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Hugh, Pugh, Barley, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Chuck
March 31, 2009 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Prince Charles has been a notable critic of architecture over the years. Now he's had a go himself, designing a fire station in the village of Poundbury. Whilst the reception to the Prince's efforts has not been overwhelmingly positive at least the commentators at the Daily Mail like it
posted by fearfulsymmetry (110 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy fuck it looks like a church
posted by Xoebe at 10:36 AM on March 31, 2009


Oh, and the proportions are wrong...
posted by Xoebe at 10:38 AM on March 31, 2009


MetaFilter: Like designing a Bentley with the exhaust pipe sticking out of the roof.
posted by brundlefly at 10:39 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've lived near Poundbury and know a couple of people who bought there - for all its pretensions, it is an extremely popular place to live and much sought after.

And frankly, when it comes to living spaces, that's all that matters: that the people who actually have to live there like it, and the people who don't don't have to buy or rent in it.

Poundbury was built on a rather unlovely piece of land near the A35 bypass on the less nice west side of Dorchester and, a select few streets apart, is a lot nicer than some of the town's architecture.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2009


This shall serve as a stern warning to all: creations that look good in SketchUp should never actually be built.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:44 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


WWJRS?
posted by dios at 10:46 AM on March 31, 2009


It's the royal McMansion.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on March 31, 2009


I'm not much of an architecturist, so maybe something's not as apparent to me as to others. I see that the drainpipes are terrible, and I don't quite like the building overall, but can't really say why. What specifically is wrong here?
posted by echo target at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2009


It's a lot nicer than the featureless hanger we have as a fire station in my town.
posted by DU at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


> And frankly, when it comes to living spaces, that's all that matters: that the people who actually have to live there like it.

Really? Can't we at least say that achritecture should strive to be something more than this horrid hodepodge? When I hear really horribly soul-crushingly bad music I don't really care much if anyone like it, because I think that whoever might enjoy it might perhaps enjoy something better crafted even more.

And to continue the simile, Prince Charles' approach to architecture is akin to making faux-classical muzak. It's just not very good no matter how you look at it.
posted by bjrn at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: for all its pretensions, it is an extremely popular place
posted by xbonesgt at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


What specifically is wrong here?

A desperate clinging to an imaginary "classic" past, maybe?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:55 AM on March 31, 2009


Oh ugh, the proportions are all off and that garage looks completely tacked on. Lame.

Why is it ever modern architects try for a "classical" look it always ends up being this horrible cartoon version of the past? Features exaggerated to the point of insanity and the real stuff of the building, the materials, the proportions, the weight of the thing, how it sits in the site and it's relationship to other buildings, are completely ignored for his big fucking smiley face screaming "I AM TEH PAST! OOOOO!"
posted by The Whelk at 10:58 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would like to point out I'm not good in these kinds of conversations because I'm still fighting the Sullivan-vs-Neoclassical war down on the street. in my mind. on the street in my mind.
posted by The Whelk at 11:00 AM on March 31, 2009


It is too busy. There is too much going on, like all the little round windows. One or two would have done. Also I noticed that same overkill on the garage doors.

Overall, if he had cut back on the ornamentation, it would have been a nicer structure.
posted by chocolatetiara at 11:01 AM on March 31, 2009


It may not be terrific, but compared to many functionary buildings I prefer it. We can easily cry out for perfection, or something better but at this stage I am almost overjoyed when new government buildings are not Morton buildings, or featureless boxes.

Yeah, Prince C. shouldn't give up his day job (ha).
posted by edgeways at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


What specifically is wrong here?

It is gaudy and the proportions are wrong.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2009


> It is gaudy and the proportions are wrong.

And it's something that's trying to pretend to be from a completely different age. The outside has nothing to do with being a fire station, it's pretending to be a victorian home. We don't need perfection, but I'm sure they could have gotten something really good from an actual group of architects instead of putting Prince Charles in charge.
posted by bjrn at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2009


It looks like any number of small United States industrial cities' library buildings when Carnegie had a notion of public works and education. This project lacks only the ensuing century of grime from pollution and custodial neglect, and the sense that the occupants ought to feel bad about themselves when inside.
posted by ardgedee at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


er. It lacks the sense that the occupants ought to feel good about themselves when inside. Nothing like sabotaging ones own zingers when facing royalty.
posted by ardgedee at 11:13 AM on March 31, 2009


Why is it ever modern architects try for a "classical" look it always ends up being this horrible cartoon version of the past?
Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever.... For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, or mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. It is in their lasting witness against men, in their quiet contrast with the transitional character of all things, in the strength which . . . maintains its sculptured shapeliness for a time insuperable, connects forgotten and following ages with each other, and half constitutes the identity, as it concentrates the sympathy, of nations: it is in that golden stain of time, that we are to look for the real light, and colour, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been entrusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess, of language and of life.
posted by dios at 11:17 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


and thus begins the chuckian age of architecture
posted by pyramid termite at 11:21 AM on March 31, 2009


The faux balcony bothers me the most. Why isn't it an actual balcony? Over budget on doors?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:22 AM on March 31, 2009


What specifically is wrong here?

a) I believe should follow function to some degree -- ie should be honest as to what they are

The main entry is pretentious for a firestation and WTF is the balcony above it for, a place to park the BBQ for the firemen?

It is unclear to me why this building requires so many windows, such height, the top tower, the neoclassical facade on one side.

The core feature and raison d'etre of the building, the garage, is tacked on and does not match the main building at all.

b) Buildings should integrate with their surroundings.

This thing was apparently just plopped down on a corner with zero site preparation let alone thought on how to integrate with the corner. Not only that but the building is on an unlevel lot which results in the black pedestal strangely exposed as if a flood had come by taking part of the landscape with it.

The main entrance is guarded by the silly construction, requiring a sharp right angle to access if you're walking from the street. The side access door, if it is actually a door and not just more ornamentation, has no path to the street at all. The corner is round but the building just throws a sharp corner at it.

c) Buildings should look visually interesting

This is quaint and colorless and an archetype of blah. Needs a lot more landscaping and more space around it to balance its visual mass. It is an unmitigated disaster.


/ frustrated wanna-be architect
posted by mrt at 11:23 AM on March 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


And it's something that's trying to pretend to be from a completely different age. The outside has nothing to do with being a fire station, it's pretending to be a Victorian home.

Trying and failing. badly. It looks cheap, poorly made, lacking unity or a connection to the history it's trying to invoke. It doesn't even resemble a Victorian fire station.

Here is a 19th century Scottish Central fire station. Notice how the garage is front and center. How it's made of brick. How it still looks like a functional, handsome building?

Another one. See how it's scaled to the area it's in? How it's actually on the lot, facing the street with an open, easy to see enterance rather than a weird, dinky one with some useless trim stolen from an Edwardian row house ontop?

Gah, this is making me angry. I've been following Poundbury for a while now and always thought it was an admirable project.
posted by The Whelk at 11:25 AM on March 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


It was designed the way a structure three times its size might have been. Everything that would have been structural looks tacked on. (And tacky.)
posted by gorgor_balabala at 11:25 AM on March 31, 2009


What specifically is wrong here?

A desperate clinging to an imaginary "classic" past, maybe?


Are you talking about the firehouse or the monarchy in general?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


At last, an opportunity to link the firehouse in my hometown. It achieves the sort of paradoxical ugly beauty that can only be pondered in Zen koans.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:27 AM on March 31, 2009 [20 favorites]


Wow, dances_with_sneetches. Just wow.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:27 AM on March 31, 2009


ardgedee, the Carnegie libraries are pretty cookie cutter, but some had lovely details. I have real fond memories of the strained class ceiling at the New Brunswick library.
posted by The Whelk at 11:29 AM on March 31, 2009


putting Prince "Charles in Charge"

I see what you did there.
posted by GuyZero at 11:29 AM on March 31, 2009


At last, an opportunity to link the firehouse in my hometown.

Bombas-tic!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2009


maybe I'm nitpicking, but it bugs me that in the redeption link, the author refers to "the Walt Disneyesque castle of Neuschwanstein" How can I take their critique seriously after reading something so stupid? On the other hand, I don't like the fire station either.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:34 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


At last, an opportunity to link the firehouse in my hometown.

Jesus Christ! Was it designed by Tim Burton?
posted by brundlefly at 11:37 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno, Neuschwanstein is both Disnesque in that it's a gigantic folly based on the fairy tale dreaminga of a bewildered king, and retroactively Disneyesque in that it's the basis of the Disney castle (though not the actual Disney castle as some say).
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2009


At last, an opportunity to link the firehouse in my hometown.

MY EYES!
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2009


Y'know those crown moldings you can get for your living room at Home Depot and put up in about ten minutes with a stapler? This looks like you glued a bunch of those to a Tuff-Shed. It's a thin parody of a Georgian palace stapled to the outside of a box.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2009 [3 favorites]



Here is a 19th century Scottish Central fire station. Notice how the garage is front and center. How it's made of brick. How it still looks like a functional, handsome building?

At the end of my street too ! it fits in quite nice with the art school beside : )

it would be nicer if there were painters in it or something though .......


....... I suppose at least prince charles is trying.........
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:40 AM on March 31, 2009


the author refers to "the Walt Disneyesque castle of Neuschwanstein" How can I take their critique seriously after reading something so stupid?

Yah, it's hard to criticize Neuschwanstein of being "gaudy" or "over the top" when it supposed to be a grandiose fantasy-pleasure-palace based on Fairy tales and Wagner. It succeeds very well on it's own terms.

Plus, it's you know, pretty.

and built by a MAD KING who BANKRUPTED HIS COUNTRY to build it. That's pretty sweet.
posted by The Whelk at 11:41 AM on March 31, 2009


Oh dear. I could have done better myself. And I know nothing about architecture.
posted by orange swan at 11:41 AM on March 31, 2009


How can I take their critique seriously after reading something so stupid?

Maybe because the castle was the inspiration for the one at Disney Land? "The palace has appeared in several movies, and was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at both Disneyland Park and Hong Kong Disneyland." (wiki)
posted by backseatpilot at 11:43 AM on March 31, 2009


It looks like it's wearing overalls.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:44 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


> At last, an opportunity to link the firehouse in my hometown.

That's 100 kinds of awesome.
posted by bjrn at 11:45 AM on March 31, 2009


I think it could possibly only be topped by a firehouse that was actually on fire in some way.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on March 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


This looks like you glued a bunch of those to a Tuff-Shed. It's a thin parody of a Georgian palace stapled to the outside of a box.

This is actually how some Art historians have characterized totalitarian (specifically Stalinist) architecture: totalitarian Neoclassicism has little to do with real Classical architecture; most of those buildings are actually just generic "boxes" with a whole bunch decorations ("borrowed" from a film set, no doubt) glued on, paying no attention to whether these decorative bits actually go together or not.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:56 AM on March 31, 2009


> the Carnegie libraries are pretty cookie cutter, but some had lovely details.

In a sense it was all right if they were too-similar, as the residents of one town weren't likely to visit another's Carnegie library all that often. They remained special to their patrons. We've got a different take on the significance of uniqueness these days.
posted by ardgedee at 11:58 AM on March 31, 2009


Rather ugly. I should point out that the rest of Poundbury is designed by professionals though.
posted by atrazine at 11:59 AM on March 31, 2009


As long as we're bitching about fire stations, here's the one in our town, brand new. A perfectly servicable structure...except, of course, it had to have an architectural conceit, which is the "collapsing post" of the covered pedestrian entrance, which looks bad in photos and worse in person, and diminishes an otherwise fine if not especially stunning effort.

The Prince Charles station is the last word in carbuncles, visually. It might redeem itself a bit if it turns out to actually be usable and a nice place for the fire staff to work, but as the public face of the fire service, it's terrible.

I'm curious: was this public money spent, and, if so, did the Prince win the job through a fair bidding process, or was this his gift to the town?
posted by maxwelton at 12:03 PM on March 31, 2009


This is actually how some Art historians have characterized totalitarian (specifically Stalinist) architecture: totalitarian Neoclassicism has little to do with real Classical architecture; most of those buildings are actually just generic "boxes" with a whole bunch decorations ("borrowed" from a film set, no doubt) glued on, paying no attention to whether these decorative bits actually go together or not.

The Grammar Of Ornament makes a similar case with a lot of Roman architecture, that the designs were just stuck onto these generic boxes and didn't flow naturally from the forms or function in any significant way.
posted by The Whelk at 12:04 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you talking about the firehouse or the monarchy in general?

That's where I was going, yes. But since I'm not British, I'll stay out of that thankyouverymuch.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:16 PM on March 31, 2009


That fire station looks like a Mormon Tabernacle being sodomized by a Jiffy Lube.
posted by Bummus at 12:17 PM on March 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


This firehouse is the Uncanny Valley of architecture. It kind of looks normal and familiar, and then you look a little closer and OH GOD MY EYES
posted by chinston at 12:18 PM on March 31, 2009


What is wrong about it, it's that it is brutally dishonest. It's a generic shed with (far too much) faux-Georgian ornamentation tacked on to it. The word is pastiche. It's the same architectural scam that here in Brussels produced the God-awful Place d'Espagne.

It must have sucked to be the actual architect for that firestation, trying to design a usable functional building within, you know, a budget, with a royal patron looking over your shoulder and making suggestions. No wonder he's preferred to credit Chuck.

Idiocy like this makes me look more kindly upon the guillotine...
posted by Skeptic at 12:24 PM on March 31, 2009


It's really amazing how acrimonious people become when it comes to faux-past buildings - like it's totally unacceptable to look in the past now. Just glance around at the modern creations - frankly, most of them do not deserve to exist and a lot of the magnificient, soulless, modern public architecture of the 70's is luckily facing demolition already.

The fire house may be an unremarkable box with a stupid false balcony, but there is no reason to reject buildings using the past. In my opinion, as long as form, material and ornament follow function, let there be as many neo-classical and neo-georgian buildings as the public appetite can handle.

Also, re Neuschwanstein - the castle may be extravagant, but calling it disneyesque would be like calling Jesus kafkaesque. It is "...the most photographed building in Germany and is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations...". Period. It's a pretty project which was completely in line with its intended purpose and continues to live as inspiration for those who see and visit it.
posted by Laotic at 12:26 PM on March 31, 2009



And it's something that's trying to pretend to be from a completely different age. The outside has nothing to do with being a fire station, it's pretending to be a victorian home.


That's not exactly the problem. In the 80's, when Michael Graves and Robert Venturi were calling for an architecture that returned to representation (i.e. the postmodernist movement), they brought back the forms of classic architectural ornamentation with a twist. They could use the proportions and general feel of ancient friezes or cornices or columns without making a direct copy. They used modern materials and highly stylized architectural elements to represent the function or use of the building.

This is a sad, and very heavy handed attempt at post-modernism (thank god it took it's dying breath in the 90's). The proportions are not that far off, but there is no sense of depth or facade relief that you see with traditional design. That's the problem with modern copies of classic architecture...we don't have the master craftsmen to use real materials. It's all pre-cast concrete or plaster that in no way feels or looks like the real thing. Hell even using trompe l'oeil to infer shadows would help the flatness of the facades.
posted by Benway at 12:27 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


On preview, Skeptic, Brussels is a special chapter in the history of urban architecture, a chapter in which the guillotine was not nearly used often enough.
posted by Laotic at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2009


Throughout history, lots of heads of state have indulged their architectural visions: Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and, of course, "mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria, who commissioned the Walt Disneyesque castle of Neuschwanstein. Even Kim Jong Il dabbles a bit.

So there you have it; design a firehouse that looks like that, and you are suddenly mentioned in the same breath as Hitler, Mussolini, Hussein, and Kim Jong Il.

Let this be a lesson to all aspiring architects.
posted by quin at 12:30 PM on March 31, 2009


Maybe because the castle was the inspiration for the one at Disney Land

exactly my point - the disneyland castle is Neuschwanstein-esque, not the other way around.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:32 PM on March 31, 2009


The Guardian reaction was written by my boss, and I had a hand in it. The fire station is simply vile. However, the way it looks is the least troubling thing about it. What this building indicates is that Prince Charles does not understand the aesthetics (neoclassical and English vernacular) that he spends so much energy promoting. He cannot see what makes a good classical building good and what makes a bad modernist building bad - to him, it seems, classicism is simply a collection of patterns, devices and visual cues applied haphazardly to what is essentially a brick block. (One that certainly conceals a steel or concrete frame.) These cues announce that the building is of a particular style, Of The Past, and that's good enough for him. He doesn't see why it works on a Nash terrace and fails here; he doesn't see that it fails here. And its modern function is hidden. His real position isn't aesthetic advocacy, it's reaction, retreat.

It's not as if I would prefer this building to be brut concrete or glass and steel. There are beautiful classical stable blocks and mews that could have been an excellent basis for a vehicle shed and attendant buildings that was happy with its function. Or agricultural buildings in the English vernacular, such as tiled-roof, timber-framed barns - not a bad source for a garage, if you must draw from the past. (And those farm buildings are pure function dictating form.) Instead Chaz has waxed palatial (stick to what you know?), and the result is absurd.

I'm not 100% comfortable with concepts of "honesty" and "dishonesty" in architecture. Delight is a function. And can a building have morals? I doubt it. Their designers can and do have morals, though, and purpose, and the purpose here is dishonest. It's a lie about the past and a lie about the present. And although I didn't mind the Prince misrepresenting what modern architecture was about all these years, it now seems that he has no idea what classical architecture is about either, and should perhaps be quiet on the subject.
posted by WPW at 12:34 PM on March 31, 2009 [17 favorites]


WPW, the guardian article should have been written like you wrote it now. Maybe your boss should do something different and let you write ; )
posted by Laotic at 12:48 PM on March 31, 2009


It is my considered opinion that in almost every matter Prince Charles should just fuck off.
posted by ob at 12:55 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, the way it looks is the least troubling thing about it. What this building indicates is that Prince Charles does not understand the aesthetics (neoclassical and English vernacular) that he spends so much energy promoting. He cannot see what makes a good classical building good and what makes a bad modernist building bad - to him, it seems, classicism is simply a collection of patterns, devices and visual cues applied haphazardly to what is essentially a brick block.

I wonder if you would spell out what it is that, in your view, betrays the architect's failure to understand the neoclassical language he is using. The Guardian article that you had a hand in levies only one substantive criticism at the building, which is that the drainpipes are too, well, drainpipey (a criticism that is a pretty hilarious piece of nitpicking).

By the way, does anyone have a link to something that definitively shows that Prince Charles actually designed this building? I see it asserted in the Guardian and Daily Mail pieces but simply as common knowledge. It seems odd that there are several news reports of his speaking at the opening of the station that make no reference to it being designed by him (and which make his comments rather immodest if it was designed by him). I found one of them which refers to the project's "designer" as being Leon Krier--the guy who designed the other buildings in Poundbury.

I wonder if the reaction to this rather unremarkable building would have been so passionately vitriolic if it had been presented as "Leon Krier's latest building."?
posted by yoink at 1:04 PM on March 31, 2009


It didn't make me puke, despite the color scheme. It does echo Buckingham Palace, but then again, there are a lot of buildings that echo Buckingham Palace. Not to mention that its style isn't exactly uncommon.

The building really reminds me of 19th century American courthouses. Which would probably remind you of Buckingham Palace. The monumental nature of this fire station, to me, really stands out. The bars over the lower windows might just be the straw that sent the camel to the infirmary. They just complete the courthouse image in my mind. You know, jails on the lower floors, summary executions out back.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:17 PM on March 31, 2009


Here is a 19th century Scottish Central fire station. Notice how the garage is front and center. How it's made of brick. How it still looks like a functional, handsome building?
posted by The Whelk


I was actually thinking about that same station while reading this, sadly it was recently turned into a cafe/pub (hence the cars parked in front) and this new station was built to replace it.
posted by Lanark at 1:18 PM on March 31, 2009


So, less Poundbury, more Poundstretcher?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:29 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yoink: It's not nitpicking to point to those drainpipes, they're indicative of the fundamental failure of understanding here. If we're in the business of covering up, and this building is, why not conceal the guttering and pipes? You have pilasters that look as though they've been stuck on anyway, why not stick something behind them? Do you see any drainpipes on this? It is a horribly clumsy piece of detailing, something that classical architecture is supposed to excel at. Basic, basic stuff.

Beyond the drainpipes, what we have is a box with applied decoration - decoration that is badly proportioned and leaden, with a narrow little porch tacked on. The sash windows are small, and I hate to think what it's like working on the floor above, a full-height space lit by bullseyes. In your mind's eye, make the sashes a little taller and wider. Isn't that better?

Further: The building does all it can to deny its purpose. It is also distinctly un-civic - closed, forbidding, even prisonlike thanks to those bars. And, for the love of Cromwell, after all the rubbish Charles talked in A Vision Of Britain about buildings in harmony with the landscape, it building looks like it's not even comfortable in its own landscaping, like it's trying to escape from its site.

I'm sure Charles didn't design it all on his own. And I'd be amazed if Leon Krier designed this all on his own. Of course it wouldn't have the same coverage or reaction if it was just another Krier. Prince Charles has power. He exercises considerable influence over the views of politicians, planners and the public. What he thinks (and does) about design is political, it has effect, it matters, and it led to a terrific amount of dreck being inflicted on this country in the 1980s and 1990s.
posted by WPW at 2:04 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


...at least the commentators at the Daily Mail like it

That's a given.
posted by Webbster at 2:20 PM on March 31, 2009


to him, it seems, classicism is simply a collection of patterns, devices and visual cues applied haphazardly to what is essentially a brick block.

Exactly. To me, the firestation looks like the kinds of city halls and libraries that suburban and exurban communities in America have been throwing up for the past 15 years now.

I find it both amusing and depressing that architects can set off--with the best intentions-- and create these totally uninspiring, slightly monolithic structures. I know that the whole process of designing a public building is probably some kind of sausage factory ordeal and that the architect probably has to make several different people with different agendas happy. But still. Yeesh.
posted by Kronoss at 2:42 PM on March 31, 2009


If we're in the business of covering up, and this building is, why not conceal the guttering and pipes?

So is the criticism here that the building is being "honest" or that the building is being "dishonest"? If "honesty" is a good thing, why not celebrate the honest functionality of those drainpipes? Anyway, it's silly to say that the building is "about" covering up. It's "about" historical reference. It's not at all atypical of Georgian buildings to have very prominent drainpipes. Amusingly enough, it's modernist architects who have, historically, been most concerned with "hiding" the building's plumbing--it destroys those nice clean "honest" lines. (PS, I couldn't get anything from your link to what was presumably a gutterless Georgian building; here's a link though to an image of a nice Georgian building with prominent lead drainpipes--the write up of the B&B that currently occupies the building is very proud of the "original Mendip lead drainpipes" on the building).

You have pilasters that look as though they've been stuck on anyway, why not stick something behind them?

Neoclassical pilasters are always "stuck on." They are, virtually without exception, decoration, not structure.

Beyond the drainpipes, what we have is a box with applied decoration - decoration that is badly proportioned and leaden, with a narrow little porch tacked on. The sash windows are small, and I hate to think what it's like working on the floor above, a full-height space lit by bullseyes.

Almost all buildings are boxes with applied decoration. The mantra about "honesty in architecture" is a piece of intellectual flimflammery. The "bad proportions" of the decoration are matters of opinion--which means that I think they're fair game for you to criticize, but hardly means that they betray some fundamental misunderstanding on the architect's part about the neoclassical language. I mean, he's not breaking some strict Vitruvian or Palladian rule anywhere, is he? As for the lighting--I have no idea what is inside that building or what functions the interior serves, so I have no idea if the light provided by the bullseye windows is sufficient--I can't say that the windows on the piano nobile seem particularly small to me--especially not when seen in elevation.

Further: The building does all it can to deny its purpose.

Oh pish. Short of having the walls be designed to look like flames or having them encrusted with hoses and ladders, what is this building supposed to do to signal "I'm a fire station." The functional part (the garage) shows its function perfectly well. The rest of it is an office building. It happens to be done in an historical style. If it was done by Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry would it "avow its purpose" any more clearly?

It is also distinctly un-civic - closed, forbidding, even prisonlike thanks to those bars.

The windows on the lower floor of the Medici Palace in Florence are barred; is that building "un-civic"? It's typical to have barred windows on the level below the piano nobile on neoclassical buildings. And it's also "honest" to show that you're trying to keep people from busting into the regional fire safety headquarters. Even a modernist would have had to have security of some kind on those lower windows--aren't big iron bars the most "honest" expression of that security?

And, for the love of Cromwell, after all the rubbish Charles talked in A Vision Of Britain about buildings in harmony with the landscape, it building looks like it's not even comfortable in its own landscaping, like it's trying to escape from its site.

The idea that building can't sit on a sloping site (without, presumably, sloping along with it) is only one of the weird novel architectural claims that this thread has conjured up. Even if you cling to this as a bedrock foundation of architectural practice, you can't claim it to be any part of a neoclassical language that the architect has somehow failed to comprehend.

I'm sure Charles didn't design it all on his own.

My question is: did he design it at all? I've tried doing Google news searches on the building and I can only find the two already linked in this thread that attribute the building to him. I find many other references to the building that make no mention of it being designed by the Prince (which seems odd--surely it's a noteworthy fact). I guess it's possible the Prince just covered up his contribution, but I find it odd that there's no "Prince admits he designed fire station" article that precedes these two pieces that simply take his contribution for granted.
posted by yoink at 2:43 PM on March 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Good frame for the post though fearfulsymmetry.
posted by Gratishades at 2:44 PM on March 31, 2009


What a proper old firehouse should look like. (Caserne 30 on Laurier Ave. in Montreal)
posted by cmyr at 2:56 PM on March 31, 2009


I actually like the garage doors, just not on this building.
posted by effwerd at 2:58 PM on March 31, 2009


A desperate clinging to an imaginary "classic" past, maybe?

That's a piss-poor critique of a building's architecture. It seems like every time a city has to deal with another multi-million-dollar eyesore that everyone hates and serves to spit-in-the-face of the already-existing environment, someone has to chime in with, "Oh YEAH? Well at least we're TRYING to do something NEW and DIFFERENT instead of acting like we're stuck in the PAST!"

(and the firehouse does suck. It's just a civic office building/town hall with a garage attached)
posted by deanc at 2:59 PM on March 31, 2009


What a proper old firehouse should look like. (Caserne 30 on Laurier Ave. in Montreal)

I love that building, but there really aren't any criticisms you can make of the Poundbury building that you can't level at that one, too (dishonesty of materials, anachronism of design, irrelevance of form to function etc. etc.).
posted by yoink at 3:12 PM on March 31, 2009


Buildings should integrate with their surroundings.

So much for the gerkhin, never mind Pei's goddamn pyramid.

Idiocy like this makes me look more kindly upon the guillotine...

Tough crowd! (Though solidarity, brother, on Place d'Espagne)

But yoink is right enough in pointing out that it's the royal connection that's getting everyone in a tiz. Always fun to dump on the Windsors.

And Buckingham palace has not round windows that I can see.

For comparison, here is the hideous carbuncle. It's admittedly a bit less- what was their word? Dumpy? But it's not swoon worthy, either, to my mind. I would have asked to see some more submission before signing the contract.

By the way, are there any interior shots of the building? I've not been able to find any.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:25 PM on March 31, 2009


The positioning of the drainpipes is not an expression of honesty, it's not a statement, it's an afterthought. Do you think it's deliberate, considered? If the purpose is historical reference, what is it referencing? Late Homebase? It's a crappy bit of cheapo detailing. I incidentally expressed my own qualms about the idea of honesty in building, it's a bit of a red herring - the word I used was concealment. The building doesn't have morals. You say a number of things that I didn't exactly say.

Pilasters are always stuck on; they don't always look stuck on. It's typical of the gimcrack feel of the whole endeavour.

The garage indicates function; it is at the back. the building might not have any idea of dishonesty, but it does have at least two faces. NB, built buildings are rarely seen in direct elevation. That's what makes things like that fat-arse double column on the corner important to get right.

The Medici Palace is not a public amenity in a democratic society. Well, it is today, but it certainly wasn't built with that in mind. However, it's a telling comparison.

As for the landscaping, it doesn't really sit on its site, the leading corner could be levitating, or maybe the ground is subsiding. Either way, it's nothing that an embankment couldn't have fixed. No embankment though. Is that grey paint?

Other than that, it's a matter of opinion. If you like it, fair play to you.

As for whether it's really Charles, I can't turn up anything.
posted by WPW at 3:26 PM on March 31, 2009


(and the firehouse does suck. It's just a civic office building/town hall with a garage attached)

And mine was the piss-poor critique of a building's architecture?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:36 PM on March 31, 2009


If you like it, fair play to you.

I don't particularly like it (I'd be much more likely to like the Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry ones I imagined above). I only chimed in because the OTT criticism it's receiving in this thread hasn't got much to do with the actual merits or demerits of the building. I think I could show drawings of just about any of Palladio's villas here and if I said that they were designed by Prince Charles I'd be told how amateurish and incompetent they were.

I actually agree with you about that double-pilaster on the corner (though that may be exaggerated by the slightly wide-angle photo, I think). Something about it looks off--like the architect only thought about each face in pure elevation without thinking of the 3/4 look.

But we've come an awfully long way from the architect betraying a complete misunderstanding of neoclassical architecture to "well, I don't like some of the proportions, personally."

That you--who worked on the Guardian article--can't turn up anything that specifically attributes it to Charles turns my doubts into near certainty that he had nothing to do with it. Doesn't give one great confidence in the Grauniad's fact-checking.
posted by yoink at 3:37 PM on March 31, 2009


Indigojones, that's not the Carbuncle. That's what Venturi Scott Brown built in place of Ahrends Burton Koralek's Carbuncle, which was killed by Prince Charles' speech. I can't find a picture of the carbuncle online.

I like the VSB Sainsbury, but the endless crap we got in its wake ... retail sheds covered in sheets of gaudy efflorescing brick with plastic pitched roofs bunged on top, dovecotes hither and thither, all sorts of horrors.

Incidentally,in the same speech Charles described the Carbuncle as resembling "a kind of municipal fire station". Ha!
posted by WPW at 3:38 PM on March 31, 2009


I think this is an image of the ABK "Carbuncle."
posted by yoink at 3:48 PM on March 31, 2009


That you--who worked on the Guardian article ...

Justin and I discussed it beforehand, and I saw and commented on the text before it went off. But that was essentially a favour to Justin, since this wasn't an Icon piece. We're not on the G's staff. You'd have to take up your concerns with the Guardian and the Mail.

Re Palladio, speaking entirely personally, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't. And as I've said, this is more important than just "I like it" vs "I don't like it". Charles' views have far-reaching public policy implications and matter more than a bad building by any other architect.
posted by WPW at 3:49 PM on March 31, 2009


Yes, that's the ABK Carbuncle.
posted by WPW at 3:51 PM on March 31, 2009


Charles' views have far-reaching public policy implications and matter more than a bad building by any other architect.

Well, in this case it looks more and more as though we are dealing with "a bad building by any other architect." But that aside, how "far reaching" are Charles's views, really? I don't think the American public is hanging on Prince Charles's lips waiting for his opinions on architecture, but nonetheless exactly the same impulses as those behind Poundbury are easy to find over here--and were easy to find when Charles was just a babe in arms (that Montreal fire station linked to above is a good example; the entire history of the Southern Californian "mission" style would be another). People have always gone through phases of wanting more-or-less bogus historical references in their architecture, public or domestic. Look at at the entirely faux-Gothic of Pugin's Houses of Parliament, or look, indeed, at the entire history of English palladianism the first time around when it was already a deliberately anachronistic reference to a style that was itself heavily invested in playing dress-up in decorative elements derived from classical architecture.

If Charles' efforts actually lead to yet another revival of neoclassicism (a highly unlikely development) I can't see why we should suddenly find that so awful when we've weathered so many other neoclassical revivals in the past. No doubt some of the buildings would be ultimately deemed masterpieces of their genre while others would join the great dustbin of history--just as has been the case with every other aesthetic movement in the history of architecture. Was there ever anything so absurdly fake as C18th Gothick? But isn't Strawberry Hill charming? When even such an absurd folly as Neuschwanstein has people ardently defending it in this thread, is there really much point in hoping for some new era of endless architectural reinvention?
posted by yoink at 4:09 PM on March 31, 2009


I think this is an image of the ABK "Carbuncle."

Imagine my surprise! Clearly the links I tried steered me wrong. Appreciate the setting right.

Kind of surprised, really. I would have thought my mistaken link would have irritated the poor boy more than, well, the carbuncle.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:25 PM on March 31, 2009


(On second look, if I am seeing this correctly and it's that sticky up thing on the left, then yeah, I think I do hate it. Sainsbury's thing- not so much.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:59 PM on March 31, 2009


It's the sticky-up thing and the box behind the sticky-up thing (to use the technical terms). If I remember correctly, the tower (the sticky-up thing) was added at a late stage in response to a request from the committee. Whatever it's merits, HRH was right that it made no attempt whatsoever to acknowledge its context. Of course, everybody wants a building to "acknowledge its context" until they find a building they like which doesn't--then they don't care.

The Venturi building, as I see it, does almost nothing but acknowledge its context. It seems (from the outside) to have no program or parti of its own--just a kind of deferential bowing to the original building ("Oh look at the lovely pilasters you have!" is the only "statement" it seems to be making). On the other hand I think the interiors of the Sainsbury wing are terrific.
posted by yoink at 5:10 PM on March 31, 2009


I can't see why we should suddenly find that so awful when we've weathered so many other neoclassical revivals in the past.

Cause some of us think Sullivanesque got a bum deal, despite it being beautiful, modern, and functional.

Ganted this doesn't apply to England. The analog would be the great Victorian brick styles and iron work.
posted by The Whelk at 5:55 PM on March 31, 2009


Was there ever anything so absurdly fake as C18th Gothick?

Fake in what way? It was an Imperial fashion that took International Gothic and put it toward the new, vertical buildings. Gothic is one of the few historical styles that emphasis the verticals. And the proportions are right and the materials are still lovely. You'd never mistake a Neo-Gothic building for a real honest to Gods 13th century building, but they're both lovely in their own ways.

Which was pretty much the last time a "retro" style was treated with respect and studious knowledge of what was being referenced. And why.
posted by The Whelk at 6:01 PM on March 31, 2009


My hack headline for this story: Charles in Charge. Zing!
posted by Muttoneer at 6:37 PM on March 31, 2009


Oh, no, not stodgy at all ... Just really square and proper.

Besides, more fire stations should look like miniature palaces.

You can tell he's not faking it, though. This is definitely his work.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:00 PM on March 31, 2009


At the fire HQ's opening Charles declared himself 'overjoyed' at the building.

It's easy to pick on Charles, cause he's just so out of touch and goofy, but I'd bet money that he really was overjoyed, and there's something endearing about his tendency to speak his heart. Like a kid having built a sandcastle. Except he built a fire station that looks like a summer cottage for the Queen. It has a touch of majesty, but it's a fire station. But it's mostly harmless, and England has gained yet another great monument.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:10 PM on March 31, 2009


I am happy to see any building with personality. This one just so happens to have the personality of an awkward, inbred emblem of obsolescence-as-traditionalism.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:40 PM on March 31, 2009


OK, it seems that my comments about the "dishonesty" of the building are being misinterpreted. Of course, any revival style is "dishonest", but that does not make Viollet-le-Duc's neogothical buildings any less interesting. But I said brutally dishonest: everyone likes a bit of properly done flimflam, but this is a lazily done, far too obvious scam.

This is the architectural equivalent of the bumbling amateur magician, of the badly-spelled Nigerian e-mail, of George W. Bush pulling a WMD menace out of his arse. If you are going to try to con me, at least do it properly, this sort of half-baked effort who won't convince anyone but a Daily Mail reader smacks of disrespect to anyone who knows two bits about neoclassical architecture.
posted by Skeptic at 11:53 PM on March 31, 2009


It's not "Hugh, Pugh...", it's "Pugh, Pugh..."

They were twins, see? Infidel.
posted by genghis at 1:10 AM on April 1, 2009


They were twins, see? Infidel.

Oh dear, of course... I throw myself on your mercy. Lazy googling I'm afraid.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:28 AM on April 1, 2009


The faux balcony bothers me the most. Why isn't it an actual balcony? Over budget on doors?

If you want to enjoy the weather in England you go to Spain.
posted by srboisvert at 2:12 AM on April 1, 2009


Well, in this case it looks more and more as though we are dealing with "a bad building by any other architect." But that aside, how "far reaching" are Charles's views, really?

The question of attribution is a rather troubling one and makes me pleased that it's not my problem. Outside Britain, I would think the Prince has zero influence. Inside Britain - England, anyway - Charles' influence over architecture isn't what it was, but c1985-1995 it was considerable. The people who were influence weren't necessarily architects - although god knows some were - but politicians, planners and the public. As I said, it led to a tide of pastiche, pomo figleafs, inappropriate cheap brick cladding, fake dovecotes, plastic pitched roofs, poxy fake columns and tin domes. Very few pomo or neoclassical buildings of any real quality were completed in that period. Fortunately fashion changed and the modernists launched a counter-reformation, but the Prince still has lingering power. And as King, under a Conservative government, he could enjoy renewed influence. It didn't lead to a neoclassical revival last time, and it won't next time - it's simply a dead hand on the national imagination.
posted by WPW at 2:34 AM on April 1, 2009


> I don't particularly like it (I'd be much more likely to like the Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry ones I imagined above).

In case you didn't know, Zaha Hadid has already designed a fire station. It stands on the grounds of the Vitra museum in Weil am Rhein in Germany. You can see some shots here, there's a nice photo on wikipedia as well (for more, just google). The building isn't in use as a fire station though, I can't remember the exact cause, but I do remember that the rumours that say that it was unpractical or similar were wrong.
posted by bjrn at 2:50 AM on April 1, 2009


Fake in what way? It was an Imperial fashion that took International Gothic and put it toward the new, vertical buildings.

Whelk, I think you are misreading what I wrote. I referred to C18th Gothick--not C19th neo-gothic. C18th Gothick was an entirely whimsical adoption of elements of gothic design in a purely decorative and picturesque spirit. Many of the buildings were built as nothing more than follies. It's true that the neo-gothic of the C19th was based on a more thoroughly scholarly approach to gothic architecture. It's also true, of course, that the C19th saw a great number of outrageous "restorations" of actual gothic buildings to make them look more like what the neo-gothicists thought they should look like.

this sort of half-baked effort who won't convince anyone but a Daily Mail reader smacks of disrespect to anyone who knows two bits about neoclassical architecture

Skeptic, would you care to say what actual solecisms this building commits against any of the accepted practices of neoclassical architecture? Not "well, if it were me, I'd have made the pilaster's a couple of inches narrower" but some actual error, such as putting doric columns above ionic ones.

Inside Britain - England, anyway - Charles' influence over architecture isn't what it was, but c1985-1995 it was considerable. The people who were influence weren't necessarily architects - although god knows some were - but politicians, planners and the public. As I said, it led to a tide of pastiche, pomo figleafs, inappropriate cheap brick cladding, fake dovecotes, plastic pitched roofs, poxy fake columns and tin domes.

WPW--my point is that there's no evidence that this would not have happened with or without Charles's comments. Exactly similar kinds of developments can be found all over the Western world at the same period. Krier's not even an English architect, after all--and he has worked all over the continent. Nostalgia always plays well to the masses; Charles just puts an identifiable face on that widespread public mood in the UK. Given the shaky nature of Charles's popularity (especially in the years after Diana's death), it's even arguable that his identification with the cause hurt it's public image more than it helped it.

In case you didn't know, Zaha Hadid has already designed a fire station.

Ha! I'd forgotten about that--must have been there in my subconscious prompting the name. And, sure enough, much as I love that building, nothing about it "announces its function" or any such nonsense. If you didn't know, you'd never guess "fire station" in a million years if asked to say what the building was for.
posted by yoink at 9:06 AM on April 1, 2009


This thread seems to have died, but I thought I'd add a note re the drainpipes which are supposed to betray the incompetence of the building's architect (the only actual "error" detailed in the Guardian piece). If you go to Flickr and look up "Poundbury" you'll find a few collections of photos of the place. Prominent black drain pipes are clearly part of the Poundbury vernacular. You can see them on virtually every building in the village. If this is the mark of an architectural novice, then that criticism is to be leveled at Leon Krier, not Charles.

I'll also note that the Wikipedia page for the Poundbury Fire Station makes no mention of it having been designed by HRH, and nor does Charles's own website on the page that talks about him opening the building. That article does refer to Charles "creating" the village of Poundbury but does so in such a way that it could be taken by a careless reader to mean that he "created" the Fire Station. I wonder if that might be the origin of the story that he designed this building?
posted by yoink at 11:36 AM on April 1, 2009


Yoink, the entertainment value of internet debate aside, you can't seriously be saying that you don't see anything wrong in those drainpipes, can you? Really? And let's not really indulge the idea of a "Poundbury vernacular", that sounds like a "no true Scotsman" fallacy in built form. No no no, that overwhelming sense of aesthetic unease is intentional, it's all part of the Poundbury vernacular. I mean, I'm happy to agree to differ, but I don't want to leave any doubt that I consider this building a botched bit of uncomfortable pastiche.

I'm not really a fan of Hadid's fire station. But for other reasons.
posted by WPW at 2:54 PM on April 1, 2009


Yoink, the entertainment value of internet debate aside, you can't seriously be saying that you don't see anything wrong in those drainpipes, can you? Really?

I'm saying that the placement and style of those drainpipes is according to exactly the same principles as it is on virtually all the buildings in Poundbury (i.e., a bluntly utilitarian blindness to the building's form). They were instanced (the sole instance in the Guardian article) as proof of the architect's naive incompetence. As exactly the same objection can be leveled at virtually every other building in Poundbury, then the claim you are making is that Leon Krier is a naive and incompetent architect. That's not a sacrilegious claim, of course, but one that doesn't seem to be

Again, my interest in this discussion is not whether or not this building is any good, or whether or not those drainpipes are particularly problematic. My interest is that people are inventing nonce (and sometimes nonsense) aesthetic standards in order to condemn it simply because they have been told (almost certainly erroneously) that it was designed by Prince Charles.

People have criticized Poundbury before (the Guardian has done so extensively), but nobody seems to have thought it necessary to point out the drain pipes (of all things) as proof of the architects' incompetence. Suddenly we have a building supposed to be by HRH and drainpipes which look and are placed exactly like all the others in Poundbury become the dreadful stigmata of architectural naivete.

I'm not saying that being part of the "Poundbury vernacular" makes this good, bad or indifferent. I am saying that as it is--as a matter of easily verifiable fact--a part of the "Poundbury vernacular" it's absurd to hold it up as evidence of Prince Charles's architectural incompetence--unless you are saying that Charles was given the job of designing all the guttering in Poundbury before being allowed to design this building that he almost certainly didn't design. Again--if this is proof of naivete and incompetence, it's Leon Krier's, not Prince Charles's.
posted by yoink at 3:27 PM on April 1, 2009


The placement is clearly worse than those other examples you link to - having two so close to each other is insane redundancy, and running down the centre, not at an edge or interval, as with the others? And once again this is something that looks like it might work in elevation but only in elevation, at an angle it develops that unappealing snake.
posted by WPW at 3:39 PM on April 1, 2009


I imagine having two downpipes is dictated by building codes relating to the square footage of the roof and the litres-per-minute that can flow through a single downpipe. If you look at that side of the building and ask "where would I place two drainpipes" it's not clear to me that they look better at either edge of the building that where they are. Their lower third is actually somewhat disguised by its relationship to the entryway.

Objecting to an s-bend in a down pipe as it travels over architectural details on the side of a building is a very good example of the kind of nonce-standard that this entire discussion has generated so prolifically.

And here's another Poundbury downpipe photo for you to consider.
posted by yoink at 3:59 PM on April 1, 2009


As I understand it, your case isn't that this building is good or even indifferent; it's that critics of it and Poundbury in general are inventing standards that it fails to meet in order to have a go at Charles. But you yourself insisted critics provide empirical ways in which the building is "wrong". You are not arguing that this is not a lumpen, confused pastiche. You might as well paint classical elements (not very well) on a plastic shed. What does it do right?
posted by WPW at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2009


As I understand it, your case isn't that this building is good or even indifferent; it's that critics of it and Poundbury in general are inventing standards that it fails to meet in order to have a go at Charles. But you yourself insisted critics provide empirical ways in which the building is "wrong"

I don't understand what the "but" is doing in those sentences. Yeah, I think critics are basically talking through holes in their hats because they want to pile on about what a crappy architect Charles is. So they say "this building shows he has no understanding of neoclassical architectural language." But when I say "o.k., what part of that language is this building getting wrong" a pained silence falls over the thread.

Given that it seems very unlikely that this building was, in fact, designed by Charles, I'm interested that you're so ardently sticking to the "this building is clearly by an amateur" argument. It's almost certainly not by an amateur. It's almost certainly by a professional architect with far more training in architecture and architectural history than anyone who has contributed to the thread so far (judging by the not strikingly informed or detailed comments). Now, can a professional architect make a horrible building? Sure. But the criticisms here aren't "boy, this architect is off his game here," they're "this building betrays the hand of the rank amateur doing things no professional would ever dream of doing."

I don't see anybody backing that claim up with anything other than ipse dixit, and I strongly suspect that it is factually untrue. In other words, I strongly suspect that this building is precisely something dreamed up by a trained, professional architect.
posted by yoink at 6:36 PM on April 1, 2009


I'm not sticking ardently to a "this building is clearly by an amateur" argument. I never made that argument. Those words, which you put in quotes, have only been said by you. Amateur architect or not, this building is daft. It has definitely amateurish details, including those drainpipes that you're now justifying with reference to imaginary building codes, but those could easily be the work of a professional. It certainly looks like the same (lack of) thinking that finds it impossible to integrate a modern garage into a coherent neoclassical composition, and has instead conjured up this vernacular/neoclassical jumble. And don't give me a line about harmonic coexistence of the aesthetics in the English landscape, they aren't working harmoniously in this building. Whether Charles designed it or not, he clearly considers it an exemplar. So even if comments about him not doing a great job on AutoCad are off the mark, it's perfectly reasonable to hold up the aesthetic failings of this building as indicators that Charles doesn't know the difference between a graceful or refined classical building and ... this. Can you?
posted by WPW at 2:20 AM on April 2, 2009


I'm not sticking ardently to a "this building is clearly by an amateur" argument. I never made that argument

It has definitely amateurish details

I'm sorry about the quotation marks--I have a bad habit of using them to mean "this kind of statement" and offending people who think I'm imputing that exact phrasing to them. You didn't use that exact phrasing, but you are making that kind of argument and you go on to make it in this very post.

As for the "imaginary building codes"--come on. I mean, are you really pretending that these things aren't covered by very detailed construction codes? As it happens, the relevant code in England is called BS EN 12056-3:2000 and is insanely detailed (go ahead and Google it--I found it in about ten seconds worth of Googling), involving precisely the kinds of calculations I suggested. Here's a brief statement relative to the code from a manufacturer of drainage systems: "The amount of rainwater collected by a given roof area largely determines the choice of gutter system to be used and the number and positioning of the outlets. It is necessary to calculate the effective area of a roof and to relate this to the draining capabilities." They go on to give examples of the extremely detailed mathematical formulae used to determine "effective roof area" and consequent flow rates in litres/sec ("The amount of rainwater runoff R from a calculated effective roof area E is given by the formula:
R=0.021 x E Litres/sec").

So yeah--the number of downpipes will have been determined by legal codes; architects don't just slap them up wherever their aesthetic whim dictates. Their positioning could well have been determined by code requirements and the architect had no say whatsoever. All we're left with is your (in my view purely arbitrary) insistence that they should have been internal rather than external pipes--something that would have added significantly to the cost of the building and the cost of future repair work to the drainage systems.

By the way, I have no idea what the "can you?" refers to at the end of your last message. Perhaps you originally wrote "Charles can't tell the difference" in the preceding sentence? Can I tell the difference? Well, obviously I'd like to think so. I don't think this is "graceful" or "refined"--it's too leadenly programmatic to be "graceful" and too cheaply built to be "refined." But your objections (and those of others in this thread) to it go further than that and are incoherent in themselves. You say, for example (and this is a quotation): that to Charles "classicism is simply a collection of patterns, devices and visual cues applied haphazardly to what is essentially a brick block."

The classical elements of this building are clearly not applied "haphazardly," though. If they were, someone in this thread would have actually pointed out a solecism of some kind. The rusticated lower floor, the classical pediment topping the regularly spaced pilasters with the tuscan capitals, the bulls-eye windows above the casement windows of the piano nobile--these are all according to Hoyle (or according to Palladio, rather). Your suggestion that there is something inherently wrong with treating classical detail as decoration applied to a simple building form is one you clearly don't actually believe in--it's just a handy brick to throw at this particular building. You profess admiration for the C18th neoclassical style, and that, too, was essentially decorative in its approach. Look at Adam's Marlborough House or Paxton House, for example. What are they but simple boxes with Classical decoration (I suppose you could except the actual pedimented portico of Paxton House, but that's no more or less functional than the covered entryway into the Poundbury building--a place to shake an umbrella out before you enter the building). Simplicity of form is actually a classical virtue--viz. the classical temple, whose proportions the Poundbury Fire Station follows pretty closely. (If you reject C18th neo-classicism go back to the Renaissance and Alberti's Rucellai palace--that's just a box with classicizing decoration drawn on it).

I mean, this is why you're fixated on such hilarious irrelevancies as the position of the drainpipes (I mean, really, have you ever heard of a building being criticized for the position of the drainpipes before in your life? Do you ever expect to again?)--because in it's actual application of neoclassical forms, the building is simply safe, predictable and "correct." It adds up to an uninspired but utterly unexceptional piece of neoclassical pastiche.
posted by yoink at 2:09 PM on April 2, 2009


I don't think I'm the only one fixated on drainpipes, you've steered the course of this discussion as much as I have. Obviously building codes ditate the number of drainpipes, but architect still decides placement. What I meant by imaginary building codes is that you're speculating that the placement of the drainpipes was absolutely dictated by the codes, which I don't believe to be true or even likely. But since that's speculation on both sides, I'll leave the drainpipes alone.

On the "haphazardly"; it was a bit of off-the-cuff typing. I would like to make the claim that I meant "badly" (a value judgement) as opposed to "wrongly" (an empirical verdict), but I wasn't agonising over the meaning at the time so it would probably just be revisionism. My rhetorical aim was that the decoration wasn't pitching for delight, it was aesthetic box-ticking. Decoration in itself isn't a bad thing, but it isn't in itself a good thing. And here it is depthless, characterless, lumpen. I feel that things like the demotion of the garages to an ancillary building and the treatment of the lower part of the base classify as "mistakes", but that's essentially subjective. You're right that there is nothing "wrong" here. It was a mistake to suggest that Charles or his architects could be anything other than dogmatic and pedantic. It - as I said in my first post, back in the Regency - is a matter of intent. The key word is "cues". You're welcome to write this off as cynicism, but I don't feel that the intent here is not delight, or the promotion of civic pride or virtù, or even an effort to browbeat, but more the use of a symbolic language in the belief that it will effect a social agenda. It doesn't have to look good, it just has to work its magic of social cohesion.
posted by WPW at 3:58 PM on April 2, 2009


Prince Charles told: don't interfere on planning decisions
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:24 AM on April 20, 2009


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