A statement of social arrival

At college, there was the modern library, all tight bookshelves, remorseless strip-lighting and cramped desks. Then there was the old library, in a red brick building with soaring, vaulted ceilings, coloured natural light through the stained glass windows, and vast desks with built-in reading lamps.

Whenever I wanted to give my work a boost, I went to the old library. All that physical space seemed to open up rooms in my head.

Architecture matters.

Good architecture of course is a subject on which we all have opinions, and about which middle-class people can come almost to blows.

For what it’s worth, my 2p worth – 3 points:

  1. Good architecture primarily is functional. Form follows function. If you have a choice between making the functional elegant or not elegant, then opt for elegant, of course. But there should be nothing there which does not do a job.
  2. Good architecture should not have status anxiety or be pretentious or be concerned about impressing people. Anything done for show is a fail. See previous point about function. Often, anything which has no function is a pointless embellishment (like stucco) which is designed merely to impress.
  3. Good architecture should respect its geographical and historical context. Unfortunately, too many people debase that laudable principle by reducing it to a slavish stricture about churning out pastiche. Cue visually-illiterate nostalgic angry middle-aged blokes snorting about “hideous modern carbuncles” (ignoring the fact that some of the modern designs they fulminate about are over 100 years old). Hence 21st century buildings with Greco-Roman pillars (dictators love that nonsense). Hence painted-on fake Tudor beams on gerry-built houses in housing estates. 

Er, that’s it. Bear the foregoing 3 points in mind, and you’ll never go too far astray. 

The converse of course is architecture that is primarily decorative, pretentious and slavishly-derivative.

A friend of mine is a retired architect. 

A newly-rich business-man once commissioned him to design a new house.

But every design my friend did was turned down by the client.

Eventually, the architect began to see what the problem was. Over time, it became apparent that the client only liked any design details that were showy.

The penny dropped, and, exasperated, my friend said: “J____, you don’t want a house – you want a statement of social arrival”.

My friend intended this as a rebuke.

But the client paused, thought about it, grinned suddenly, and just agreed that, indeed, that was exactly what he did want …

The desire to impress comes from low self esteem. From Putin’s murderous antics to shitty architecture, the desire to impress is responsible for so much ugliness and evil in this world.

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