How Modern Civilization Is So Temporary

Modern buildings are so shit compared to cathedrals and climates

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An ancient mosaic floor discovered in London

I was walking up the stairs at the St. Something train station and I saw a mural. It was so garish and cheap. So temporary. You can dig up someone’s bathroom from centuries ago and it’s art. This was just advertising. Such is the nature of everything under capitalism. Everything is built for the next quarter, nothing for the next quarter-century, and it actively destroys the next quarter millennia entirely.

You can feel it when you walk into an old church, or round an old stupa, or see the pyramids. What were they thinking? How did they do it? People built things they might never see finished, but which have lasted for centuries. Then you look around at what we have built. What does it even mean? We build office towers and casinos, and then demolish them to build other ones. They’re all effectively temporary. We build roads that get weathered away to drive cars that get replaced every 10 years.

When we built our house our father-in-law contributed (among other things) reclaimed wood from an old spinning factory. Big, thick beams that you can’t get anymore, they must have been a hundred years old. An antiques dealer came to the house, looked around, and said the whole place would be worthless one day, except for the beams. It’s true. All of the fittings become outdated and degrade, the walls are cheap brick, the TVs and appliances get updated, we contribute to our own convenience and nothing to posterity.

This person Wrath Of Gnon said “Roger Scruton famously said ‘Put usefulness first, and you lose it. Put beauty first, and what you do will be useful forever. It turns out, nothing is more useful than the useless.’” Wrath talked about how to make beautiful, timeless buildings using three principles:

I. the materials we build with must still be around in a thousand years time.

II. the tools and techniques we build with must be transferrable so as to pass down through the generations and it must be possible to repair or replace every single part.

III. the purpose that we build for must be at the core of the human experience.

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Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.