Sunday, 30 March 2014


Architects can be remarkably insensitive about any aspect of their projects not intended to be seen from the street.  They always have been: go behind the glorious facade of any Georgian terrace in, say, Bath, and be prepared to be amazed (and not in a good way).  Costs are costs, and speculative clients will always demand that they are minimised.  Round the back is where the corners get cut.

Of course, there is a utilitarian "big barn" philosophy that says, in effect, I don't care what this thing looks like from any angle; it's a carpet superstore, for Richard Rogers' sake, not a cathedral.  But you have the aesthetic poverty of the 21st century built environment, right there.  Who cares what "ordinary" looks like? Is there anything more soulless than those clusters of steel-frame, aluminium-clad cubes that dominate light-industrial and retail "parks"?  The liveried employees grabbing a fag in the service area around the back are the true animae loci of such places -- furtive, temporary, alienated, dispensible.  There's a photo-project there for someone, but not me.

Take, for example, our campus swimming pool.  From the front, an attractive expanse of smoked glass and glazed terra cotta tile; from behind, a bleak cube of corrugated metal siding.  Well, fine; it can't be seen from the street.  But it seems not to have occurred to anyone that this giant silver-grey brick with its drainpipes would dominate the view from the "recreational space" of the Valley Garden.

Mind you, if you get really close up, sneaking around the service paths, and maybe squeezing through the odd fence, there's a curious sub-tropical ambience of heat and light created by the reflective surfaces which I, for one, find quite interesting.  Nature is encroaching on this fresh wound at the micro level -- algae and moss -- and at the macro level -- vigorous sapling growth.  Give it a decade, and the thing may have vanished like a Mayan temple swallowed by the jungles of Central America.


Frank Harkin said...


You know what they say about our politicians - we get the ones we deserve. Well the same applies to architecture. It's one of the truest reflections of a culture


Mike C. said...


My, but we must have been very naughty indeed to deserve "The Gherkin"...