“Beauty” and the Thames

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, has finally approved a planning application for a new development on the South Bank of the Thames in London, by Make Architects, having delayed it 3 times.

The inspector for the planning noted “The Inquiry grappled with the concept of beauty. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in more than one approach to its definition. I have two brief points to make in this regard: Firstly, the concept of beauty is for some clearly a subjective one. Labelling the building as ‘ugly’ or ‘fat’ only goes to reinforce my view of the subjective nature of such a narrow definition. Secondly, assessing whether the building achieves a high-quality design is an objective process.”

Michael Gove also highlighted that beauty is included as a concept in the National Planning Policy Framework – but is entirely undefined and unexplained…

SOM completes restoration of New York’s historic Lever House

Nice to see what a great job you can do with an old and maybe not so great looking building –

Classic slab on top of a podium slab. The green colour is distinctive, helps set it apart from other buildings around it.

A lot of modern buildings like to sit on top of posts – creates space underneath for people to circulate, as well as reveal the internal garden – I do like the reflective finish.

Bruce Hotel

Bruce Hotel

The Bruce Hotel was designed by Glasgow architects Walter Underwood & partners and built in 1969, who also designed the Queen Margaret Union at the University of Glasgow.

It has six floors and includes a ballroom. It was briefly put up for sale in 2019 for £1.5 million but now serves mainly to house asylum seekers.

Glasgow College of Building and Printing

The Herald has defended this prominent Glasgow tower block, currently a giant bill board in the city centre, from accusations that it is the “second ugliest building” in the UK.

Prof Alan Dunlop, architect of the Glasgow Radisson and award winning Hazelwood School, is quoted as saying it is one of the “finest and most elegant buildings built in the 1960s that Glasgow actually has.”

Yes, it has “brutalist elements” such as the roof top concrete structures, which are reminiscent of Le Corbusier (so too the piloti, the concrete legs) but he calls it “refined” and “with real elegance”.

It is actually one of a pair of striking buildings designed by Peter Williams for Wylie, Shanks & Partners.

Part of the problem of course is weathering and deterioration of the fabric, which is to be expected in a building from 1964.

The B-listed tower block is to be renovated as a space for expanding tech and digital businesses, but the partner podium building is to be demolished.

Norco House, Aberdeen

Twentieth Century Society at risk list

The Twentieth Century Society publish a list of the buildings they consider most at risk in the UK every 2 years.

With the most recent, most are in England, just 2 are in Scotland:

  • Norco house in Aberdeen (previously John Lewis)
  • Scottish Widows building in Edinburgh, which was designed by Spence, Glover and Ferguson and received the RIBA Award for Scotland in 1977. Currently subject to a £100m redevelopment planning application
Norco House, Aberdeen
Scottish Widows building, Edinburgh
Ad Meskens, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

High Sunderland

A 1957 Category A-listed house in the borders, designed by Peter Womersley, adjacent to his other classic work, the studio for Bernat Klein (who lived at the house for 60 years).

The house nearly burnt down in 2017 but has been fully refurbished (and winning a RIAS award into the bargain).

High Sunderland

I love the sunken living room area, the balance of wood panels (including ceiling), stone and glass.

From e-Architect

The ugly truth

All kinds of things get called ugly. And ugliness is seen as the opposite of beauty.

But these things are tricky. The Eiffel tower and the Albert memorial were described in their time as ugly. Mountains are now considered scenic, but in the past were symbols of wildness, desolation and danger.

Ugly is not so much the opposite, but jarring, variable, surprising. And sometimes violent.

Beauty gets boring. Too much becomes intolerable. Who says the sedating quality of beauty is better than the stimulating quality of ugliness?

Is a B52 bomber beautiful or monstrous? A motorway interchange?

What do you do when you have already designed the iPhone? Or a Ferrari? Just more of the same?

[Stephen Bayley – “Ugly: the Aesthetics of Everything]

Cumbernauld town centre fails to achieve listing

Historic Environment Scotland describe it as of “special interest” but not worthy of protection through the listing process.

The reasons given are odd – “Because of the advanced development proposals for Cumbernauld Town Centre, we decided not to proceed with listing at this time”.

This leaves North Lanarkshire council free to develop it as they wish, which could include total demolition. Which seems a bit like saying yes, it’s really important, but because the owners have other plans we’ll let them do what they want. Whereas the whole purpose of listing is to protect important buildings from the commercial vagaries of their owners, for the benefit of the wider population.

They add “Although we have decided not to list the site, we hope that our report will inform the decisions that are made about the site.” Which again, is at the whim of the owners to do.