The best British designed building of the last 175 years?

Glasgow School of Art

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Journal has just announced the results of a poll to find the best British designed building of the last 175 years. You can take the results at face value if you like but the interest for me is in looking at what the whole exercise says about the relationship between architects and the rest of us.

The format for deciding the winner was like that for Britain’s Got Talent – a combination of votes by a panel of judges and ‘the public’. Now, when RIBA Journal says ‘the public’, it obviously means people who read RIBA Journal and others who have an interest in architecture. Writing in the Sunday Times over the weekend, the Journal’s editor Hugh Pearman expressed that he was pleasantly surprised that the choice of the overall winner – Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art – flew in the face of widespread public distaste for modernism. He made reference to the ongoing tension between the architectural community and Prince Charles about our appetite for modernist buildings.

I thought Hugh Pearman’s comments did achieve some sort of balance but there are issues with the whole exercise. The first is that this is not a public vote (natch) so it doesn’t really tell us anything about where most people stand on the modernist vs. traditionalist debate. Secondly, it highlights an underlying widespread feeling amongst architects that the rest of us should keep our opinions to ourselves because we don’t know what we’re on about.

And finally, as Pearman almost acknowledges, the underlying problem is not really a question of taste or comprehension of any school of thought; it is that the majority of buildings of whatever type range from mediocre to poor, with relatively few successes.

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9 Responses to “The best British designed building of the last 175 years?”


  1. 1 OS June 1, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Aktewally, Mark, I’m surprised at the result myself. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s designs were against the grain of Victoriana, which was bloody awful. A worthy winner in my book. The Glasgow Scool of Art is a fabulous building.

    As for your comment, “The format for deciding the winner was like that for Britain’s Got Talent – a combination of votes by a panel of judges and ‘the public’. Now, when RIBA Journal says ‘the public’, it obviously means people who read RIBA Journal and others who have an interest in architecture.” …well, perhaps they should have dropped flyers in Bentilee and asked for their opinion? 😉

    This will excite you and winger.

    BB.

  2. 2 Stephen Foster June 1, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Very exciting all round. I’m a quiver with the innate strength of the repetition, dentils and motifs.

  3. 3 OS. June 2, 2009 at 6:41 am

    No need for sarcasm, winger. This WAS the 19th century we’re talking about. Look at the tap on the radiator…even that tiny detail makes a statement! Can you not see it? Better than Camus was Rennie Mackintosh. Do one!

    OS.

  4. 4 Stephen Foster June 2, 2009 at 8:34 am

    I note there’s no sign of Elt: probably still in a cold faint due to the intoxicating beauty of the office chairs.

  5. 5 markelt June 2, 2009 at 8:43 am

    I was just leaving you two lovers to it.

  6. 6 OS June 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    The chairs are arts and crafts design. Wot’s that bloke get paid for cleaning the windows I wonder. As someone who has tried his hand at that job, I would have charged a fortune for doing those bloody small panes of glass. 😉

    BB.

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