Two hundred and thirty years earlier, in 1622, Inigo Jones' Banqueting House, in a thoroughfare of redbrick three storey houses near the Whitehall Privy Garden and the Tudor Holbein Gate, must have shocked in its alien modernity (…classicism, the latest thing,… just over from Italy…etc.) as the Lloyds Building shocked Prince Charles. (Prince Charles is an infallible guide in this field; his denunciations always prompt me to think: there must be something in this building.) A painting actually in the Banqueting House of the mid-seventeenth century, and others of the time, show Inigo Jones' building indeed looking remarkably new, obtrusive, raw, like the Centre Pompidou above a sea of red Tudor and Elizabethan brick.
I first visited the South Bank when I was four at the Festival of Britain in 1951. I suppose I was made to look at the Skylon, the Dome of Discovery. But over the last twentyfive years I have known the South Bank well; it has been a good architectural training ground; there was a time when the Festival Hall looked paltry, utilitarian; now it looks sassy and up to the minute. But what of the Hayward Gallery, the National Theatre, the Queen Elizabeth Hall? Challenging homework indeed for an architectural amateur! My Italian friend was right when he said that British architects could indeed be radically modernist but that they designed as if modernism was a rather nasty medicine which we need to take: you may not like this, was the message, but it is good for you.
But my taste has shifted over the last twenty years: from finding some 'brutalist' work simply ugly to finding it ugly but seeing the point of it; until one day I find myself actually liking it. Last week along the Embankment I looked across the river and the National Theatre looked stunning. Just as one day in the eighties, walking up Goodge Street I looked up and found the British Telecom Tower was beautiful. No self-congratulations for coming to these conclusions two decades late, and along with many others.
So will all architecture 'come into its own'? will it, by perduring the odium of decades, emerge forgiven, reappraised? No, there is no guarantee that everything is going to turn out looking good. I have been 'working on' the British Library, passing it regularly as I do. I want to like it; but I cannot reconcile myself to the use, in a thoroughly metropolitan context, of vernacular brick, of however high specification. To me it smacks of a fatal provincialism, an English unwillingness to be properly metropolitan. Augustus Caesar boasted that he found Rome brick and left it marble. The English
public, left to their own devices would do it the other way round.