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Issue #43

The dominant economic class has always been at the motivating center of the spread of racial antagonism. This is to be expected since the economic content of the antagonism, especially at its proliferating source in the South, has been precisely that of labor-capital relations. The biological difference of color provides a concrete symbol upon which attitudes of fear and hate might be anchored. The dominant class, furthermore, has been explicit in its terms of living together in “peace” and harmony with Blacks. Its pivotal condition has been that the latter be content to work hard, willingly, and unorganized. “Love” tends to vanish as soon as Blacks begin to show signs of unionization, of movements for normal political status, and of desires to bring themselves up to cultural parity.
Architectural history is replete with visionaries, those creatives with the singular capacity to conceive and represent visually the default tension of the discipline to constantly reformulate its own norms. Their function is as structural for the evolution of the field as it is statistically bound to yield minimal built results. The extraordinarily rapid ascent of Polish-born American-based Jan Lubicz-Nycz (1925–2011) and his equally precipitous descent into oblivion falls squarely into this singular dynamic.
The question I want to pose in this essay involves the specific role that this amalgam of Asian influences and modernist ideas had in forming the distinctive language of progressive California design. A definitive answer or even a topographic list is not possible here; that would require a far more extensive study—a book, really. Instead, I want to suggest a few corridors of seeing and understanding in the form of three short case studies.
To an astonishing degree, Schindler remained loyal to the principles he had set forth in the Program of his early years. To walk through the most remarkable instances of Space Architecture—the Kings Road house, the Lovell Beach House, the cluster of houses above Silver Lake Reservoir, and the Kallis House, to name a few—is to feel the aptness of Alexander Koch’s summary of the then unknown architect’s ideas: “The concept of comfort is interpreted anew: it consists above all in the possibility of being able to freely control space, light, air and temperature within the enclosed area.”
From Cox’s perspective, Myrdal falls tragically short at the most crucial moments. Myrdal holds fast to abstractions and to a reformist program where he needed to identify material causes and the overarching requirement of a ruling political class to exploit the labor of the great majority of its population. In a sad but predictable irony, he gave the exploiting class pride of place as the best ally of the dominated caste.
That larger, more insidious effort and its objectives—which boil down to elimination of avenues for expression of popular democratic oversight in service to consolidation of unmediated capitalist class power—constitute the gravest danger that confronts us. And centering on the racial dimension of stratagems like the Cantrell recall plays into the hands of the architects of that agenda and the scapegoating politics on which they depend by focusing exclusively on an aspect of the tactic and not the goal. From the perspective of that greater danger, whether the recall effort was motivated by racism is quite beside the point. The same applies to any of the many other racially inflected, de-democratizing initiatives the right wing has been pushing. With or without conscious intent, and no matter what shockingly ugly and frightening expressions it may take rhetorically, the racial dimension of the right wing’s not-so-stealth offensive is a smokescreen. The pedophile cannibals, predatory transgender subversives, and proponents of abortion on demand up to birth join familiar significations attached to blacks and a generically threatening nonwhite other in melding a singular, interchangeable, even contradictory—the Jew as banker and Bolshevik—phantasmagorical enemy.