Fighting over Facades

June 19, 2009

I have to second Dreher and Waugh on this one; Prince Charles’s opposition to Chelsea Barracks, if not entirely democratic, is not entirely stupid either.  I don’t know if the alternative will be pure schmaltz or not once constructed, but whatever it is I’m guessing it’ll beat Roger’s pastless modernism hand over fist, at least so far as surface aesthetics go.

But then again, how far do surfaces go? Though there are certainly great differences in the aesthetics of the two options, and in the spaces they set up, we can’t forget that this fight, for better or worse, is over facades. The underlying construction of the buildings will likely be the same modern steel-girder system with whatever cultural sensibility we might imagine tacked on top, so that whatever comes out of it will be, so to speak, modern in its bones. The kind of stone-pile architecture it’s supposed to imitate will remain as dead as it was in Roger’s design, so if we’re looking for a model of traditional architectural sensibility, of really long-lived buildings, Chelsea Barracks ain’t gonna be it.   What it may be (more livable, prettier on the eyes) should be kept in balance with what it can’t be (genuinely permanent.)

Unless of course, Quinlin Terry will actually buck the trend and build something beautiful and lasting at enormous expense. Yet somehow I doubt that.


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