Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New and old architecture juxtaposed

click photo to enlarge
It seems to me that architects manage the juxtaposition of a new building next to an old one in one of three ways. Firstly they ignore it. Completely. They build a structure that doesn't acknowledge the older building in any way. The second approach is to erect a building in a clearly modern style but which, in some way, recognises, tips its hat if you will, to its neighbour. This can be by expedients as simple as following an existing roof line or window height, incorporating verticals that could be construed as modern columns echoing those of the older building, or perhaps using a stone or brick finish to establish a link with the neighbour. The third approach is to build an explicitly "revivalist" exterior that is a close match, in either form or spirit, of the style of the older building. All these approaches can work, though, in my opinion the third is the least likely to do so. What matters more than anything else is the quality of the new building, and today's revivalist buildings are, I feel, less likely to be good buildings. It's also true that most architects working today eschew revivalism, preferring quite naturally to build something that speaks of their point in time.

However, many people, find the building of an avowedly modern building next to one dating from the Victorian era or earlier, objectionable in principle. Prince Charles, for example, seems to, and he's not alone. Quite how our towns and cities can be rationally built without this happening I don't know, and neither, I suspect, does he or anyone who shares his views. Moreover, new next to old has always been the way, and why medieval next to Georgian is acceptable but twenty-first century next to Victorian is not, is beyond my understanding.

Such building juxtapositions often make striking and visually arresting sights, producing contrasts that invite us to look more carefully at both the new and the old structures. I photographed a few such pairings on my recent stay in London. The spectacle of the curves and time-worn stone of St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, a building of 1725 by George Dance the Elder, seen against the soaring verticals and gleaming glass of the tower at 99 Bishopsgate is not without interest or beauty. Nor is the Victorian (or perhaps Edwardian) facade against the swirls and diamonds of The Gherkin (the Swiss Re building) seen in the main photograph. Or at least that's my view. However, as they say on the WWW these days, YMMV.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On