Sunday, 20 June 2010

To the exhibition 1:1 - architects build small spaces at the V&A. It's on until 30 August and is a pleasure to the mind and the eye, full of charm and inventiveness. Don't miss it.

Seven invited practices from around the world, nearly all unknown to me, demonstrate a wonderful variety of approaches to creating small domestic structures. Delight in geometry, in the manipulation of scale and space, in the qualities of natural materials and in pure tectonics are all in evidence, as well as examples of how responsiveness to cultural context in architecture is not incompatible with the exercising of the imagination (I'm sure you didn't think it was, but building in a conservation area in this country is still more likely to be a problem than an opportunity - but I digress...).

A lesson, perhaps, to those - some of them perhaps in positions of power now - who don't quite get the possibilities of 'delight' in architecture.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Wrong building demolished in Farringdon

A very big hole has appeared in the townscape of Farringdon Road (London EC1), on the corner with Cowcross Street, where a building has been knocked down to allow the construction of the Crossrail station.

Unfortunately, they seem to have knocked down the wrong one.

The one that went was one of those neutral 1960s offices building that no one ever notices, even though it's far bigger than its neighbours. The one they left, to its north, shown above, is a po-mo (post-modern) number from the 1980s. According to the Survey of London this was described by Hugh Pearman as 'Early Learning Centre architecture' and nominated by him as one of the two worst buildings of 1992. It is regularly namechecked as people's least favourite postwar building in London (and there's some competition).

A few years ago, while working for CABE, I was twice involved in trying to find new offices for them. We couldn't pay very high rents, and the space that came up tended to be in office buildings built either in the 1980s or in the 1960s. On more than one occasion, we found half decent space in a 1980s office building that was so embarrassingly awful in its appearance - usually involving shiny purple granite and large balls used prominently somewhere as a decorative element - that we decided we couldn't locate there; each time we went for more neutral examples of 1960s architecture, first at the very plain Elizabeth House in Waterloo, and then at the architecturally superior and slightly more assertive, but still calmly classy, CAA building in Kingsway.

It's a generation thing, I think - maybe Oedipal in origin. Each generation reacts against the tastes of the one before. At the moment, po-mo looks decidedly not the thing, but maybe it will come back. Buildings can be listed, generally speaking, after 30 years, so the earliest 1980s buildings can now be considered. Stirling's No. 1 Poultry, a rather later building, would be top of my list as a London exemplar of the movement.

The building at Farringdon wouldn't be. If the Crossrail project was being run by quality surveyors rather than quantity surveyors, surely a way would have been found of getting rid of this monster.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The view from the back yard

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has written to local authorities to tell them that they should decide on housing numbers, rather than having the numbers dictated via regional targets - as trailed in the Tories' statements before the election. He states that 'it will no longer be possible to concrete over large swathes of the country without any regard to what local people want'.

I wonder what 'local people' those are, then - presumably not the ones looking for somewhere to live.

Tory planning policies (and presumably now the coalition's) have been widely criticised as a nimby's charter. The problem is that most new housing, particularly greenfield housing, is pretty terrible, so the problem is probably not an irrational dislike of new development, but an evidence-based dislike, based on a reasonable guess as to what one is likely to get in one's back yard.

Improving the quality of what gets built is therefore more important than ever, if 'local people' (I'm never quite sure how they differ from 'people') are to be provided with new homes.