Descrying the pith and marrow of architecture. Extraordinary. Read the article and follow the links.
"What need is there for Donald Judd when there’s the Isle of Grain?"
Letters from Jonathan Meades' lexicon:
Vatican II was a godsend to architects. The Roman Catholic church was a generous, adventurous patron, and its buildings were to be advertisements for the church's newfound modernity. With few functional demands to take into consideration, architects enjoyed carte blanche. God can, apparently, live anywhere – and in the 1960s, he shared the widespread taste for open-plan spaces and theatre-in-the-round.
The boundary between architecture and sculpture, which Le Corbusier had broached, was now comprehensively trampled. The architects who most took advantage of this were Walter Förderer in Switzerland and Germany, Gottfried Böhm in and around Cologne, and Fritz Wotruba in Vienna. Their work defines brutalism. It is accretive, ostentatious, hyperbolic in its asymmetries and protracted voids, composed of parts that do not connect or are in a fragmentary state, dramatically vertiginous, geometrically farouche, extravagantly cantilevered, discomfiting, aggressive (in so far as an inanimate object can be aggressive).
There is no desire to please with prettiness or even beauty. The reaction demanded is that of awe. The quality that the greatest brutalist buildings manifest is sublimity.
Imperial College London
Sheppard Robson's magnificent hall of residence in South Kensington was finished in 1963 and demolished 42 years later. It is not shown on the practice's website. Nor are its slightly later and happily extant lecture halls at Brunel University. Are its current architects embarrassed by their predecessors' work? Uneasy about how potential clients might react? Imperial College has form in this area. Some professor of a "discipline" called Sustainable Energy in Business defends the destruction of cooling towers thus: "You have to think: how much does this enhance the landscape compared to what else we could do if we weren't having to maintain the towers?" This is the very epitome of unreflective short-termism and a not-particularly-convincing justification for sanctioned vandalism.
The School of Advanced Proxenetism, in Albania's capital Tirana, was designed by the late Nexhat Jasari, whose other works included soundproofed containers, experimental dungeons and the Presidential Bison Run.
The three finest works of British brutalism were designed by Rodney Gordon of the Owen Luder Partnership. They were: Eros House in Catford, London; the Tricorn in Portsmouth; and the Trinity in Gateshead. The first, a block of flats, is disfigured; the other two shopping centre and car park complexes have been destroyed in acts of petty-minded provincial vandalism. One can have nothing but contempt for the scum-of-the-earth councillors, blind planners and toady local journalists who conspired to effect the demolition of such masterpieces. One can only despair at the pusillanimous lack of support from wretched English Heritage.
The dependably crass Prince of Wales, the man who sullied Dorset with Poundbury, described the Tricorn as "a mildewed lump of elephant droppings", a simile as vulgar as it is visually inept. No doubt his heritage industry toadies removed their tongues in order to chortle a moment's laughter. The critic Ian Nairn was on the money: "This great belly laugh of forms ... the only thing that has been squandered is imagination."
Gordon's imagination was indeed fecund, rich, untrammelled. It was haunted by Russian constructivism, crusader castles, Levantine skylines. But the paramount desire was to make an architecture that had not previously existed. There are as many ideas in a single Gordon building as there are in the entire careers of most architects. The seldom-photographed street level stuff at the Trinity left the observer with the sensation of being in the presence of genius. One thinks of the burning of books.
The proto-brutalist John Vanbrugh's buildings were widely lambasted while he was still alive. Blenheim was described as "a quarry". When he died, the Reverend Abel Evans famously wrote: "Lay heavy on him earth/ For he laid many a heavy a load on thee."
'Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness'. Watch with Mother, Jonathan Meades on BBC4