A Style For London


Paul Finch, the head of England’s national architectural review body, has been talking about how important it was for the London Olympic Games to be designed by modernists and not traditionalists, a view I more or less agree with. His idea of modernism is a global one, so there is nothing uniquely British about the buildings. They basically reflect an ability to competently appoint international architects.

But he went on to personally attack traditionalist architects. “One of the good things about the Olympics is the realisation that we have a set of buildings produced not by Quinlan Terry, Robert Adam, John Simpson, but by Hopkins, Hadid, Populous, Heneghan Peng,” he said. “None of it endorsed by the Prince of Wales, none of it to do with heritage.”

The leading exponents of classical buildings inspired by architects from the past like Sir Christopher Wren and Andrea Palladio have complained that Finch’s remarks displayed “significant prejudice against one style or architectural philosophy at the highest level”. I think they’ve a right to be upset.

Quinlan Terry’s traditionalist development at Richmond was lambasted for being a pastiche of classical styles, but quickly became one of the most loved and widely used areas of Greater London. Modernist proponents hate the vox populi, but at some point it should be heeded.

The extreme modernist Zaha Hadid is my favourite architect in the world, but commissions from celebrity architects aren’t always fit for purpose. I’d love to see more Hadid buildings in the UK, but in carefully chosen sites. Cardiff’s timidity about her opera house design resulted in the worst of all compromises – no opera house at all but a general purpose building. London, like it or not, is still a Palladian city, no matter how many glittery glass boxes go up in the Square Mile. To blankly deny the uses of traditionalism is naive and insulting.

4 comments on “A Style For London”

  1. Steve Beat says:

    Right – I better come clean and say that I am NOT an expert in architecture. My prejudices against modernism is the complete lack of empathy that certain (not all) of it’s exponents seem to have for the surrounding environment. London, to me, seems to becoming more and more of a tragic tapestry of topsy-turviness, like Mozart and Amy Winehouse performing at the same time on the same stage. There IS modern archeture I do like, but inevitably I find myself asking ‘what is the plan?’. Is there one?

  2. Gretta says:

    I’m also a big fan of Zaha Hadid the Architect, but Zaha Hadid the Person seems terrifying. I remember seeing a BBC doco on her several years back, and she absolutely ripped the head off some poor minion who’d dared to put paintings on the walls of his CAD drawings for some art gallery.

    As for Mr Finch, I think he needs a damned good talking to(and a whack across the ear with a well-aimed walking stick) from a certain Mr A Bryant.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    You can’t plonk a super modern building in an area of Palladians and have it fit. Or any other historical period. Buildings have to fit the neighbourhood. You said “carefully chosen sites” and that’s the key. A gentle nod in the direction of the dominant area style, but super modern inside is usually possible. We saw pictures of the medals they’ll present next year and I have to say there was no imagination shown there. Items like medals could go off the map with originality, but buildings not so much. The swimming “venue” (“pool” seems to be too low class)looks like a nice piece of design – lots of light, airy and a good place to go for a quick dip.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    A friend of mine says that the Richmond project seemed rather Disney-like. He said it reminded him of Disneyland where they had to build “old” buildings and they never look right (or old). That has to do with materials, I think, particularly wood, but I haven’t seen the Richmond thing except in this picture.

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