My step-son lives in Torino, which means he has been on lock-down or more than a month. And in northern Italy that means something quite a bit tougher than here in the UK. No going out for exercise, only for essential shopping. But he is lucky, because his flat, like most flats, even old ones, in Mediterranean countries has a balcony. In London things are different, and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people are confined in flats shoehorned into buildings intended as homes for single families in a bygone era. They must dream of having a balcony.
Howard Roark, the architect hero of ‘The Fountainhead’ would have had none of that. The key moment in the book comes when he agrees to design the Cortland, a multi-block complex of social housing. He tells Peter Keating
“…. whatever we do, don’t let’s talk about the poor people in the slums. They have nothing to do with it, though I wouldn’t envy anyone the job of trying to explain that to fools. You see, I’m never concerned with my clients, only with their architectural requirements.”
An arguable position, possibly, depending on what is included in the ‘architectural requirements’. Roark’s view turned out to be a rather limited one. It did not include among its parameters building places in which people might want to live.
Inexplicably (and here Rand showed how little she actually understood people like her hero), once the design was finished and before the site was even cleared, Roark went on holiday. By the time he came back, the shell of one building had already been completed
“The building had the skeleton of what Roark had designed, with the remnants of ten different breeds piled on the lovely symmetry of the bones ….. a new wing added, with a vaulted roof, bulging out of a wall like a tumor, containing a gymnasium; strings of balconies added ………”
Rand, of course, had to assign the lowest of motives to the people who made those changes but, along with those motives, she put into the mouth of one of the book’s main hate-figures, Gordon L. Prescott, Chairman of the Council of American Builders, the following words:
“….. you don’t understand psychology. The people who’ll live here are used to sitting out on fire-escapes. They love it. They’ll miss it. You gotta give ’em a place to sit on in the fresh air.”
Faced with this sort of pandering to the wishes of the people who were actually going to live in the building that he had designed, the Randian hero had no choice. Howard Roark dynamited the one completed Cortland building and, because he knew just where to place the charges, destroyed it utterly.
It is his courtroom defence of that action that Sajid Javid claims to read at least once a year for inspiration