-hop-hose-juggling SuperHo whom we are verry verry worried about. Maybe she should be locked up at Purkersdorf…
             And so it came to be that the Viennese Zeitgeist was a stunted proto-Modern Zeitgeist that, for better or worse, failed to properly grow into full-blown Modernist dogma. When Vienna tried its own Werkbund housing exhibition a la Weissenhof in 1930, the results were earthbound by comparison (maybe it was the Nicole Richie to Weissenhof's Paris Hilton?); and the more successful efforts at au courant domestic Functionalism tended toward the cerebral (late Loos, Josef Frank, and Ludwig Wittgenstein's house, no less). The prevailing pattern was heavy, conservative, and playing out the Hapsburg-bourgeois string, even when catering to those who were anything but bourgeois. Take, for instance, the heroically monumental projects of "Red Vienna", the Xtinaest social housing ever created--right down to their slathered-on bronzer look.
             Things did tend to lighten up after WWII; in fact, Austrian architectural trajectory eventually travelled from the disconcertingly gloomy to the equally disconcertingly giddy. And the more familiar practitioners, such as Hans Hollein or Coop Himmelblau, have continued to reflect the Xtina end of the sliding archi-scale. (On the other hand, Hunnertwasser's popular neo-Surrealist antics are Vienna's token archi-Britneyism, and correspondingly sneered at by modern-day archi-snobs.)
             And for all its heavy-Hapsburg dead weight, early Viennese Modernism, with its "awkward" vestiges of/allusions to traditional scale and proportion and (horrors!) ornament, not to mention its Sitte-esque urbanistic approach, had the last laugh. Eventually, International Style "perfection" was found to be threadbare, meagre and wanting; and by the 1980s, the idiosyncratically maladjusted Vienna strain began to appear prototypically Postmodern, and belatedly influential, its erstwhile "defects" now embraced as positives. And the redemption holds to this day.
             Sort of like how the erstwhile overwrought/hapless Xtina seemed to gain the upper hand in 2003; the now dark-haired vixen assuming a fire-spitting majestic respect and command, even snatching the Donatella Versace and Skechers sponsorships from Britney, and faring a lot less insipidly at it. Culminating in the sheer, bold, offensive-and-proud-of-it bravado of her holy-striptease MetaCher raunchy clotheshorsavaganza hosting stint for 2003's MTV Europe awards, which went down like a nice bracing swig of cod liver oil--exploiting the Loosian two-sided overloaded/nearly-nude coin for maxxximum effect. And it left Britney symbolically choking on her self-styled (and weakly self-discredited) "virgin" perfection.
             Which only proved that it takes an Xtina to make tattoos, piercings, professed non-virginity and other post-pop-tartisms "work". On Britney, a tattoo or piercing unfortunately has nothing of the Wiener Werkstatte (or Moderne) about it. Instead, it's fussy 50s/60s Stone/Yamasaki stuff…

 



EASTERN EUROPE

FROM THE BALKANS TO THE Baltic States, this spread of geography is broadly defined by distinct Xtina advances along the ItaloAustroGermanic front, spiced up by a little backwater exoticism courtesy of Soviet Bloc muddle and a dash of the Ottoman or Orthodox. But mostly, it's by being off the too-familiar Western canonical-narrative radar that Eastern Europe attains its generalized Xtinaness.
             Does contemporary Greece count? Were it better known, it might lean more toward the Britney; as it stands, it bobs indistinctly between Italy-in-miniature and Spain-in-miniature. On the other hand, Parisian Deco/Moderne really shed its Britneyism as it infiltrated interwar Romania. And perhaps Balkan Xtinaness is a long-range matter, if one considers Rome's cultural orbit as Britney and that of Constantinople (whether representing Byzantium or the Ottoman Empire) as Xtina. (With Greece, then, Athens is Britney, and Thessaloniki is Xtina.) And as one eases northward, it becomes increasingly clear how the the old Austro-Hungarian orbit auto-Xtinas everything in its path…
             Well, kind of. Provincialism dilutes a lot of the impact. And plenty hinges upon the varied regional strains of turn-of-the-century "National Romantic" spirit which, in most instances, recalls Barcelonan tourist-postcard neo-eclectic/neo-medieval flamboyant fantasy rather than Viennese neurotic-progressivism. (Wild'n'easy Art Nouveau regionalism most often tends to be a Britney taste, appealing to those types who ooh-aah over Dale Chihuly glass. It only Xtina's itself when, as in Plecnik's Ljubljana, it morphs into that architectural scholar's high concept of "Critical Regionalism": [Kenneth] Frampton Comes Alive!)
             As the nominal second banana in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary is a little hard to define; aside from the requisite Art Nouveau/National Romanticism, it's better known for exporting a pair of design figures that oversaw the Bauhaus's transition to Britney-compatability. (Then, of course, they compounded Britney matters by following Gropius to the USA.) While Marcel Breuer evolved into an arch-Britney of Britneys (especially as his post-WWII oeuvre appeared inflated with excess silicone), Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was an odder case: more of a hyperdynamic anticipation of Koolhaas/Bruce Mau collaborative artsy-fartsy trendiness. Maybe not so much Xtina, as a Strokes vs Xtina mash-up…
             But it is Czechoslovakia that undoubtedly is, if not a Britney among Xtinas, then at least the Britney of all Xtinas, for a simple reason: it's Central/Eastern Europe's eternal insufferable overachiever. The sort of place that, thanks to the propaganda and liaisonning of Karel Teige and others, was constantly celebrated by all manner of functionalists, by Le Corbusier, by CIAM, as a place where "new architecture" and "new planning" could be achieved with relative peace and ease (witness, most of all, the Bata company town of Zlin). Sure, WWII and Communism held things back for a while; but the Velvet Revolution myth, and then the remarkable post-Perestroika cultural-capital blossoming of Prague (including the infusion of archi-megastars like Frank Gehry), more than made up for that 40-year blip. It's only geography and that ever-fascinating cultural/linguistic second-stringness that has maintained a palpable Xtinaness about Prague and the former Czechoslovakia--or is it but a tokenism? After all, everyone knows Britney's one of the Plastic People Of The Universe…
             And then there's Poland. Whose knack for being dealt repeated grievous dirrty blows by history has rendered it not just your garden-variety Xtina: it is the epicenter of Xtina.
             And it's a distinct form of Xtina--because, almost uniquely in Europe, Poland was fundamentally Christina before it was Xtina. The emotional lyricism of its cultural patrimony hearkens back to a delicate yet powerful small girl/big voice je ne sais quoi straight outta "Genie In A Bottle" or "What A Girl Wants". Or even the "Mulan" soundtrack. Heck, even the New Mickey Mouse Club and Star Search…
             And this Christinaness was something existential, rather than based upon concrete output. Because as an output-producer, Poland--whether medieval or Renaissance or modern--never quite figured as it might. Or at least as it dreamed it might. In spite of the small-girl/big-voice achievements of a Chopin or Copernicus, Poland always seemed to be a little off-orbit within the Euro-sphere--and compounded it with a Jesus-diva-complex way of wearing its failures on its sleeve, of presenting itself as thwarted time and time again, by neighbouring powers and competing cultures without and within. Less the Britneyesque expert ingratiator, than the Christina/Xtinaesque "walking bullseye", never getting things completely right, poignantly flagellating herself when not being (or even in response to being) flagellated by others.
             Thus, Poland entered the Modern era sliced-diced and otherwise partitioned-away by its Eminem/Carson Daly/Fred Durst neighbours. Resurrected as a an independent state after WWI, Poland was a gifted participant in the Modernist debates, finely distilling the best (worst?) Functionalist/Constructivist/CIAM logic; but without a proper PR team or series of textbook monuments, Poland remained as blurrily off-orbit as ever. Christina may have looked wild in "Lady Marmalade", but she was but one cog in the wheel. And Poland was but one cog in the interwar Central/Eastern Europe wheel.
             Christina would be fundamentally innocuous without Xtina. And the Xtina moment was WWII. WWII as history's great "Dirrty" video. With Poland front-and-centre like Xtina, and Der Fuhrer in David LaChapelle's director's chair. (And Stalin as Redman. Duh.)
             Now, Poland wasn't the only place blasted asunder during WWII; but it became the war's symbolic epicenter. Hitler's perverse masterwork, his most horrifically moving achievement--design achievement. Death, destruction, humiliating perversity, and all. And through the alchemy of laying its suffering upon its sleeve, Poland turned it into its own most moving design achievement--as well as that of the c20. (Which lays bare the "design" fallacy?!?!)
             So now, Christina will forever be that Dirrty girl Xtina--a flop single that became her signature tune (and a peeler-bar "Stairway To Heaven" to boot)--and Poland will forever be post-traumatic. Humiliated over and over again; if it ain't the Nazis, it's the Soviets. And such is the giddy, frenetic virulence of Poland/Xtina's greasy venereal infection that, by being annexed to Poland, Breslau/Wroclaw and the rest of Silesia automatically became the most Xtina Germanic zones of all--no mean feat, that--while the zones Poland ceded to the East (Wilno/Vilnius, Lwow/Lviv, etc) automatically became the most Xtina parts of the Soviet Union! Meanwhile, the indubitably Britney formula of Williamsburgian historic rebuilding reached instead a Dirrty-to-Beautiful phoenix-from-ashes apotheosis in the form of Warsaw's Old Town. Even routine 50s Socialist Realism and 60s/70s Modernist bleakness took on something more poignantly eerie within Polish jurisdiction, just like every bit of flab and cellulite imperfection Xtina started sporting (and shedding) over 2003 seemed portentous. When the subject's damaged goods, we cannot help fixating on the damage, or the nuclear shadow left by such damage…
             …and like Xtina, Poland still can't get it right. Well, in the context of literature, music, and film, it has; but that's too rarefied. As a protest movement, Solidarity was heroic; as a governing movement, it fizzled, and Havel's Czech Republic soaked up the style. Pope John Paul II was neat until it became clear how rear-guard he, and by extension Roman Catholicism, and by extension Polish Catholicism, really was. And really, if it weren't for the mythos of its wartime humiliation, would Poland be all it was cracked up to be? Even un-destroyed, Warsaw was at best a second-stringer among European capitals and cultural centres. If it weren't so Xtina, the place'd be undistinguished, it seems. Not "damaged", or "thwarted"--"undistinguished". Ho-hum.
             On the other hand, Daniel Libeskind still has an uncanny ability to be labelled a "Polish architect". Perhaps the only "Polish architect" most are able to identify. That's telling you something. (Especially as a lot of true-blue Poles would rather explain him away as Jewish, i.e. not really Polish. See what I mean about them not getting it right? They haven't even grasped how Xtina they are, flava and all…)

 



USSR

MUST BE THE CYRILLIC script? For all of the former Soviet Union's importance to c20 world history--and architecture, and design--it whooshes straight past both Britney and Xtina. One examines Constructivist and Suprematist work in vain--it ain't in Malevich, it ain't in El Lissitzky, it ain't in Tatlin. It ain't in Socialist Realism, either, even if in the most banal assessment, Stalinist classicism appears a Britney to the Constructivist Xtina. Nor is it in Russia or any of the pre/post-Soviet components. Even infiltrators like Le Corbusier were defeated by the vkhutemaic whoosh. The trouble with Russian/Soviet creation is that it's just too gosh-darned declamatory. Britney and Xtina are shouted down, propelled at supersonic Sputnik speed straight outa the joint. Not Britney? Not Xtina? Perhaps in honour of their coming out and getting the Communist Party started, we ought to declare, therefore, that the Reds are Pink…

 




SCANDINAVIA

TRUE, THERE'S AN UNDENIABLY Britneyish timbre to the English-speaking world's blandly blond-wood craze for "Scandinavian Modern" in the 1950s (to say nothing of subsequent Ikea-mania). However, Scandinavia is mostly Britney by way of export--as an indigenous phenomenon, Scandinavian design inflects mildly yet noticably toward the Xtina direction. Well, maybe it's not completely so, either--perhaps it's more Christina than Xtina (and if so, we can safely assume such spirit migrated across the Baltic into Poland). Or maybe the duality consists of Christina-Xtina, in lieu of Britney-Christina or Britney-Xtina. Or the whole Scandesign demeanour could suggest something even more delicately fair'n'wistful, wholesomeness without perversion, like Mandy Moore. But it's especially hard not to think of Xtina--perhaps because of all teenpoptarts, Xtina's got the most of that Garboesque weird exotic mystery…
             Chalk it up to Nordic primitivism. The delicate intensity that makes the artistry of Munch or Ibsen soar with the birches into the dark, daylight-deprived December skies. In terms of architecture around the turn of the century, Scandinavia made the stark unfussy majesty of National Romanticism (scarcely "Art Nouveau") its own. Look at Finland's Eliel Saarinen or Lars Sonck alongside Guimard or Gaudi, and the distinction's clear--it's too glacially brittle even for Berlage--and Saarinen was to take his humanely more-Beautiful-than-Dirrty Scandxtinaisms over to America after WWI. (But most bizarro in this mode is P.V. Jensen-Klint's Gruntvigs-Kirken in Copenhagen, whose astonishing organ-pipe Gothic-on-E-Tabs façade is actually more Dirrty than Dirrty and out-Beautifuls Beautiful in the process.)
             Shortly afterward in Sweden, Gunnar Asplund achieved his personal abstract neoclassicism without the slightest evidence of Britney-fascist bluster--but then he did a remarkable 180 with his jolt into full-fledged glass-&-steel Modernism for the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition. And that--modern, lightweight, and free as a bird, like nothing that anyone had seen before--was the irrefutable gateway to the myth of "Swedish Modern" being Britney, Britney, Britney a la Johnson, Giedion, etc.
             Well, in fact, if the Stockholm Exhibition fell short of absolute Britneyism--too early, too poignant, too precocious--it nevertheless suggested a happy, springy, Britney DNA pinpointed within an Xtina lab. And that it was but a Britney toe-in-the water was affirmed by Asplund's quick reversion to an even more sublimely timeless crypto-classicism (Stockholm Crematorium et al).
             Besides, what truly was Britney in Sweden between the wars was National Romanticism's "right wing": Ostberg's Stockholm City Hall. (Which to Joe & Jane Average, might be what c20 architecture should have been about, rather than all this CorbuGropiusMies folderol.) Or was there a common foundation of some sort? It really appears that Sweden--despite Asplund--is Scandinavia's Britneyest, under the same CIAM-friendly overachiever circumstances (hellooo, Sven Markelius, and thanks so much for Vallingby) that made Czechoslovakia into Eastern Europe's Britneyest. And it did Czechoslovakia one better by the luck of remaining democratic through and after the war years until, by the 50s, it seemed to be the happy, whimsical, obnoxiously influential symbolic archi-Britney for all the world. Seemed to be. At least, within the parts of the world conducive to Social Democracy--which, of course, rules out the USA, where "Swedish Modern" might as well have been one big Genie In A Bottle, baby…
             Maybe by way of its Teutonic adjacency, Denmark's as if Sweden were dampered by Xtina murk, though its prime Modernist exponent (Arne Jacobsen) earned his renown as a Britneyist; while Norway'd qualify as Xtina in its backwater way (compare the town halls of Stockholm and Oslo, and guess which is which). But Finland, by maintaining a tradition of high quality and high intensity, is what passes (and only passes) for Sweden's true Xtina foil--in town planning, compare Vallingby to Tapiola--and, of course, it produced the unmistakable pinnacle of Scandinavia's c20 architectural canon: Alvar Aalto. (It mustn't be forgotten that Aalto's international "breakthrough" came through that most Xtina of building types--a tuberculosis sanatorium.)
             The unique point about Aalto is that he spent his whole career coaxing a free-form Xtina vocabulary toward a Britney-like effect; that is, pretty as a picture, and splendid for the coffee table. As a result, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, Aalto's idiom--less "vacuous" than the popular 50s incarnation of "Scandinavian Modern"--became the acceptable face of a ruddy-brick wooden-slat "humanistic" alternative to High Britney International Modernism.
             Yet with Aalto, and all Finnish Modernism of this period, the impression left is more "soulful" than soulful--less "Beautiful", more "The Voice Within"--a reminder that for all their differences, Britney and Xtina are both products of antiseptic Disney-culture. Oh, Aalto was still distinct; after all, the midcentury contrast between Gropius' Harvard Graduate Center and Aalto's Baker Hall at MIT was a textbook classic of Britney-vs-Xtina. (And the distinction from hyper-Scandi-Britney exports such as Revell's Toronto City Hall or Utzon's Sydney Opera House, or the overall spirit of Eero Saarinen, is all too clear.) Of course, now at MIT, Steven Holl's out-Xtina'd Aalto back into Christinadom--where he probably properly belongs, anyway…
             And there we have it; in this clean-as-a-whistle Nordic Disney environment, good luck extracting the Britney and Xtina from each other. Oh well, given the geography, it could be worse--like, choosing between the chicks of ABBA…

 



GREAT BRITAIN

HAIL BRITNEY, BRITNEY RULES The Waves? Except that Britain seemed to expend too much of its critical Britney-vs-Xtina energy during the Industrial Revolution and through the c19 battles of the styles; by the time Queen Victoria died, the Empire seemed plagued by tired blood as America and continental Europe assumed the vanguard. Thus through much of the c20, the UK's architectural/design thread bumbled its way between fiddly, dumpy Kelly-Osbourne (yeah, she might be more of a Yank) conservatism and fiddly, flighty Kylie-Minogue (yeah, she's an Aussie) stilted vacuousness--even while, though the influence of Pevsner and others, the art of architectural observation was perfected. It's like, we'd look in vain for Britney vs Xtina, but too often landed in an unlikeable Viz-charactered cesspool of Di vs Fergie, Di vs Camilla, etc.
             Though through the odd paradox of a nascent 50s Pop sensibility, Britain's avant-garde aesthetes actually prefigured literal Britney/Xtina techniques of observation and analysis. Maybe Banham was the Xtina to Pevsner's Britney? Or maybe it wasn't so new… …after all, the apparent flimsiness may originate in a certain dilettantish culture of gentleman scholarship and study; all English eccentrics, sots and swots, sharing discoveries and creating taxonomies. F'rinstance, Palladio himself might have been Xtina…but Anglo-Palladianism was Britney.
             John Nash: Britney; John Soane: Xtina.
             At the Palace of Westminster, Barry = Britney, and Pugin = Xtina.
             St. Pancras = Britney, and King's Cross = Xtina. (Or is it Paddington = Xtina? Euston = Britney?) And the examples go on. In fact, even though High Victorian Gothic tended toward aggressive Xtinaism in the hands of Butterfield, Deane & Woodward et al, its most successful proponent, Sir George Gilbert Scott (of St. Pancras fame), stood at the barely-contested apogee of High Victorian Britney.
             And to prove it's all in the family, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott marked the heroic pinnacle of c20 Brit-ney. And if Sir Giles' little red telephone booths (and big big power stations) are Britney, Charles Holden's London Underground stations--and all Frank Pick-era London Transport design, logo, maps, everything--is Xtina.
             But to return to the c19, eventually things settled down with William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement, whose role was similar to that of "Aalto Modern" in the c20: the contemporary coffee-table Xtina mode of record. To the point where, paradoxically, its concern for handicraft and domestic comfort made it the Britneyest cornerstone to c20 Modernism (while Banham's great idee fixe, America's "industrial sublime", was the Xtinaest). And it's also the most mundane--if we were to go simply by Hermann Muthesius's epiphany, without the critical pick-up-and-run efforts of Behrens, Gropius, the Wasmuth Frank Lloyd Wright edition, et al, c20 progressivism in Germany wouldn't be much to write home about. Morris and Arts & Crafts blazed a trail to the radical…as well as the conservative; like French Impressionism, it's the end of the acceptable-artistic-vanguard line for those bewildered by the last century or so of aesthetic "progress". It's just as much a cornerstone to those critics of Modernism and its excesses.
             And it's a progressive-conservative tightrope also trod by followers as diverse as Voysey and Lutyens--the latter, ultimately a hero to the Postmodernists; but a double-edged-sword sort of hero once anti-Modernism became as insufferable as its target. (An Xtina in Britney clothing who gave in to the Britneys anyway?)
             In fact, Britain wore its interwar Modernism gingerly at best; a little Dudokian brick, a little Moderne streamlining, and a few CIAM-conscious radicals like Lubetkin and Tecton peeking through the cracks. And the post-Nazi visits by Gropius, Breuer, Mendelsohn, etc, were just that--visits. Toes dipped in the water, with a reluctance to fully digest--Britney-vs-Xtina-by-numbers, although the overall penguin-pooled pithead-bathed Penguin-paperback Pevsner-pokiness seemed to want to be Xtina. (Is there nothing more "reverse cleavage" in spirit than driving on the left side of the road?)
             But if the will was Xtina, the nerve soon failed; and that mid-century, massively motivational benchmark of contemporary UK design, 1951's Festival Of Britain, was a meagre, fussily decorative, flimsy and vacuous Festival Of Britney (albeit half a century later, a lovable nostalgia item for the nouveau-retro-Britney Cool-Britannia Conranites). The worst of Scandinavia (with none of the mitigating languor) coupled with the worst of Le Corbusier (with none of the surreally mitigating momentousness): all silicone, no guts. (And Britney symbolically reeked of silicone even if her physical attributes were, in fact, more "natural" than Xtina's.). If architecture were a lady, postwar British architecture in the aftermath of FOB (esp. in the New Towns) was plagued by a terrible case of "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman"--and worse, it was more like Di in 1981 than Britney in 2001.
             And it was a virulent gutlessness, indeed. It was even reflected in "poignant" populist potboilers like Coventry Cathedral (Britney does Andrew Lloyd Webber: that's Coventry). And it corroded the very promising onset of a new Britney-vs-Xtina situation, announced by Alison & Peter Smithson at their Hunstanton School, that seemingly perfect Xtina foil for the Festival Of Britney…
             Now, for originating the concept of (New) Brutalism and thus spearheading the series of counter-movements that ultimately overthrew the CIAM hierarchy, the Smithsons deserve an Xtina chapter to themselves; and early James Stirling, the fantasies of Archigram et al are a definite part of that narrative. (Incidentally, among "serious" 60s-modern architects, Denys Lasdun is arguably the Britney to Stirling's Xtina.) And if the mantra of "Townscape" was Britney, the mantra of "Megastructure" was Xtina--but in execution, it was virtually the other way around. And there lay the dilemma with UK architecture up through the 70s: all those manifestos, all that intellectual gesticulating within the pages of Architectural Review and behind the doors of the Architectural Association…yet the built stuff betrayed all the flavour and finesse of English cuisine. It was pure welfare-state Square Britannia, a mostly mundane or compromised afterthought to Britain's achievements in art, fashion, popular music, etc, not even worthy of BritneyXtina…UNTIL…
             Well, a semi-until. Not triggered by the precociously nascent strains of Postmodernism in the 70s, or the starchitect blossoming of Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, later James Stirling etc. in the 80s per se. Rather, it was triggered from the outside--by the Prince Charles populist counterrevolution in 1984. In a jolting instant, the archi-establishment that had hitherto fallen pallidly short of BritneyXtina was reframed by default as a monstrous carbuncle of a megaXtina next to HRH Prince of Wales' sensibly humane Britney. Modern radicalism vanquished by Postmodern traditionalism--which even upset the "Modern radical" element within Postmodernism itself. (The Kriers, co-opted by Charles as archi-planning gurus, forever lost their countersubversive counter-Xtina thrill. And Christopher Alexander sure ain't Xtopher Alexander. Well, as a computer guru, maybe…)
             And the hangover from the Prince Charles moment lives on…sort of. Though the mag-illustration contemporary high-tech school of Rogers, Foster, Hopkins is looking pretty Britney these days (the extroversions of a Will Alsop might be the Xtina to that), while the erstwhile Festival-Of-Britney-twee has become a rather unlikely Xtina (or, perhaps, 2003-model Britney) in its gracelessly dated and doomed end-of-natural-lifespan dotage. But this is Britain. However high the design bar rises, the Britney-Xtina remains deflated. Or Di-flated…
             But, a geographical postscript. Because history's proved once and again that Scotland's the McXtina to England's Britney--perhaps "Dirrty" is spelled so because of a Scottish burr? And within Scotland, it's rather obvious that Edinburgh is Britney and Glasgow is Xtina. (There was no more Xtina exponent of the Greek Revival than "Greek" Thomson--and as for Charles Rennie Mackintosh, enough said.)
             And a second postscript, as Ireland arguably has the most powerful Xtina attributes of them all--hyper-Catholic like Poland, hyper-ill-starred like Poland, hyper-existential-agonied like Poland, hyper-intense and on top of it all, that's where Xtina's maternal lineage lies. Yet something doesn't quite click with Ireland--perhaps because it lies too much within the British cultural/linguistic orbit. Or because its "Holocaust moment" (the Potato Famine) came a century too early. But mostly, while Poland was the epicenter of Modern maltreatment, the Modern seemed (except in literature) peripheral to Ireland, to pass it by. In terms of the c20 built environment, Ireland almost totally failed to figure as anything other than a humdrum backwater Anglo-satellite. Even civil war and domestic terrorism failed to amount to much. It's as if we're left with the early blonde-teenage-diva Christina, as well as her dark-haired in-command 2003 incarnation--but the "Dirrty" phase has been totally pared out. (Then again, there may be a Lilith-fair virtuosity to Ireland's state of affairs; that is, overblown BritneyXtina metaphors for modern/contemporary architecture are irrelevant to the narrative…)

 



ASIA/AFRICA

AND SO WE ENTER THE East and exit Modernism's primary Eurocentric narrative. Here, Modernism was the colonizer, even when "returning" motifs and approaches it "borrowed" from the East. And the colonial "default mode" was automatically Britney. Britney hawking her Pepsi and Skechers. Hawking her Wright and Corbu. All for show: "We are MODERN. We are WESTERN. We are NOW." What better badge than Britney? East pretends at West, sometimes succeeding heroically well and even outdoing the West--consider how Japan rose to the architectural forefront in the late c20 (Tange, Isozaki, Maki etc) and, more flippantly, how the kinds of megascrapers and megaprojects long out of mode in the West (yet frequently designed by Westerners) popped up all over Asia at century's end. Such out-Westing of the West consequently evolved from simple "default Britney" into an approximation of BritneyXtinaism--but that's all it is: an approximation. Trouble is, when you render Britney and Xtina in manga, they look identical. (Though generally, if Hong Kong's Britney, Shanghai--for the Bund, at least--is Xtina. And despite Lutyens and Corbu, Indo-Asia's more Xtina than Eastern Asia. And if Sydney's Britney, Melbourne's Xtina…)
             But when it comes to Xtina, proximity (and the Mediterranean) makes a significant difference. Take Turkey, or much of N Africa (or all of Africa--even S Africa)--if there were Xtina-default colonialism (even French colonialism), this is where it exists. And, needless to say, Israel's fundamentally founded upon flava; if the expatriate Britneyness of the International Style landed on Anglo-American soil, Tel Aviv as a 30s-modern utopia embodies its little-celebrated Xtina counterpart. And the turbulent history does the rest within that geography: Old Testament Xtina pitted against the well-oiled Britneyic Koran. (Which likely has something to do with Old-World European versus New-World American proclivities in play. Look within the Arabian peninsula; late-SOM Americanism rules. Within Israel, though, all the Yiddish pathologies of prewar Europe can Europize the most mild-mannered American…)

 



LATIN AMERICA

TO MOST, OF COURSE "America" means "USA": the brave new world of Britney as opposed to the pathological old world of Xtina, the place where highway signs are diamonds rather than triangles, etc. But before getting to the heart of that matter, let's get to the rest of America that matters: namely, Latin America, S and Central America, et al. (Canada? Yawn.)
             For it is in Latin America where the pan-American Xtina counterpoint ought to be--after all, it (Ecuador specifically) is where Xtina's creole-exotic paternal blood lies. Though it's a bit of a conundrum, mostly because it is the New World as opposed to the Old World, and our impressions are also heavily leveraged by US-style Latino culture, tropical-tourism mythologies, etc. Vaguely put, the Latin-American Britney-to-Xtina sliding scale may run north-to-south; that is, the happy-go-luckiness of US and Mexico at the Britney end, and the broken-dream coulda-been-ness of Argentina at the Xtina end. (Why Argentina? Think of Buenos Aires vs Rio as "urban experiences": tropicalismo, versus a mythical western-hemisphere super-Madrid where either the New World seems so old-world, or the Southern Hemisphere seems so Northern Hemisphere. Ah, Xtina as Evita…)
             But always obtruding: the impression of Latin America as a tourist paradise, whether leisure tourism or eco-tourism. Thus, to positively reflect upon its contemporary built environment at all--to step away from the beach, or the rainforest, and to behold it all in the perambulating manner of an archi-tourist--is very Xtina-contrarian. And about the only Latin-American locale where that has become a familiar tourism raison d'etre is Havana, in Castro's Cuba--hence rendering it ironically Britney. (But compared to the expatriate Cuban-capitalist culture in Miami, Cuba proper is very Xtina.)
             As to the Modern--it didn't really get going until superstars like Le Corbusier arrived in S America at the end of the 1920s. But when it got going, it got going, and with an Xtina-like beating-the-USA-at-its-own-game brio to boot. Except…that the results, once they blossomed in the late 1930s, looked Britney all over. Not only that, but it was a Britney of unprecedented happy happy joy joy. It was not only Modern; it was prematurely Postwar Modern-squiggles, amoebae, brise-soleil and all. And the epicenter was Brazil.
             And, you guessed it…Corbu takes the blame. Though as you'd expect, his first built commission was in Buenos Aires; but the really important stuff-that-launched-a-movement took place in Rio, namely, the Ministry of Education, a gathering of Brazil's nascent Britneytecture superstars under the auspices of Corbu--Niemeyer, Costa, and in landscape, Burle Marx.
             What happened was that the Brazilians took all that was Britney about Corbu--and compounded it many times over; while removing all that was difficult and residually Xenakis/Xtina out of it. One huge wave of heliumed/lithiumed/nip'n'tucked architectural silicone wiggle-jiggle hither and yon that culminated in 1960 with the new capital of Britneysilia, er, Brasilia--by which time such anti-urban architectural Ipanemairheadedness was clearly on a trajectory to flimsy-whimsy dated irrelevance. At least, everywhere except Brazil, where Niemeyer, Costa, Burle Marx remained national treasures--totally against the grain of worldwide archi/urbifashion, or the windswept shantytowned nonfunctionality-as-designed of Brasilia. So, aided by a shift away from the political-democracy map, Brazil bounced blissfully out of the limelight--the last gaily 50s Neo-Expressionist place on the planet--and it took the rest of Latin America with it (with exceptions, like Luis Barragan in Mexico) until the evolution of Postmodern taste paradoxically brought all this Super-Modern escapism back into fashion. (And with the romantic myopia toward Brasilia's shantytowns intact--it wasn't that they were particularly "dirrty", they just didn't and don't exist except as baubles full of banditos…)
             In fact, Latin America is arguably affected by the same colonial "default Britney" syndrome as Asia--that is, Modernism was handed back in regurgitated International Britney form. Though it's all too deceptive, because an Xtina-upon-close-inspection rule of thumb does work here. (Well, it does for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Well, Diego Rivera, at the very least.) And here, too, anything default-Britney came after the Euro-Modernists (and even more so, their American corollaries) had pillaged whatever was Inca, Mayan, Aztec, and otherwise exotically/anciently/primitively "founding culture" t/w their own ulterior Xtina purposes. And why not? It's literally that same bloodline that renders Xtina Xtina, after all…

 



USA

AH, MYTHIC AMERICA, the land of the free: no wonder French Revolutionaries so idolized it--it was the quintessence of Britney, always was, always will be. Young, fresh, untrammelled, apparently virgin and pure and simple and, most importantly, free of the shackles of Euro-pathology--even if upon close inspection (slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, etc), it was "not that innocent". But who cared. It was the beckoning promised land of Contemporary Democracy, the clean slate of freedom, dazzlingly modern yet sweetly innocent. It was the primal hyper-nubile Britney: the uniformed "Baby One More Time" tease, so young, so ripe, so temptingly available. We watched her. We fixated upon her as she shed her garment and her inhibition, executing strippers' moves, donning diamond-studded thongs and undergarments, charming snakes--yet remaining, so we were led to believe, "virgin". Even once officially freeing herself of the "virgin" ruse, she maintained the virginal about her. An undamaged child of nature, sparkling, gleaming, sweet and free, Liberty, and all that insufferable Stars & Stripes fooferaw. (And it was of vicarious assistance-by-example that the Native culture it stomped all over was fundamentally agrarian and "of the land", sans the Meso/South American impulse toward built permanence, city/monument-building, etc.)
             So a lot of it was fake--but what a lovely fake, an irresistable con, as all-American as P.T. Barnum. Thomas Jefferson perched within his Britney-nipple known as Monticello, professing freedom yet holding (and impregnating) slaves? Look, forget about the details, it's the principle of the thing…
             Starting perhaps with Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America's "first professional architect", attempts were made to infuse this free innocence with a touch of abstract/radicalist Xtina grit; but the American way enterprisingly alchemized it over and over again into Britney--Neo-Classic, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanesque, Neo-Everything. Architecture, landscape, engineering, planning, N, S, E, W. Inescapably Britney. Where even the raw, the dynamic, the rustic carried that mantle of bland inevitability--and the blandness was not a vice, but an instantly familiar virtue, a relief from encumbrance, a New World evangelism. Yes, the High Victorian Classic-vs-Gothic battles took place here, too, as evidenced by the apparent mid-c19 Xtinaisms of Renwick's Smithsonian and Downing's landscaping within the environs of the Mall and Capitol Hill--but it just couldn't succeed at Xtina when the overwhelming mood of Washington D.C. was Britney (and more so, and more so, well into the c20--even Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial). Again and again, it was ever so clear that America was the Britney id. And nothing could be done about it…well, almost…
             Just as the foundations of Modernism in Europe concurred with an unprecedentedly sharp rise of Xtinaism, so America independently developed its own analogous, indigenous, and rather poignant Xtina counterpoint to the overwhelming Britney mood--and it was hooked upon the Progressive movement and its offshoots, starting in the New England of Thoreau and Emerson and easing toward the Hudson and westward with Whitman, settling most dramatically in the American Midwest where, as we all know, Chicago became the Mythical Birthplace Of The Skyscraper and Of Modern Architecture. Funny thing is, even the Chicago School mythology failed to camoflauge its own canonical uber-Britneyness. Which had stuck to H. H. Richardson, and continued to stick to Burnham + Root + Holabird + Roche + Jenney + Mundie bla bla bla. But it couldn't stick to Louis Sullivan. It couldn't ever stick to Louis Sullivan--even in "establishment" commissions like the Auditorium--and his mythically, tragically self-inflictedly thwarted career proved the futility of being an uncompromising black-sheep Xtina within a Britney world.
             And never more so than at--you guessed it--the 1893 Century of Progress Exhibition, the "White City", which was, to Sullivan's dismay, not simply Britney, but Electric Britneyland.
             Thus, the inevitable result of Sullivan's tortured marginalization: he became the avatar of the Prairie School, America's singular transcendent moment of undoubted Xtina. A regional style, less glossy than Electric Britneyland; salt of the earth, the earth of the Midwest and wherever else Frank Lloyd Wright etc left a mark, yet far more seminal, even epochal than that--the truest kickstart for the bold-forwardness of c20 Modernism. The first stop-you-in-your-tracks, "what is that?" style-surpassing, in its uncanny precocity and bold, compelling, positive clarity of vision, virtually anything and everything created by the various fin-de-siecle European Symbolist/Art Nouveau/Arts & Crafts movements. Because somehow, the Prairie practitioners understood a fundamental that largely escaped their avant-garde contemporaries: with Xtina, it was ultimately all about the voice. Weird aesthetics and mannerisms and reverse cleavage, all that disconcerting acquired-taste regalia is nothing without the Xtina voice. It was clear: this girl could outsing Britney. And it was clear: Frank Lloyd Wright was an architectural revolutionary. The architectural revolutionary of his time, maybe of all time. And, for better or worse, the inspiration for a whole whack of archi-diva worship, high and low, good and bad, from Bauhaus to Fountainhead…
             Which still couldn't alter the fact that Middle America remained more at ease with Britney. A dazzling genius is what FLW might have been; but McKim, Mead & White struck the popular note, captured the masses, the major mainstream clients, the true popular normative Zeitgeist. In practical terms, the Prairie School remained confined, an eccentric mostly-regional mode and acquired taste, seldom succeeding (other than through surreptitious influence, or through a Britneyized artsy-craftsy populist watering-down, cf. Stickley and the Craftsman Style) in breaking into the larger realm--even within its own "natural" territorial domain. Something like Purcell & Elmslie's Woodbury County Courthouse was the astonishingly precocious exception, not the rule.
             By the 20s, the Prairie School legacy had faded or assimilated. With exceptions, like the irrepressible FLW, whose garb and lifestyle and sado-masochistic relationship with his family and clientele was as Xtina as his architecture, if not more so (complete with a personal-life Dirrty moment at Taliesin in 1914)--the trouble is, he succeeded by increasingly ingratiating himself with Britney. Albeit on Xtina-maverick terms, which kept the Xtinan spirit going at least through the 1930s--but by his 1950s dotage, Wright was totally Britney. (So much so that on NYC's Upper East Side, FLW's Guggenheim is so Britney, it renders Breuer's Whitney an Xtina--shouldn't it have been the other way around?) Which at least left his Prairie scarcely-lessers basking in eternal Progressive-era AmeriXtinadom--Purcell & Elmslie, Walter Burley Griffin, the bizarrely influential George Maher and others, including Louis Sullivan in his late-life Johnny-Appleseed-for-small-town-banks stage. An intense effect which had its non- or semi-Prairie spillover--for instance, Bertram Goodhue (whose Nebraska State Capitol is the most Xtina of Capitols), or assorted West Coast experiments from Maybeck to Greene & Greene to Gill--and set the tableau for Eliel Saarinen's arrival in the New World following the 1922 Tribune Tower competition.
             Now, the Tribune competition was when Britney collided with Xtina. The former epitomized by the traditionally-styled Gothic/Classic entries (including Hood & Howells's winning scheme); and the latter embodied not by Saarinen's runner-up entry per se (which was really more Christina than Xtina), but by the schemes offered by Gropius, Loos, the Taut brothers, etc etc--the fruit born of an odd left-field sort of America-worship. Which bowed before the factories, the grain elevators, the so-called raw savage unadorned functionalist icons of American progress--and Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School. (Okay, ixnay on the Ooslay; as a matter of fact, Adolf Loos's literalized "Tribune" was as Britney as he got.)
             It turned out that AmeriXtina succeeded best as an export. Thanks to the Wasmuth edition of 1910, the Euros not only embraced FLW, they transformed this brilliant regional freak into a propaganda tool, a stylistic call to arms. Yet for the most part, the Americans couldn't be bothered in sharing the appreciation until it was reprocessed and pasturized back to Britneydom as "the International Style". In the meantime, we had the equivocation of the Art Deco skyscraper aesthetic--but also the odd exception-that-proves-all-too-many-rules situation on the West Coast (spurred by FLW's presence, no less) with Austrian expatriates Richard "Britney" Neutra and Rudolf "Xtina" Schindler forming a New Architecture tag-team for the ages.
             But the 1932 MoMA International Style exhibition turned the tables on everything, although it took a little momentary Depression-surfing before its implications could be fully felt. If we accept that Britney = Modern and Xtina = Moderne, prior to 1932 it seemed quite the reverse; for instance, the most "Modern" pre-1932 skyscraper in America, Howe & Lescaze's PSFS, might be the most awe-inspiring Xtinascraper of them all. But Howe was the Xtina in that partnership, and whatever Lescaze did after 1932 clearly inflected in a placid Britney direction, reflecting a subtle change in mood. Then Gropius, and later Mies, arrived in America, presaging a deluge--and in 1939, the new MoMA by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone opened. That was it. For seven years, the foreplay; and now, the consummation. Henceforth, with its centre of gravity having shifted from the Old to the New World, Modernism was officially Britney.
             Nowhere other than America, is the sharpness of the prewar-Moderne/postwar Modern divide so deeply felt; a product as Rooseveltian as the WPA Guides came to appear painfully Xtina-archaic to post-WWII idealists.
             At Harvard, those pre-war fairweather Xtinas Gropius and Breuer gave in totally to Britney (and in an absolutely bizarre feat of role reversal that beats the Guggenheim-Whitney tussle, Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center became Harvard's token Xtina foil!). The first great icon of the Postwar New Architecture, the United Nations--as a Le Corbusier idea come true, no less--erupted in precious Britney. Only the ever-equipoised Mies resisted the excessive Britney wave--instead, his Britney-proxy became that embodiment of the postwar corporate megafirm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. (Next to which Harrison & Abramowitz might appear Xtina for its earnest excesses; except that they were complicit in wide-eyed, wild-eyed Britneycropolises such as the UN, Lincoln Center, the Albany Mall, etc.) The tenor in the air in 50s America was so monolithic a Britney sweep, even the diverse latent Xtina alternatives/mutations were reduced to Potemkin as they submitted themselves to the Britneystablishment. The neo-expressionism of Eero Saarinen may have seemed Xtina at the time--except that the Eliel-Eero trajectory's clearly Xtina-to-Britney. (Although the common Saarinen fulcrum of Cranbrook remained the archetypal design-school Xtina to Harvard's Britney--a status reaffirmed through Daniel Libeskind's much later stint as architecture department chair.) Paul Rudolph's Brutalist sadism definitely wanted to be Dirrty, but the Harvard legacy rendered it clean as a whistle (and all the more insufferable for it, somehow). At the other end, the frilly "neo-formalist" alternatives offered by Stone and Yamasaki--well duh, so flimsy and meagre they could only be Britney, maybe more Britney than the pristine I.M. Pei abstraction they ought to be the much-maligned Xtina to. And even further at the other end, even if the various strains of Googie or Populuxe or Morris Lapidus Miami Beach Modern were too fanciful for the architectural establishment, they weren't Xtina-fanciful--anything but! And ditto for Disneyland, needless to say.
             "Establishment" is the keyword here--the near-total suppression of Modernism's avant-garde roots on behalf of a complete and utter blissful co-option by the establishment. The American establishment: all cultural and historical roads lead to America. An establishment so proud and powerful, even transcendent, it apparently superseded the need for an avant-garde. And look hard, look far, and all you see is…counter-establishments, beyond the establishments. Modern and anti-Modern belonged to a common establishment coin. And establishment could only mean…Britney. Pretty, dreamy, cleanly seductive sterile-sexy Britney, she who only grew purer as she grew hotter/colder/nuder. And ever-vacuous; it was this overweeningly inane vacuity which spurred the anti-Modern reaction, it's the vacuity which the early Postmodernists decried. The solecisms, the arbitrarinesses, the anti-urban, anti-human failures and catastrophes, even; explained away by their Britneyness, not their Xtinaness. (Or the Xtinaness is drawn into a common Mickey Mouse Club with Britney.).
             But a heroic Britney; oh so heroic. Nowhere else but in America, was the Britney rendered so heroic, so architectural-magazine heroic. Yet it was heroism perched upon a porous, unstable foundation; because however much you heroize the inane, it remains inane. And sooner or later, inanity's "found out". Postwar America marked the ultimate victory for the heroic establishment--yet it was also the place where, in the 1960s, the term "establishment" became a popular slur, an epithet. And the architectural establishment fell hardest, most obliviously of all--at least that was the illusion; because with an audio-animatron cyber-illusion like Britney, even the falling seems suspiciously fake. (Failure so faked-up and stylized that it negates itself? Even the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe was too "staged" a Modernist failure for comfort.)
             Virtually alone among the American Cold War Modernist heroes to shake off the illusion-mongering and to incline in the Xtina rather than Britney direction was Louis Kahn; and he succeeded in so doing through the back door, largely by negating the "Dirrty" almost entirely on behalf of the "Beautiful". (In fact, in terms of the 60s/70s Late Modern canon, Kahn's by far the truer Xtina-to-Pei's-Britney than either Stone or Yamasaki.) But milieu may have played a part in Kahn's case; after New York displaced it in urban supremacy in the early c19, Kahn's home base of Philadelphia had a steady, stealthy knack of putting its inherent "Xtina complex" to good use. For instance, in the c19, Frank Furness outdid any of his "rogue" British contemporaries in Dirrty-ing up High Victorian berzerk-Ruskinian savagery to the max. And if we may even move a step ahead of Kahn, Robert Venturi dished out, in 1966, the prototypical polemical antidote to Britneyist spacey-timey dogma: "Complexity & Contradiction In Architecture".
             And that marked an epochal shift in thinking. Traditionally, Britney/Xtina was viewed in either/or terms; but Robert Venturi asked the question: why not both/and? And so "C&C", Venturi's affectionate Xtina manifesto, was followed in short order by "Learning From Las Vegas", Venturi's equally affectionate Britney manifesto. And with all the talk about ducks and decorated sheds and dumb'n'ordinariness, the both/ands tended to be cheek-by-jowl. Here was somebody prepared to embrace all that was Xtina-bizarre in architectural history, and to lionize a dumb, ordinary icon of transcendent vacuity like Britney--and to have each stand as a commentary on/compliment to each other.
             Thus, Postmodern not only superceded Modern, it swallowed it up whole--and with Venturi showing the way, the American architectural cutting edge entered an intriguing, albeit somewhat cerebral, Xtinaesque phase. Reflected less in practice per se, than in theory and, perhaps, a certain something broader--in a sense, it was the lionization of the contemporary being superceded by the lionization of multivalent, ever-quotable historicity. This particular kind of paradigm shift had its popular echo, of course, in the rise of the preservation movement; but far from mere antiquarianism, it was a dynamic, sophisticated entity that subsumed the Modern itself, the contemporary--high and low--within a common historicist, contextualist, interdisciplinary framework. As something that informed practice, architectural history exploded; as did our perception of what was legitimately encompassed within said architectural history. Monuments--even Modern monuments--once known only/ideally through Britney-cheesecake textbook illustrations were now recognized as living, breathing Xtinas, sometimes pristine, sometimes faded, places of pilgrimage, places of study, places of preservationist crusade, places of infinite interpretive and deconstructive analysis. FLW's Robie House as mute architectural icon was Britney; as a real life thing to behold, as part of a broader urban fabric and cultural milieu, as something threatened with and then spared demolition/disfigurement, it's Xtina.
             Britney was sleek, ideal fantasy; Xtina was rich, messy reality. And in the pop-art McLuhan-wacky and back-to-the-land 60s/70s, it allowed perception of this land of Britney milk and honey, America, to be Xtinified. And that great guru of "messy reality" as an essential part of urban life, Jane Jacobs...well, now, there's competition for Xtina in the heroics of "funny-looking".
             Nor was it confined to this sort of strict quasi-retrogressive sphere; even the hyper-contemporary sleek and/or boldly cutting-edge, from Meier to Eisenman, Gwathmey to Gehry to Graves, seemed taken in by a difficult intellectual Xtinizing which tied American architectural theory and practice deeper (and less imperialistically) into international trends than ever. And the same with those who, like Charles Moore, bolstered the Britney/Las Vegas end of the Venturian argument. Something remarkably dynamic was in the air…BUT…
             Ever-around the corner was that arch-Britney, Philip Johnson, with his ever-strong conviction for possessing a brazen lack of conviction. A quarter century after having made the International Style safe for Middle America, he did the same for Mies by acting as his Seagram Tower collaborator; yet Johnson's own approach to Miesian style was no match for the master's fashion-runway equipoise, but more like the flirty, winky, rebellious Robin to Mies' Batman. At once more glam and more flippant, far from schlock yet short of real solemn "substance". (Thus the Seagram element which reflected the most "Philip Johnson" spirit was the most "festive": the Four Seasons restaurant.) Cold war "heroic" aesthetic sophistication as a knowing sham, not unlike William Paley's high-style trappings for the CBS network; fated to appear eternally, deceptively fresh, the Dorian Grey of media packaging, regardless of the "vast wasteland" it conceals. A play on timelessness, rather than timelessness itself; as if the concept of "timeless" had met the fate of the Nietzscheian God. A Glass House that tempted the stone-throwers, just like Britney tempted the lecherous losers (and sperm-bank donors).
             Then Johnson went tartier still and became a "New Formalism" fellow traveller…yet he stopped tantalizingly short of the style's inherent middlebrow vulgarity. He dabbled in formal/technical boldness, in arcane historical allusions, in Late-Modern abstract sleekness. Always classy and fabulous, Philip Johnson constantly had a knack of seeming to sit at the head of the profession--and then, just off a little. Like the bystanding host--after all, he was the bystander who hosted the International Style's arrival way back when. But by the mid-70s, this bystander was sensing an awfully strange, heretical buzz in the air--and he couldn't resist…
             Madonna kissed Britney; Vitruvius (or something) kissed Philip Johnson. The unveiling of Johnson's AT&T "Chippendale tower" design in 1978 was contemporary architecture's epochal Madonna-Britney kiss moment.
             And when Johnson and AT&T landed on the cover of Time, it packed the same pop-imagination clout as Britney's no-longer-virgin near-nudity in Rolling Stone, Esquire, etc. Architecture had officially entered the Postmodern era; we had officially entered the Postmodern era.
             At a cost. After all, buried in the hoopla over Madonna's 2003 VMA Britney kiss was that Madonna kissed Xtina as well. And the incipient real radical architectural-historical dynamism of discourse that led to exactly this popular-media "discovery" of Postmodernism was quickly shoved to the margins. On behalf of, on the one hand, the ascent of architects and designers as popular media figures--"starchitects"--and on the other hand, the oversimplified Tom Wolfe argument that Modernism was all bunk and quackery. At the beginning of the PoMo 80s, the architectural scene was electric; by the end of the 80s, it was insufferable, even more so than it had ever been in the Modernist era. Trouble is, the reaction (whether Tom Wolfe or New Urbanist) was insufferable, too. And the great presiding presence…Philip Johnson. Even when the scene began to shift to Neomodernism/Deconstructivism, Johnson was there to institutionalize/popularize/Britnefy it. Couldn't run, couldn't hide. (Although the self-conscious retrogressions of New Urbanism sunk even further, to a kind of airheaded "Jessica Simpson" territory.)
             And that's, maybe, where the narrative ought to end--because we're entering the actual period in which Britney and Xtina were alive. Which becomes a Postmodern commentary on and upon itself.
             But a note on the 20th Century's Last Great Architect, Frank Gehry, for his situation is not unlike the 20th Century's First Great Architect (or was FLW the 19th Century's Last Great Architect?): dynamic Xtina beginnings, coaxed into acceptably sentimental fin-de-siecle titanium Britneytopia (on behalf of, among other things, the Mousekesponsor responsible for BritneyJustinXtina's common debut in the spotlight). And the really bizarre-ironical thing is that Gehry married an Aguilera! (It's true. Look it up.)
             But the more universal message was that under American cultural dominance, we were all destined to live Britnily Ever After. And there was no turning back now.
             Well, at least until 9-11.
             Which proved, if nothing else (uh yeah, as if), that 1 Liberty Plaza was the Xtinaest object ever created by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill…
             …finished December 2003, with revisions into January 2004

(Anything that has transpired since then ought to appear as a logical consequence of what's been written.)