Saturday, 11 May 2013

People's Daily architecture

What do they call this in Beijing?
Signature buildings are now everywhere. As one looks downstream in Dubai-on-Thames, crossing Waterloo Bridge, the cityscape is now dominated by them, even as the monstrous 'Walkie Talkie' rises still to its as yet unreached bloated heights, making the slender and much talked-of Shard appear almost insignificant. The Gherkin still holds its sway, appropraitely, as the building that, whatever its merits or demerits, opened the way to a host of clamorous successors, a signal that conspicuous architecture cannot divorce itself from Mammon. The public is right to ascribe nicknames to these buildings, which may, some of them, be 'world class' (if that is a good thing) when seen from a distance, but are seldom world class to the folorn pedestrian who skirts their bases- or even pause to afford him a minimal respect.

Turner Contemporary, Margate - a question of respect?
'World class' was a phrase much beloved of Michael Heseltine, the tory politician and perpetual would-be prime minister who famously (and unacceptably to patrician tories whose extinction we now lament) 'had to buy all his own furniture'. I found myself momentarily warming to the late Margaret Thatcher (who also must have bought her own furniture) when I read that she supposedly said of Michael Heseltine that he had all the attributes necessary fro political success except intelligence.

Donald Winnicott, about whom BBC radio recently ran a programme, used to applaud the ordinary 'good enough mother'. Perhaps we need more ordinary good enough architects. Sadly we are likely to find them, as we find ourselves, as we are so often reminded now by our politicians, in a 'global race' on every side (a phrase that has won out over 'world class' in the great uplifting cliche flat race). We are, however, seldom, if ever, told what lies at the winning post of these global races.