Sunday, 24 October 2010

CABE useless aircraft carrier or submarine aground ?

The coalition government's withdrawal of funding from the 'ship of doom' CABE - hardly a surprise given the scale of cuts planned - perhaps draws a line under the products of the Rogers report Towards an Urban Renaissance. The intentions of that document were benign but that would have been the case with any report following the Thatcher-Major years.

So it's back to an existential struggle to claw some aspect of beauty from the cacophonous urban realm CABE failed to prevent. But at least we'll be spared the parade of conflicts of interest dressed up as authoritative and impartial advice. Temporarily. In due course the 'big society' will no doubt realise it needs another quango, and then it'll start all over again ...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

British Attitudes

The British Pavilion at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale adopts the strategy of whimsy to entice the visitor into its diffident charms. Designed by MUF the rooms and spaces of the pavilion are treated as a series of apparently unconnected displays of sketchbooks, of stuffed birds and a puddle which reappraise the relevance of perhaps the greatest British interpreter of Venice, John Ruskin.

Concerned that his own admiration of the city had led to some grotesque architectural progeny in England from the hands of his followers, the exhibition reasserts the significance of the observation of nature, and its manifestations in art and architecture as the cure for the jaded aesthetic palette. After being exposed to two decades of furious and often gratuitous building it was a refreshing experience to see an exhibition which expressed its commitment through advocating the study of beauty. Observation of the complexity and fragility of the natural world, and its economy of means, might prove to be a very timely practice.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Park Hill: It is what it is ...

I am currently getting to grips with Park Hill in Sheffield, preparing a talk for SUAS in December. After eight years of observing it from the tram platform, and an absence of four years, I cannot say I've grown any fonder. I am still suspicious, despite the self-laudatory rhetoric to the contrary, that such mass scale housing schemes were a form of class war by other means. It's lasting value might prove to be as a chilling totem of the mechanistic provision of the welfare state (for its original aspirations) and, in its current reconfiguration, as the supreme folly of new labour's urban regeneration policies. But then at least they had a policy ...

Its pleasures seem largely to be aesthetic, a certain yearning for the spartan muscularity common to many branches of British social life from the public schools onwards. This is probably why I find it repellant despite decades of being told to admire it, normally by people whose social origins would prevent them from ever needing to live there.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Seven points on architectural history

Architectural history does not exist to fill the gap left by the decline in hagiography

Architectural history is a story in which the characters are the buildings not the architectural historians

Architectural history is like the detective novel in that geniuses commit most of the crimes

Architectural history is a form of aesthetic vivisection not another excuse for a cultural post-mortem

Architectural history can only ever be a partial and subjective witness to events and should be celebrated as such

Architectural history depends upon the discomforting experience of architecture not the comfort and security of the archive

Architectural history has no dress-code -  not the tweed jacket, not the black polo-neck, not the collar-less shirt