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  • On Architecture
  • Bernard Shaw

[Occasionally something by Shaw surfaces to provide a new perspective on some aspect of his original worldview. Here is G.B.S. expatiating on "impressive architecture"—and he is not impressed. Shaw takes on monumental buildings—from Lebanon to London—and figuratively cuts them down to size. Ever the pragmatist, his concern is with "the health and convenience" of residents, rather than, quoting Dickens's Joe Gargery, with the "architectooralooral."1

This is the first reprinting of Shaw's essay since its original publication in 1938 (London) and 1939 (New York) as the first essay in Twice a Year's "Architecture Section." In this issue one also finds Lewis Mumford's "Reflections on Modern Architecture" and Walter Gropius's "Training the Architect," along with essays by other leading writers of the time, such as Marcel Proust and William Carlos Williams. MaryAnn K. Crawford and I are grateful to Sidney P. Albert for drawing our attention to this article and for providing a photocopy of it from Twice a Year. The original is in Mr. Albert's private collection. The essay is item B275 in Dan H. Laurence's Bernard Shaw: A Bibliography.2

Michel W. Pharand]

George Bernard Shaw: from Mars Exhibition Catalogue

The first exhibition of modern architecture in London was arranged by the MARS group (Modern Architectural Research Society) at the New Burlington Galleries, January 11-29, 1938. The MARS group consists of 60 members—architects, engineers, writers. The exhibition showed modern architecture in the form of a consistent, self-explanatory statement in a setting sympathetic to the spirit of the modern [End Page 6] movement. Bernard Shaw wrote this foreword for the Catalogue. Since no exhibition of comparable scope and character has yet been held in the United States, and since Mr. Shaw's statement has not before been printed in America, TWICE A YEAR calls attention to Shaw's comment as a challenge of significance.

If you would see how extravagantly architecture has been valued, go to Baalbek.3 It was there that the Romans set to work to impose their God Jupiter Ammon on the world as the god of gods.4 They did it quite successfully (as such efforts go) by building a stupendous temple,5 the remains of which still impress even American engineers as the handiwork of a superhuman force. For how these colossal monoliths could have been hoisted to the tops of those gigantic columns, or even how they were transported from the quarries in which some of them lie hewn out and still awaiting that transport, is beyond all speculation. Experts tell you calmly that they were lifted by inclined planes. I prefer the explanation that angels carried them up Jacob's ladder as being much more plausible.6

There are a few of these columns left with their incredible entablatures; but in the great acreage of the temple as the Romans left it there were scores of them. People came from all parts of what was known of the world at the time; and when they saw that humanly impossible temple they knew that Jupiter was indeed verigod.7 As long as the temple stood there was no resisting him. That was why, when the Arabs came,8 bearing the standard of Allah (save in Whom is no majesty and no might) they saw at a glance that the great temple must come down, and not one stone of it be left on another, before Jupiter could be dethroned.

Amazing as the building of the temple was, its demolition and desecration must have been at least equally laborious and dangerous. Even Arab fanaticism could not go quite through with it. Or it may be that the destroyers deliberately calculated that a visible wreck and ruin of Jupiter's famous temple would show how Allah had dealt with him better than an annihilation that could show nothing. Anyhow there is the wreck for all the world to see. It is easier to get to than the Shetland Isles; and I advise you not to miss it when you visit the Holy Land, as everyone with money enough ought to nowadays.9

Yet as pure architecture Baalbek...


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