wch Restraynt is by the meanes of playinge the Jeylle of dooges

February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment


The three finest works of British brutalism were designed by Rodney Gordon of the Owen Luder Partnership. They were: Eros House in Catford, London; the Tricorn in Portsmouth; and the Trinity in Gateshead. The first, a block of flats, is disfigured; the other two shopping centre and car park complexes have been destroyed in acts of petty-minded provincial vandalism. One can have nothing but contempt for the scum-of-the-earth councillors, blind planners and toady local journalists who conspired to effect the demolition of such masterpieces. One can only despair at the pusillanimous lack of support from wretched English Heritage.

The dependably crass Prince of Wales, the man who sullied Dorset with Poundbury, described the Tricorn as “a mildewed lump of elephant droppings”, a simile as vulgar as it is visually inept. No doubt his heritage industry toadies removed their tongues in order to chortle a moment’s laughter. The critic Ian Nairn was on the money: “This great belly laugh of forms … the only thing that has been squandered is imagination.”

Gordon’s imagination was indeed fecund, rich, untrammelled. It was haunted by Russian constructivism, crusader castles, Levantine skylines. But the paramount desire was to make an architecture that had not previously existed. There are as many ideas in a single Gordon building as there are in the entire careers of most architects. The seldom-photographed street level stuff at the Trinity left the observer with the sensation of being in the presence of genius. One thinks of the burning of books.

It took more than three-quarters of a century before high Victorian architecture began to be rehabilitated through the efforts of John Betjeman, Evelyn Waugh, etc. Their pleas went unheeded. They were reckoned to be perverse and mischievous. Thousands of “monstrosities” were destroyed. The survivors are now widely valued, and lost ones are mourned. We have learned nothing. Half a century after brutalism’s heyday, the term “concrete monstrosity” trips readily off the tongues of the unseeing, the torpid, the incurious. Britain is once again being architecturally cleansed in favour of timidity and insipidity.

Newness and change were bound to be for the better. When Harold Macmillan announced in 1957 that “most of our people have never had it so good”, some of our people were still living in caves (in the Severn valley), and many of our people had no bathrooms and shared outdoor toilets. Built along brutalist lines, new flats had all those amenities, plus central heating, and were welcomed by their occupants. Social-housing projects were not yet bins for sociopaths. But they would soon become so: if blocks are unguarded, if there are no janitors, if they are not maintained … You don’t buy a car and never get it serviced.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Franck Bohbot

Paddington is hot. A West Berlin of spiv glamour, in-transit morals and a getaway airport connection flashing its lacquer at the east’s plaints and art-sharp PR

January 1, 2013 § Leave a comment


The infamous city section cuts past the Reichstag with its colourful history and the dome climbed in victory by the Red Army, hugging the Brandenburg Gate, through the middle of Potsdamer Platz and then out to Friedrichshain along the Spree. But this is barely 15 kilometres of the ride.

With some relief from the Christmas crowds, I find myself in quieter spaces. Along busy roads and populous quarters it passes, but also through areas of ‘no-man’s land’, spaces that some have appropriated for themselves for those characteristic gardens and their huts, or for letting a dog run free for a while. Much of the no-man’s land remains vacant. More than two decades after the ‘fall’, people seem reluctant to build and buy in that space. Thus, even on prime real estate around the city core, weed-infested blocks sit empty beside apartments for the fashionable inner-city types.

But the path also runs along railway lines and canals, around villages on the Brandenburg border, through fields and vast forests. Far from the grim black-and-white pictures purveyed by the ‘official’ history of the wall, towards the south-west it skirts the holiday playground of the Wannsee. Here inland beaches where nudists still frolic in summer – for nudism was fostered in the DDR – sit cheek by jowl with extensive forests and their tracks. I imagine the pleasure of the builders as they cut through the areas where mansions of the rich and famous are found, turning them into places for all to visit, subsidised by the government (although too often government leaders reserved some for themselves). And to add to the thrill, the path becomes a ferry for crossing the Wannsee itself.

Germans have rather liberal understandings of what constitutes a fahrradweg. It may be a wide, smooth path, clearly signposted. It may be a peaceful forest path that you have entirely to yourself, with perhaps a deer or a hare around the next bend. It may be a road with no shoulder, which one shares with trucks and buses and cars. It may be a cobbled street, or perhaps a rough farm track that rattles the teeth out of your jaw. It may be a dog-run, bespattered with turds that the locals obviously believe assist with fertilisation and preserve tyre rubber. And it may be narrow, muddy wheel furrow that had been made by riders themselves desperate to find a way through. Add to that the frozen puddles upon which I constantly skid, the snow that threatens to drift over the path, and the wind that bears the promise of more bitter temperatures, all beneath the lowering December clouds. At least they cannot be accused of lack of variety or challenge.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: [unattributed]

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