It's christmas, so of course, I'm in Southampton. This has the strange side-effect of making me thankful for London. Often, in the course of conversations with my old schoolfriends (half of whom seem to be active Anarchos or working for African NGOs) we reflect on the incoming catastrophe: the near-certainty that future generations will look at us like the postwar years looked at those who voted for the National Government in the '30s. A smug, myopic generation who blithely ushered in the catastrophe without noticing it. The architecture of Southampton will no doubt be one of the least pressing of the appalling legacies left by the past couple of decades, but is, on walking around the place, its own sort of environmental destruction. If Postmodernism was purged from London in the '90s and replaced with Ikea Modernism, here it flourishes, if something so utterly uninspired can be said to 'flourish'. This is a city seemingly rebuilt via the principle of Planneroids
It's not exactly an architecturally distingished city as it is, but the late-Victorian and 1960s bulk of the city at least has a bit
of character, and is broken up by the occasional jarring surprise - some cranky redbrick neo-gothic, the odd brutalist monster. So, hoping that something might rise to challenge this stacking of Victoriana, I was quite pleased to hear that a cluster of four 'skyscrapers', the city's biggest towers since the '60s, were planned for the centre. Eventually, I found pictures of the designs at Skyscraper News
. A blander, more utterly timid, nondescript selection of edifices I have seldom seen. Think of the blocks of flats that stick up by riverfronts and former docksides in Surrey Quays, or Mudchute - now imagine a city with that as its Stadtkrone
. That's what Southampton is getting. A few hotels and luxury flats which the denizens of Basingstoke would find a little conservative. Look at the picture at the top of this post, a rendering of the central three of these 'skyscrapers'. Now even in the worst current corporate architecture at least they can muster a glassy, fancy or fantastical CGI image, as in the post-apocalyptic skies that, fittingly, swirl around the proposed Ocean Village tower (above). But in the main scheme, before it has even been built this cluster of non-towers barely even announces itself, hiding behind the most unremarkable of traffic intersections - beinahe nichts
in a sense that even the most literal of Miesians would wince at.
Even Richard Rogers, from whom most of us have long since stopped expecting anything interesting, seems like some brilliant, lunatic Corbusian demiurge by comparison, with his proposals for the old Woolston shipyards (above). So obviously, he got thrown off the project
. Meanwhile the local papers seem obsessed with recapturing the 'wow' factor from Portsmouth's sub-Dubai 'vertical Tricorn', the Spinnaker tower, via a monument to the Spitfire warplane that resembles a slightly more aeronautic version of The Angel of the North
- The Angel of Death of the South, perhaps. What sort of city are they creating here? In 20 years, what will these slapped-together non-buildings, the shopping centres and monuments to long-forgotten wars - well, the war will always be forcibly remembered, but the wave of disgust with laissez-faire that followed it won't be - look like to passers-by, whether surveying its wreckage or in its anemic pomp? No doubt, they won't even be noticed, like the statues to obscure Victorian grandees that pepper the city's parks. But at least previous generations had a decent contempt for those slave-traders, God-botherers and moustachioed imperialists. Now they're seemingly the city's only horizon, and anything that might potentially obscure that has to hide itself.