Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Nation of Shedkeepers

You see some odd things on the London to Manchester train. Gigantic cooling towers in the countryside, a mutant variant on Kropotkin's 'factory in the garden'; silos and mounds, canals of a decidedly Enlightened obsessive straightness. The one built artifact that seems to dominate the landscape, however, is the shed. Victorian sheds, their iron roofs stretching out for half a mile; post-war sheds, tinny and shoddy; and the gigantic sheds of the last 20 years, utterly enormous, featureless buildings seeming to enclose small towns within their plasticky walls. The late, great Martin Pawley predicted in the 1998 book Terminal Architecture that the architecture of the future would most likely be a variant on the gigantic sheds of big box retail - automated, easily built and recycled, ephemeral, non-architectural, a super-functionalism. 'Walmartopolis'. The landscape I saw would suggest that he was most certainly right here, if wrong elsewhere (e.g, on the end of tall buildings in London). Yet one can't help wishing that the architecture of future wasn't quite so drab.

Even the overwhelming scale is only appreciable from the air, so even the an awed response to the sublime power of the corporate juggernaut is nigh-impossible. Sure, you can admire the total technological efficiency of these structures, and agree with Pawley that they make a mockery of the 'sustainable', over-budget concoctions of the starchitect - but surely this final morphing of utilitarianism is one of the greatest pieces of evidence for J.G Ballard's admonition: the future will be boring. Therefore, no sheds for you to look at here. Instead, here's more evidence of the extremely bizarre spaces that lie not very far from the mundanism of this landscape, found via Unmitigated England. Look at these two photographs and wonder at exactly what sort of ludicrous, morbidly fascinating landscape we've created for ourselves. The first one (top of post) depicts 'acoustic mirrors' in Kent, 30ft concrete structures with built-in microphones, an early form of radar, the poignancy of obsolete high-technology, of futurist relics; the second, which you see above (surely built near to several large sheds, this one) depicts a seemingly wholly identikit Barratt landscape, distinguished by the art deco tower of a 1930s mental hospital. Care in the community.


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