Thursday, February 18, 2010

Barbarism Begins At Home

I hate to say it but Private Eye's Piloti is dead right about Robert Fidler's mock tudor castle. Not so much in his attack on the iniquities of current planning legislation as the idea that aesthetic judgement should determine whether a house is demolished or not.

He is particularly right to take Janet Street Porter to task for her offensive snobbery (scroll down to second story) in stating that the building should be torn down on grounds of taste. Not only is this a bit rich coming from someone who commissioned Piers Gough to design her a house (and I mean that in a good way), but she's also made her career out of a bracing lack of concern for nimbyish niceties. Surely, most of Street Porter's TV output should be disallowed on taste grounds too? I've always considered that her (one) redeeming quality. Well, that and Normski...

The view - no actually it's an assumption - that buildings should be dynamited for not conforming to middle class taste is so widespread as to go uncriticised, kind of like the architectural equivalent of the term 'chav'. The utter certainty of Street Porter, for instance, in the rightness of her view is terrifying. It's funny too that the pejorative use of the word mock (as in mock-tudor) is only ever applied to pre-industrial buildings. It should be used equally to describe the vast majority of buildings that continue to rip off the architecture of early 20th century modernism.

She's also totally wrong about this particular building. There is something genuinely interesting about Robert Fidler's technique of architectural subterfuge. Not only was his house hidden behind a load of strawbales, but the castle 'turrets' are actually grain silos. Or at least they were.

I like this idea of buildings revealing their true identities over time, and of them being camouflaged into the landscape. A series of giant haybales containing houses, shops and offices would be wonderful. A new cartoon picturesque perhaps?


Will said...

Great post Charles. Janet Street Porter has quite a cheek.

Charles Holland said...

Cheers Will. Yes, cheek is exactly the word.

bazza said...

Hi Charles. Thanks for an entertaining read.
I am not an expert in archtecture - merely someone who is interested in it.
Come to think of it my last blog post was partly about architecture!

gg said...




don't know, man said...

I don't know about Britain, but where I come from it just doesn't get more middle class (as in working class and middle class who would like to live in the suburbs and be rich and take their children to a private school, not what's actually called "middle class" around here) than mock-historicism... as soon as these guys get some money they flee to the crappiest suburb, build the tackiest house, turn it into the most shocking "decorated duck", buy the tackiest car and the tackiest gold watch, take their children to the most right-wing school.

I get the point that nobody should self-appoint themselves as universal taste arbiters and demand people to demolish their own house but I don't like the idea that nostalgic taste is somehow more democratic than those fascist Modernists... but maybe that's because where I come from (Southern Europe) traditional architecture was already rather modernistic to begin with, and suburbs are more for the upper class.

At any rate I think this shouldn't be demolished but mainly because the context is not urban -- it's really depressing how the regulations are absurdly strict but you can get away with complete and utter crap and disgrace the city (and by complete and utter crap I mean lots of things, mainly buildings that don't acknowledge the street at all, style aside.)

FunnyBlogsPictures said...

Very Nice Blog

don't know, man said...

Oh, and as for the "XIXth century" remark - I think hatred towards "faux-moderne" does exist. Helio Piñón's talk about "orthogonal postmodernism" and "modernist mannierism" comes to mind (not that I'm too fond of the man, though.)

Elli Davis said...

Not everything that does not look modern has to be demolished. Sooner or later we can forget about "the old times". It is good to support this kind of projects. All the best, ElliD.

Charles Holland said...

Don't Know Man, I never equated modernism with fascism! I did try to make the case though that much 'modern' architecture is actually quite old in its references now and certainly not straightforwardly honest or truthful in its materials or construction (as if such a thing were possible!).

I also think you're guilty of generalising in a vaguely unpleasant way when you refer to right wing schools etc.

Jim said...

Hi Charles
Interesting point that we don't apply 'mock' to new architecture which referneces (badly or otherwise) early modernism. I've been using the term 'neo-modernist' for a while, but maybe this is too polite. I shall try out 'mock-modernism'? Sounds more like an instruction than a style. Perhaps Modernism-Lite (all the style of modernism, but with none of the politics!)

Hope all well in London, sun finally shining in Berlin and the snow melting. Hoorah!


Jim said...

PS, would you be able to update your link to me? Have migrated from the wordpress blog to my own site.


Charles Holland said...

Here's to the new mock-modernism. You're right, it does sound like a command.

Owen Hatherley calls it Pseudo-Modernism I think...

I've been visiting your new site so yes will definitely update the link...keep up the good work!