Friday, May 17, 2013

Modern architecture and caustic criticism

click photo to enlarge
On a recent visit to London I stopped briefly in front of the Cottons Centre on the south bank of the Thames, raised my camera and took this photograph of the zig-zag walls and the the green-tinted windows reflecting the early morning sky. I liked the detailing of this building the first time I saw it and I like it still. The smooth, cream finish appeals to me and contrasts well with the narrow, terracotta-coloured lines that mark vertical edges and the boundary of each storey. There is a folded, stepped, and chamfered, origami-like quality to this part of the elevation that I find attractive. The way the exterior has the feeling of a technical drawing is something that I like too. Though not a star building among those found in London, in fact, not one that gets much mention in the books on the city's modern architecture, the Cottons Centre has many good qualities and is a positive addition to its location. It's the sort of building that makes me wonder why there are still people who lament modern architecture and always compare it unfavourably with older buildings.

I was thinking about this as I walked by the Thames and I also fell to reflecting on some of the quotations that I know about modern architecture. It occurred to me that whilst I strongly disagree with the blanket "new is bad, old is good" school of architectural criticism, the caustic comments of such people are usually much funnier than any dreamed up by those who defend modern buildings. To illustrate that point here, for your entertainment, are a few such words of wisdom.

"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?"
Bernard Levin (1928-2004), English journalist, author and broadcaster

“In my experience, if you have to keep the lavatory door shut by extending your left leg, it's modern architecture.”
Nancy Banks-Smith (1929- ), British television and radio critic

"The Sydney Opera House looks as if it is something that has crawled out of the sea and is up to no good."
Beverley Nichols (1898-1983) English author, playwright, journalist etc

"Personally I think all modern architects should be pulled down and redeveloped as car parks."
Spike Milligan (1918-2002) Irish/English comedian, writer, actor, musician etc

"I declare this thing open - whatever it is."
Prince Philip (1921- ) consort of Queen Elizabeth II: on opening a new annex at Vancouver City Hall.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On