In 1960, Robin Boyd wrote his provocative book The Australian Ugliness. Disappointed that Australia lacked both the ‘extroverted flair of the Latin countries and the introverted refinement of Scandinavia’, he fulminated against the apparent Americanisation that affected Australia’s visual culture and architecture. Precisely eight years later, in 1968, former Le Corbusier-disciple and Belgian modernist Renaat Braem wrote his – potentially even more rabble-rousing – Belgian counterpart to Boyd’s controversial book: The Ugliest country in the World. Braem’s grievances on the state of Belgian architecture and urbanity were quite similar to Boyd’s cutting critique of the Australian condition. Braem lashed out against Belgium’s haphazard suburbanisation as well as the country’s love for meaningless ornament and decoration, which Boyd so succinctly coined ‘featurism’. Both men plead for simplicity in design and for a more ‘humanist modernism’. Nevertheless, even though their premise was similar, Boyd’s and Braem’s responses were radically different. While Braem promoted the construction of block towers for group housing, Boyd attempted to influence Australians’ taste and culture by setting up the small-homes project, which encouraged the construction of modern, single-family houses.

The conference paper traces the trajectories of both men in terms of their modernist mentors and their professional contexts, in order to further unravel similarities and differences in their approach. Ultimately the question is addressed how the modernist universalism, which was shared by both Braem and Boyd, interacted with specific cultural, economic, social and geographic contexts to result in diverging narratives about the impact of modernism on the built territory.

Janina Gosseye, Hilde Heynen, “In Search of the Ugliest Country in the World: Australia versus Belgium. On Robin Boyd, Renaat Braem, Regionalism and Post-war Modernism”, in: Alexandra Brown, Andrew Leach (eds.) Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 30, Open (Gold Coast, July 2013), 419-431.

Read the full paper here.