JOHN RUSKIN NEVER SET FOOT in Brooklyn. But if he were to walk through certain parts of Williamsburg or Bushwick today, two centuries after his birth, it’s easy to imagine what he’d make of the rapidly changing neighborhoods.
He’d make stops in several recently opened, nearly indistinguishable coffee shops, the interiors of which would all employ the same tired take on taupe walls and reclaimed wood. He’d stroll past buildings, hastily constructed by vulture real-estate developers, sporting harsh geometric facades and see apartment buildings newly renovated with a sharp black-metal trim that clashes clumsily with the original brick; venturing inside, he’d find most of the units decorated in some sort of bland and lazy minimalism.
The coffee shops, the buildings, the apartments would all scream of sterility—a standardized style of austerity disguised as clean, frictionless modernism. They are, in essence, the result of the corporate “non-place” and its metastasis into the most personal spaces of everyday life. And Ruskin wouldn’t hold back in describing them as they are: repulsive.