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Katherine Shonfield

The most swingeing of many recent attacks on architects emanates from the distinguished philosopher A C Grayling in the Observer.He singles out the newly dubbed Testicle (aka the Greater London Assembly building) for the way it contests its iconic context - 'feebly, because it is just an arrangement of glass and steel which looks as if it is inspired by a lump of half-squashed Plasticine.'

The problem with Grayling's criticism arises when he is trying to describe an alternative. What we want are buildings that 'welcome people, answer their needs, consider their scale - and please the eye when seen in the local stretch of cityscape'.

Welcoming - like the Tower of London? Considering scale - like St. Paul's? Piers Gough's TV programe The Shock of the Old is required viewing for those who think there is a non-'egotistical' design formula for new architecture. He counterpoints the architectural revolutions of the past with innovations of the present. By revealing the quest for novelty, technical innovation, new uses, and yes, ego expression that inspired the adored buildings of the medieval period, he questions our culture's notion of the past.

Instead of harmony and continuity, Gough's old is about rupture and challenge. It is the power of contrast that reveals the taste for an architectural vocabulary which quotes 'in a subtle but harmonious way' (Grayling again) as brand new.

Still, Grayling is right to attack the feeble-minded tedium of oppositional architecture, which justifies its existence, like a perverse teenager, out of difference alone. Gough's argument requires that we look again at the genesis of old and new together, its elegant complexity counters the reductio ad absurdum of the architectural debate - stick out like a sore thumb, or efface yourself with quotes and echoes. Watch it.

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