The past is a foreign country, and they should go back where they came from. That’s the general gist of this piece by me in this week’s New Statesman, a broadside against the campaigns to rebuild the Euston Arch and the Skylon. Both endeavours are excursions into superstition, architectural voodoo: attempts to undo the past by the resurrection of relics and symbols with supposed beneficial powers. We could, of course, be looking at life and London as they are, and trying to say something about that, but that wouldn't scratch the heritage itch.
As I say:
Whatever they might claim, neither campaign is forward-looking. Both see present-day London as a suitable venue for revisiting battles that were lost more than half a century ago. You could call it Wispa urbanism, the architectural equivalent of the campaign to revive the Cadbury's chocolate bar. This is the vanguard of a fresh surge of militant nostalgia. Britain's heritage industry is no longer content with simply preserving buildings; it now wants them brought back from the grave. The same tendency gave rise to the 2005 Channel 4 programme Demolition, in which viewers were invited to vote for modern "eyesores" that they would like to see demolished. "Maybe," wrote the architect Charles Holland this year, "they should do a new series in which people could nominate which books they would like to burn."
As I've done with Charles above, here are the references for some of my assertions.
Where quotes are directly attributed to the Euston Arch Trust, they come from the trust's website. Glancey quotes are from his book Lost Buildings - see pages 154 and 157. My review of that book is here.
Cruickshank quotes appear here ("heroic") and here ("romantic"). He echoes the "barbarism" quote from the trust here.
The Pringle quote is here; some other Skylon-related material I drew upon is here and here.
"Small, young practices are struggling to find work on the Olympic site, locked out by procurement rules that favour big firms." - Building Design, 16 July 2009
Anyway, enjoy. Apologies for the lack of activity on Spillway - it has been a busy few weeks, and some fairly long posts are in the works.