Thursday, June 25, 2009

All Architects Are Twats

Liverpools's Three Graces, The Liver Building (with its two famous Liver birds), The Cunard - White Star Line building and The Liverpool Port Authority building (Image source)

In school we used to have our own version of that old northern favourite On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At. The refrain went “All Yorkshiremen are twats, all Yorkshiremen are twats…” There is no truth in that of course, Yorkshire is full of very nice people, no more twats per thousand head of population than anywhere else. I still sing the schoolyard version, with a slightly changed lyric whenever I visit a redeveloped area in one of our major cities:

All architects are twats, all architects are twats, all arch - i - tects are twats…”

That is not true either and would have remained a little private amusement had it not become necessary to write about one modernist architect whose outstanding twattery taints all other members of his profession. Just recently a row of epic proportions has erupted between HRH The Prince of Wales, defender of all that is traditional and worthy and fuddy duddy, patron of The Village Green Preservation Society and talker to trees and Prince of Architectural Darkness, Richard Rogers

Far from preserving the village green, Rogers would like to see the few that remain covered in concrete, glass and steel.

Regular readers will know by now that Boggart Blog is no fan of Royalty. We have often said Prince Big Ears is a twat. And we all know Prince Big Ears hates modern architects. That in itself however does not mean we like modern architects any more than he does. In his latest bust up with the monstrous carbuncle merchants however he has a point.

Many modern architects share a total disregard for the aesthetic tone of the areas that will surround their buildings. Their attitude can be summed up as "we are very clever people and have lots of bits of paper to prove it, therefore we are right and nobody else's opinion is worth listening to. It is exactly the same attitude as that displayed by the boy-scientists this blog has spent so much time berating for their hubris.

The latest architectural outrage to upset our future King is a plan to plonk a modern concrete, steel and glass legoland development in the middle of elegant low rise Regency and Victorian buildings. The building of such a development borders on vandalism. The ethos of modern architecture could be "if we can't replicate the beauty of traditional developments that employ styles dating back hundreds of years we will destroy beauty and replace it with ugliness. To know this is true we only have to look at the monstrosity known as The Gherkin in London's financial district. So badly designed and ill conceived a piece of ego tripping is it, it even looks out of place and ugly among the functional tower blocks like the Stock Exchange building, the NatWest tower (now Tower 42) 99 Bishopsgate and the Heron Building.

Fans of modernism will start talking bollocks about how those of us who do not appreciate The Gherkin (aka 30, St, Mary Axe, above) do not understand the theory or philosophy behind the building and thus do not know how to look at it. But how would we look at a dog turd rolled in sequins? Modernists among literature academics queue us to praise T.S. Eliot as the man who revolutionised twentieth century poetry. If anyone dares to point out that Eliot wrote pretentious, self - indulgent shite are dismissed as not being intelligent enough to understand Eliot. It was Eliot himself who first put forward this notion, elitist twat that he was. If it takes an academic longer to explain a poem than it took you to read it, the poem is shite. Sorted. Same rules apply with architecture. If someone has to talk bollocks about theory and philosophy explain why it is the right building to stand in a certain place then it is not the right building for that place.

Not all modernism is bad. It is largely a question of personal taste but Canary Wharf, the media village in Manchester Docklands and other brownfield developments look fine, the styles of buildings don't clash and the areas are well laid out. It is when modernism intrudes in a well established area the problems start. The most avant garde of modern buildings are seldom more than an ego wank for the architect and so blending in with the surroundings is not a consideration. The architect wants to stamp his ego on the surroundings thus the more his project resembles a boil on the nose the better he likes it.

"You fuckers will remember me," is the message. This is made very clear in the petulant attitude displayed by Richard Rogers when his project was derailed. He accused Prince Charles of single handedly wrecking it. Well Charles had used his influence but don't forget Rogers and his financial backers had ridden roughshod over the objections of many residents of the areas surrounding his projected development.
Some people may remember a few years ago a plan to enhance the view of Liverpool waterfront from the south bank of the Mersey. The existing buildings that form the famous skyline of the Pier Head, The Liver Building, Cunard Line headquarters and the Liverpool Port Authority offices are three Edwardian buildings in different but complementary styles ( picture ), "the three graces" . When Liverpool was bidding to be the City of Culture a plan to add a "fourth grace" were unveiled. This in itself was crass and uncultured and showed the bureaucrats running Liverpool's bid were ignorant and uncultured. There are tree graces in classical mythology, end of story. (Right: A Liver Bird, (legend) its hard to get both into one shot

As if this faux pas was not enough of the designs submitted the favourite to be chosen was a concrete structure that looked like one of those hamburger shaped diners we see in American films and TV shows. Fortunately the people of Liverpool had to good sense to set up a public outcry and stop that scheme going ahead. That a senior architect whose training includes (allegedly) aesthetic appreciation as well as the science and technology of structural engineering could not see why such a design would never fit in with the original buildings called three graces brings to mind this:

My name is Ozymandias king of kings,
look on my works ye mighty and despair.

And look how he ended up.

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