Architecture is a divisive subject, an area in which people’s tastes are stubborn and admirers argue passionately for their favourite styles. Prince Charles, for instance, maintains a keen interest in the subject, which has resulted in the creation of his own personal project: the town of Poundbury, on land he owns in Dorset. This is particularly tragic because Prince Charles has the worst taste in architecture known to man. Poundbury is billed as “traditionalist’ but it rather resembles a model village, or miniature golf course.
I am a broad church when it comes to architecture. I adore the sash windows, floorboards, tiles and stained glass of Victorian terraces. I am in awe of Augustus Pugin’s gothic revivalism, the best example of which is surely his contribution to the Palace of Westminster. I’m all for a handsome, Georgian country seat. I’m into the exposed brickwork and plumbing of converted factories in New York and Berlin. I’m a big fan of the swoops and curves of the late Zaha Hadid; the glass expanses of Richard Rogers.
But there is one school of architecture that splits people like no other, and that is modernism; more specifically, brutalism. Residential buildings designed by the likes of Ernö Goldfinger (and, further afield, Le Corbusier) have become fashionable, and hip architects and graphic designers pay a premium to live on the Barbican estate or in Trellick Tower. But there is a large cohort of people who despise the look. Vehemently hate it. Seem close to spitting on the ground when passing.
I can understand why; many mid-century residential blocks fell into disrepair (rather scandalously) due to local authority neglect. Yet the appeal of these designs is evident: light pours into modernist flats, with floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces. The communal space is designed for neighbourly cohesion. And, switching to the arts, how anyone can deny the beauty of the National Theatre’s ziggurats is beyond me.
“They look like ugly car parks” said one friend, which isn’t much of a deterrent to me, given that I was very upset indeed when an actual car park in Gateshead – an example of brutalist brilliance – was demolished. An even greater loss is the Welbeck Street car park in Marylebone: one of the best buildings in the capital, struck down in all its tessellated concrete glory. Prince Charles, I imagine, was jumping for joy. Reader, he must be stopped at all costs.