Wrath Of Gnon aka @wrathofgnon, is an urbanism and traditional architecture enthusiast who shares his passion on Twitter. Depending on the day, his threads, filled with pictures of cities and buildings, will take you into the streets of a medieval neighborhood or recount the evolution of material used in constructions.
Interview published on June 5, 2019
Q. Why this Twitter account?
A. Thank you for this chance to explain myself in long form, which I rarely do. My twitter account is a presentation of what I read and think about in my daily life, like an open diary of notes (and an expanding bibliography). It just happens that I have an interest in architecture and in our built environments, so much of what I write about is about how and why we shape our cities and towns like we do.
Q. Where does this passion for architecture come from?
A. A fundamental truth about our existence is that beauty matters, and with this in mind, it always puzzled me how we have seemingly lost the ability to make beautiful things. Paintings and poems are one thing, we can put them away or close the book if we do not like them, but with ugly buildings we just can't. Architecture is imposed on us, and we have been taught since childhood that the ugliness we see around us is just inevitable: we are told building beautiful and functional things is too expensive and too complicated, and whenever some new building comes up it is invariably worse than what was there before.
The majority of people can not see any value in modern or modernist architecture, and instead of changing the way they build architects have had to come up with ever more ludicrous justifications of their "art" and ever meaner attacks on the majority of people who quite naturally prefer towns and cities built to a human scale, in a way and form that reflects who they are and the places they call home: architecture rooted in a place and in a specific culture.
It takes a special kind of malice to defend buildings that people naturally run away from, and to attack buildings and places that people are naturally attracted too. It ought not take heroic efforts to build and maintain a simple street, but it does. Mankind has simply lost the ability to build a decent plaza. The beauty and simple elegance of what our ancestors created with few means and plenty of hard work, we supposedly enlightened moderns can not even begin to inch up to, with all our education, economy, and machines that ought to have multiplied our refined tastes and means a thousandfold. It turns out to be just the opposite.
Q. What kind of place did you grow up in?
A. I grew up partly in a cottage without modern conveniences. My parents were proto-hippies and the unexpectedly lovely summer vacation in the country cottage without electricity and indoor plumbing turned into an autumn that was equally lovely and filled with new challenges that both adults and children enjoyed exploring and solving.
Autumn turned to winter and candles took the place of the light bulbs we were used to and a wood stove replaced the electric heating used to turn on, and we found that chopping wood was far more practical and fun than going to work to earn money just to pay the heating bills. We did not have a car, but we had access to horses and a canoe in the summer, and sleighs and skis in the winter. But mostly we just walked wherever we needed going (shopping was never a problem as we could grow almost anything we needed by ourselves). Traveling to and from the cottage was an adventure and never a chore, like modern commuting.
And so the years went on and we loved our "primitive" habitation. Daily chores and tasks were perfectly suitable for each person in the family, regardless of physical strength or age there was always something that needed to be done that was just perfect for the hands available at the moment. The sense of accomplishment was tremendous and the self confidence that I acquired in those days I still carry with me.
Q. Why this love of traditional architecture in particular?
A. As I grew up and eventually moved into the city (I live in Tokyo now, the biggest city in the world) I could not understand how my friends saw the concrete, asphalt, plastic, glass, and steel, as inevitable and necessary for modern "comfort". I started to look into the claim that we could not afford to build to a human scale, that ornaments were useless, that zoning laws, building codes and regulations made our cities safer and better, that old houses were uncomfortable and unhygienic. And I found that every single one of these claims were false: out of spite, malice, greed, and envy.
Often architects and politicians will agree with me and say that modern cities are far from perfect, that it might in fact be the case that what we build is the albatross around our neck. But their solutions to what they see as problems—and I see as predicaments—differ: they trust in the market (libertarians and liberals), in ideology and machines (architects), in regulations, corporations, laws, big-data and punitive taxation (socialists, progressives, politicians), whereas my natural reaction is to look at how we used to handle the predicament that is human life, and especially urbanism.
What I speak for does not require force (people are already desperately flocking towards beautiful human scaled cities and towns, home prices in historic quarters and old towns are astronomical), does not require new technology (that anyhow always ends up creating more problems than they solve) or new money (value is created organically when two persons meet and decide to pool resources and efforts into improving something with their own hands): in fact, all the problems we face in modern society has been solved at one point or another, in history. Why we have forgotten these things is one of the great questions of the 21st century. And our problem, is inevitably one of scale. To quote Leopold Kohr: "Whenever something is wrong, something is too big" (Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations).
Q. Why did you choose to write these threads about architecture instead of blog posts for example?
A. I started looking into our social and urban problems (whether social or technical or material), to see how our ancestors would have solved them, and every time I would document my findings in a twitter thread. The thread is in my opinion the most fitting way of describing these findings, it is economical, stylish, easy to write and most importantly easy to read, and now that Threader has come along readers have an even more elegant way to read them, for which I am grateful to you and your team.
Short, selected, reading list on urban civilization, urbanism and architecture from Wrath Of Gnon:
City Planning According to Artistic Principles: Camillo Sitte
In Praise of Shadows: Junichiro Tanizaki
The Breakdown of Nations: Leopold Kohr
The Culture of Cities: Lewis Mumford
Small Is Beautiful: E.F. Schumacher
Tools for Conviviality: Ivan Illich
A Pattern Language: Christopher Alexander
Human Scale Revisited: Kirkpatrick Sale
How Buildings Learn: Stewart Brand
Drawing for Architecture: Léon Krier
The Architecture of Community: Léon Krier
Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From
Traditional Japan: Azby Brown
Beauty: A Very Short Introduction: Sir Roger Scruton