Sunday, January 01, 2006

Reflections on the old and the new

Bernard Levin, the English journalist and critic, was a man of decided views. In 1983, writing in "The Times", he asked, "What has happened to architecture since the second world war that the only passers-by who can contemplate it without pain are those equipped with a white stick and a dog?"

This is a not uncommon viewpoint. Many people are more comfortable with those buildings that evolved out of, or incorporate references to, one historical style or another. In England speculative builders of domestic housing spend whole careers tripping from Neo-Geogian, to Tudor, to Victorian , to whatever is the next whim or fancy. The "big bang" of twentieth century modernism disorientated people as far as architecture goes, and many have still to recover.

I'm a fan of good architecture wherever I find it and of whatever age. And yes, there is modern architecture that I like a lot. Having said that, this building in Kingston upon Hull has little to recommend it. It has offices above, shops and offices below, and, as I recall, a multi-storey car park tacked on for good measure. I remember it being built when I lived in the city in the 1970s and 1980s. I thought then, and I think now, that it wasn't good enough to sit next to Holy Trinity, England's largest (by area) parish church. This building is a medieval marvel of solidity and grace which also happens to incorporate some of the oldest medieval bricks in Britain.

And yet. And yet. The architect of the new building did have the foresight and grace to put reflective glass opposite the east end of the church. And each time I've passed I've looked at both the real thing and its reflection. So thank you for that. The day I took this photograph someone inside was too hot. The window they opened added a necessary break in the rhythm of the facade and improved my shot. Thank you too, whoever you are!
photographs and text (c) T. Boughen