The Bilbao Guggenheim has a lot to answer for. Its remarkable, undeniable success generated two dubious notions. The first is that what every down-on-its-luck, post-industrial city needs is an ‘iconic’ building. The second is that the quickest way to regenerate that same post-industrial city is to spend big on arts-heritage projects.
The English countryside was once a refuge for writers and artists of slender means. The life was peaceful, the air was fresh, and the rents were cheap. But like exotic plants transplanted to alien soil, they brought their own peculiarities to their new habitat. And they could arouse suspicion and sometimes loathing in the natives.
There are some who say that like ancient Rome, Sheffield was built on seven hills. Whatever the truth of that claim, none of the seven hills of Rome has anything like the Park Hill estate surmounting its brow.
To be thrice-memorialised on a single stretch of road might seem extravagant for a monarch, let alone an obscure, hapless highwayman. But though one of these remembrances of Spence Broughton is a kitsch and somewhat macabre reproduction of the after-life of his corpse, the other two would register briefly or not at all on the consciousness of the passer-by.
Kentish field flecked with flint.
Farmer picked the flint from field,
Planting piles along the fringe.
Brutalist architecture mostly leaves me cold or repulsed but I’ve always had a liking, verging on an affection, for the Barbican Estate, perhaps because I worked there for six years and got to know its vastness, its labyrinths, and its hidden byways. I’ve always thought that if there was one structure in London that would survive nuclear war or natural catastrophe it would be the Barbican.