As humble graphic designers our work is instantly disposable. Not so with architects. Their work is around for us all to love or hate for a very long time indeed.
In recent years many so call ‘iconic’ structures have appeared up and down our country and around the world. From where I live in Clerkenwell I can witness the daily spectacle of the Shard slowly making its way up to the heavens in what will become London’s biggest phallus yet…
The epic 1,017ft Shard by Renzo Piano
I was very touched to hear David Chipperfeild’s view on architecture at the opening of his new and beautiful Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate. The whole notion of showpiece architecture appals him. His buildings are relatively quiet, modest affairs almost vernacular in some cases…
David Chipperfield's Turner Contemporary Gallery at Margate
his Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach, Germany
and the humble River and rowing museum at Henley -on- Thames
This got me thinking about the way in which architectural whims are imposed on us mere mortals through the persuasion of ‘signature’ architects and their clients who both seem to want to immortalise their egos through epic structural legacies.
We’ve all seen these things dotted around the country especially on beaches…
Made mostly from reinforced concrete, built to survive bomb blasts, they were the bunkers, gun emplacements, observation points and radar reflectors of W11 and are still dotted around our coastline.
It was this brutal aesthetic that was to become a movement in its own right. ‘Brutalism’ was taken up by a group of architects in the 1960s and 70s who literally fell in love with exposed reinforced concrete and the rest is history in the ever present weather stained existence in all our major cities.
Here are some notable examples…
The Hayward Gallery designed by Norman Engleback, assisted by Ron Herron and Warren Chalk
The National Theatre designed by Denys Lasdun completed in 1976
Its dark underbelly
and masculine dominance
The Barbican in London designed by Chamberlin,Powell and Bon in the 70s
IBM South Bank HQ designed by Denys Lasdun
University of Leeds
Trellick Tower designed by Ernő Goldfinger. Completed in 1972 and much lauded by architects who I would think don't live there.
Trinity Carpark in Gateshead immortalized in the film 'Get Carter' now reduced to this...
I have long tried to appreciate these buildings but have come firmly to the belief that they have an anti people harshness. This inhumanity manifests itself in the overwhelming and intimidating size along with the unforgiving texture of exposed concrete.
The raw material
Samson House Southwark Street. Designed by Fitzroy Robinson & Partners in 1976
Its similarity to this is uncanny…
I find both structures incredible frightening. And having to endure these ‘in your face’ monsters day after day is an affront. But as with all things architectural one man’s meat …
A pity that there are not more David Chipperfields whose work avoids the ‘mines bigger than yours’ syndrome...
His work has grace and an understated dignity. If only architects could leave their egos in a box and think more about the effect that their work has on the people that they have to share the planet with, our environment would be much better for it.
I think I should own up to the fact that back in 1986, when my then design consultancy, Carroll, Dempsey & Thirkell had bought and old warehouse, we chose a young up and coming architect to design our new home in Bloomsbury...
And the architect we chose - why, David Chipperfield of course.