Architectural Thuggery

If anyone doubted the complete destruction of British bourgeois civilisation, he could not find more convincing evidence of it than by travelling from Calais to Folkestone on the Eurostar. The vast majority of people taking it with their cars are British, of course; and they are not a pretty sight or a grateful sound.

They are, by definition, not poor; many of them drive very expensive cars; but their manners, down to their gestures and very facial expressions, are crude, coarse and brutish. (I speak, of course, grosso modo.) They are the underclass, but with more money; they lack refinement in their tastes, except in matters of expensive technological appurtenances; only the Russian rich are even more unattractive as a group than they.

Then there is Folkestone on the other side of the Channel. It is a jewel of Victorian and Edwardian seaside building, comprehensively ruined beyond repair as a townscape by what was erected in the second half of the twentieth century. For example there is a beautiful Victorian wrought iron bandstand on the front, near to which has been erected an enclosed pavilion that makes some kind of pastiche reference to the style of the bandstand but which is ugly beyond description and which obtrudes itself upon the retina so that the bandstand cannot be seen in its absence, as a pushy person continually interrupts a conversation to which he has nothing to contribute.

Is this mere incompetence, or is it ideological malice? Perhaps it is impossible to distinguish definitively between the two, but in my opinion ideological malice is the more likely explanation, for only this can explain why every prospect has been ruined by the strategic placement of something constructed in what might be called social-democratic style, the style that is incompatible with any other and which is so obviously pronounces a dog-in-the manger philosophy: if not everyone can live somewhere beautiful, then no one will. For of course it is much easier to destroy beauty or grace than to create it.

To make all the world ugly was therefore for them an act of justice, even of restitution to those who had lived in ugliness all their lives.

So British architects of the second half of the last century were not incompetent if their goal was to bring about the destruction of an existent beauty that was unequally distributed. On the contrary, they were the most successful architects who ever lived, if success is measured by the extent to which their goal has been reached. return to blog page

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