The pandemic hasn’t stopped architects dreaming of world domination | Rowan Moore

Grandiose designs

In this funny old world in which we can agree we live, architecture is making a special contribution. Specifically, architects’ propensity for megalomania is reaching new levels.

The French architect Jean Nouvel has just revealed plans for a Blofeldian luxury cave-hotel hewn from Saudi desert rocks. Bjarke Ingels, of Copenhagen and New York, is proposing “Masterplanet”, a blueprint for redesigning the Earth to save it from climate catastrophe. It is, an environmentalist told Time magazine, “brimming with hubris”. But Ingels is keen to stress, Time also reported, that his practice BIG “has no authority whatsoever over the planet”. Glad we’ve got that clear, then.

The Kim hunter

Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter.

Preposterously heroic: Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter. Photograph: Allstar/UNIVERSAL/STUDIOCANAL

The Deer Hunter made an impression on my teenage self. It was an Oscar-winning pioneer of a then new genre, the bleak Vietnam war epic. Its scenes stuck in the mind – of the fall of Saigon, of a Russian-American wedding, of the sort of Pennsylvania steel town more recently flooded by metropolitan journalists seeking to understand the blue-collar Trump voter.

Last week, it appeared on a streaming website, so I watched it again. But to sit through its three-plus hours was to witness the crash and clatter of a slowly falling idol. Its portrayal of Vietnamese as either evil villains or dumb victims is definitely racist. A major premise of its plot, that a man can build a career as a professional Russian roulette player, is risible. Its Robert De Niro character is as preposterously heroic as any B-movie cowboy.

I also watched The Mole, the BBC’s two-part documentary about an unemployed Danish chef who spent 10 years infiltrating North Korean friendship organisations in Europe and then the hermit dictatorship itself. Together with a convicted cocaine dealer, who poses as a billionaire willing to fund an underground weapons-and-drugs factory in Uganda, he wings it into an inner circle of Kim Jong-un’s regime. The story is not much more plausible, nor less dangerous, than The Deer Hunter, but it happens to be real. And a bald Dane on benefits makes a more convincing hero than De Niro.

Gove the nimby

Michael Gove

Michael Gove: hypocrisy in action. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

“No one who believes in social mobility,” Michael Gove once said, “in aspiration, in pro-family policies, in thrift and in freedom can be anything other than delighted by the release of more land for housing.”

So of course he pops up in the press, helping some protesters in his Surrey seat hold up a banner saying “Save Chapel Lane Meadow! Stop over-development!” He and they may or may not be right to oppose the proposed building of fewer than 50 homes on this site, half of them affordable, but if so he should have thought of situations like this when he sounded off the first time. We know that hypocrisy comes as standard with this administration, but it doesn’t get less rank with each recurrence.

Musical magic

Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier: YouTube sensation. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Music comes as naturally to me as cricket to a horse. I have the sense of rhythm of an ill-stacked dishwasher.

A kindly friend, a bass player, trying to educate me, has introduced me to a YouTube video in which the prodigious young musician Jacob Collier plays the tune of Danny Boy, spontaneously transforming it to suit words for emotions – triumph, guilt, inevitability – that flash up on a screen in front of him. He then explains what he’s doing in terms of chords and triads and F sharp major and whatnot. I still don’t know what he’s talking about but it’s a mesmerising way of spending 21 minutes and 34 seconds of pandemic-induced leisure.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture critic


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