Sunday, March 27, 2011

please allow me to introduce myself

I'm a man of impeccable taste; I've even got a diploma that says so. five years of my life I've spent in a government-sponsored correctional institution to make sure I have good taste. and I like things that are to my taste, or what I like to think of as my taste: neat, slender and ordered. so how come I like this:

Parkway, CamdenParkway* in Camden?

this is not the kind of of bad taste architect's prefer to quote when trying to be edgy or showing off their oh-so-risky guilty pleasures (which I'm fully aware is kind of what I'm doing just now). Parkway is just too banal for that: there's nothing clever about it, and nothing particularly upsetting either. it's just a stretch of road lined with terraced houses of yellow London brick. the houses themselves aren't particularly coordinated with parapets changing level more or less with each building and on the ground floors there are shops. fronting the shops are hideous shop fronts in every kind of garish font imaginable.

Entrance to the Jewish museum, London - Long & KentishI was on my way to visit Long & Kentish's Jewish Museum and when arriving I was presented with a sombre door set in a rendered ground floor wall. and this is something I could have designed myself, this is what I really like. I even remember being impressed by the detailing of the door. so how come – when I later look at it in photographs – it looks so dull? I mean, I still am impressed, and feel this is what I like, but it looks objectively dull. in a lot of ways there's nothing particularly wrong with dullness, one might even say there are certain activities that need the dullness to preserve an air of dignity, but if this would be all there were to cities then they'd be terrible places to spend your life. a city needs the unplanned, the ugly, the left over.

what I'm getting at is this: at times when work are hard to come by voices are raised to protect the function of the architect. unfortunately I think the result would be utterly horrible. that is to say it would be charming, beautiful, well thought through and very tasteful - but also dead. because to a profession educating someone means to train them so they have the skills society expects of that profession. unfortunately, when it comes to architects, that also means to train their taste, to teach them to appreciate what an architect is supposed to appreciate. what an architect is supposed to appreciate is the well behaved modernism so beloved of the progressive upper middle classes at the beginning of the 20th century. I think (or deludes myself into thinking) that's what I've liked all my life – so I'm fine with that – but what about other people whose tastes aren't catered for in architecture schools, why shouldn't they be allowed to influence what our cities look like? and when they try to, by changing their shop front say, why should their wishes be mediated through consultants who have been trained to have good, government approved, taste?

*the first time I heard the name Parkway was in the St. Etienne song London Belongs to Me, and I must say that compared to the loveliness of that song the reality is pretty meagre, but as a city street I find it quite exciting.

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