Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Richard Rogers is no Wren

Those architects whose names we know - post-mediaeval, for the most part - have left us with a built legacy that has become part of the national psyche. Vanburgh, Wren, Hawksmoor, James Wyatt, Adam, Charles Barry, Pugin and Lutyens (of whom Jonathan Meades said 'Lutyens is known to have designed eighteen houses, forty-seven of which are in Surrey') and several more are generally recognised by many. Their creations are carefully preserved, and count their life-span in centuries.

The names of the eighties - and they are all eighties creations, for neither the nineties or the noughties seem to have produced a single architect of note - still command prestigious commissions and scores of column inches, but their buildings are as temporary as an ASDA depot. Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, Richard Rogers. Producers of whimsical, amusing, clever and ultimately disposable bits of built environment that will mostly be facing the demolition nibbler within a score of years. The Lloyds building will not be standing in 2050, let alone be loved by then. The Gherkin will be gone by 2080. Like the unloved commercial hulks of the sixties and seventies before them, their future is a pile of crushed rubble. As temporarily appropriate as shoulder pads or Ugg boots, they will linger at the back of the national architectural wardrobe for a year or two before going in the bin.

So I am not as concerned as HRH Prince Charles over Rogers' proposals for the Chelsea site. The site will remain a potential development site whatever goes on it - we simply don't have a single architect whose buildings fire the public passion and which inspire popular preservation. Quinlan Terry certainly doesn't. Let Rogers build his portakabin city - it will be dust soon enough, and may even be as temporarily diverting as an amusing poster for a year or two.


The Great Simpleton said...

I've just been listening to Rodgers on Today. He seems to be demanding wholesale constitutional change because Carles managed to hold sway. Definately a case of sore loser.

Having said that I tend to agree that cities are living things and we can't wrap them up otherwise they will atrophy, even if these means carbuncles on the faces of much loved friends.

Chris said...

Say what you like about the Victorians, but at least they built like they cared what the future would think of them (it helped that they built for a future that was going to be more than 50 years).

20th century architecture was nothing but one long cataclysmic detour into ugliness and egotism.

TheFatBigot said...

That's all very well, but how many musicals did Wren write?