Thursday, 28 November 2013

Radio Review: 29 November

Why are so many modern constructions so dull?

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWA wise person once advised me always to look upwards when walking around and it’s true that, when not bumping into fellow pedestrians and apologising profusely, you do see some architectural marvels above ground-floor level. Pediments, reliefs, audacious expanses of glass, all there to brighten the day of the perambulating aesthete.

Obviously, there are some places where even the merest hint of good design is hard to find. In his new BBC Radio 4 series, The Politics Of Architecture (Tuesdays, 9am), former Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey observed that we live increasingly in a Britain of ‘glum supermarket sheds, anywhere houses in standard issue cul-de-sacs [and] buildings in which inspiring architecture is not exactly the top priority’, and aims to find out exactly why.

As an example of a misfire, Glancey offered Cathedral View in the striking city of Ely, arguing that whoever drew up the plans ‘hadn’t really got Ely under their skin’. Looking at the houses via Google Street View, he was right. They could have been anywhere.

Built to look instantly old, a state of affairs that offends me as an unashamed fan of modernism, they somehow give away their callow nature, and possess none of the structural strength of the buildings that inspired them. One resident observed that the houses opposite hers had gone up with alarming speed. The worst possible combination of traditional and modern. Flimsy edifices of generic fake heritage that say nothing, or perhaps everything, about 21st century British life.

What went wrong? Glancey indicated a point in the recent past where architects lost power to contractors. Budgets trumped design. It’s a familiar story across many areas of industry and creativity. Glancey has always combined style with substance and this first part of three was engrossing and informative. I look forward to further enlightenment.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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