Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The People's Non-Choice

Brief thoughts on the results of 'the Stirling of Stirlings', the RIBA Journal/The Times' poll to discover the finest building by a British architect of the last century and a half. There is another poll in Britain this week, which is so depressing that I won't write anything about it until the no doubt utterly terrifying results come in by the weekend. Anyway - the Stirling of Stirlings was a relatively rather heartening thing. Much in the same way that, if you judged the political pulse on the comments on Comment Is Free you'd be faced with an immediate urge to emigrate, to read the recent Chelsea Barracks non-story and the attendant letters and online comments from The Public was so enormously bleak that I immediately assumed the poll would be some sort of Prince Charles-tendency apotheosis. Anyway, it wasn't, partly cos of a very adroit use of proportional representation - ie, the voter had to choose from buildings in each era, meaning that you essentially had to choose at least one Victorian pile or concrete monstrosity, whether you liked it or not. In the Times piece above I got quoted (mercifully) anonymously praising the limits on freedom made by the poll, which is an interesting contradiction - only when democracy is not so much circumscribed as, erm, 'guided', you get some very interesting results, with architectural celebs like Edwin Lutyens and Zaha Hadid being decidedly unloved, while unassuming non-eccentric backroom boys like Charles Holden and the LCC team that designed the Festival Hall did very well indeed, something which perhaps suggests a potential new sobriety need not be completely knee-jerk and retro. Perhaps.

(if anyone cares, my votes, partly tactical and involving three buildings I only know from photos, were as follows: Crystal Palace, St Pancras (for the shed, before it was painted blue and given the worst statues in the world), Glasgow School of Art, Holden's tube stations, the Isokon minimumwohnung, Leicester Engineering Building and Lloyds - and if I had to vote for one, it would have been the latter - although if I had a free choice then Park Hill or, maybe, Wyndham Court could have beaten it...)


Blogger Chris Matthews said...

yey - Leicester Engineering Building!

9:45 pm  
Blogger Saurabh said...

Ralph Erskine's The Arc, UCL Medical School building...from my side... :) nice blog.

10:10 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Huzzah for Glasgow School of Art, in spite of the v. poor class representation among its student body (worst in the country, apparently.) I love how total the design is - you can really tell Mackintosh had complete control.

I'd never heard of the Leicester Engineering Building, but all I can say is: phwoar.


11:12 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

a) pedantry - there is nobody alive who could know the Crystal Palace (the 1851 one, as described in the poll) by anything other than photography...

b) Pearman is seriously off-target describing Pompidou as the spiritual descendant of the Crystal Palace. It's just nonsense.

c) although his worries about a 'throwback period' are frighteningly plausible.

d) I could tell you a thing or two about class representation at the GSA, believe you me...

e) that notwithstanding, it is an absolute peach of a building, one of the best in the world, no question.

and because I'm not going to fully post about it, my answers are: - the C.P. (!), Cragside, GSA, the Undergrounds, Coventry Cathedral, St Peter's (I can't believe you'd take Stirling over GKC, although the choice between mercenary virtuosity and virtuosic fidelity is an interesting one), Lloyds.

1:13 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Oh, it's not that surprising - redbrick industrial constructivism vs late-Corb spirituality-in-concrete. Obvious where I'd go...and I haven't seen either in the flesh, though I do intend a trip to both pretty soon. If I had to vote for things I had actually been inside, then CP would be replaced by Paddington, Leicester with the Economist buildings (which I like a lot, so it was a tricky decision), and for the 1884-1908 section I wouldn't have been able to vote at all...

11:36 am  
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Blogger Ella said...

Random little point - What we'll never know from photographs of the Crystal Palace is that it was actually colourfully painted.

"Differentiations were further pointed out – or coded – by the painted colour: red on the undersides of girders and behind the gallery railings; yellow on the diagonal faces of the columns and on certain projections; blue on the concave parts of the columns."

[ George L. Hersey, High Victorian Gothic ]

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