By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Your browser seems to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser.


Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.


Katherine Shonfield

When Graham Sutherland's expressive portrait of Churchill was attacked by an affronted admirer of Winston, the late artist confessed that it was the best possible boost to a flagging career. Is it too cheeky to suggest that last week's bomb attack on the MI6 building at Vauxhall Cross is precisely what Terry Farrell needs to bring his considerable work back to the forefront of a fickle public consciousness within the UK?

Despite the building's starring role in at least one James Bond film, its '80s take on Socialist Realism has been widely lampooned. This building is remarkably photogenic. This is because in television and in the press its individual and unmistakable character is all important. The MI6 headquarters works like one of those larger-than- life personalities such as Chris Tarrant or Chris Evans - you discover that what matters in the media context is not what you are like, but whether you are memorable.

From the moment a reporter on the Nine O'Clock News dubbed it a 'landmark', the MI6 building came into its own. An attack on a building echoes an attack on a person: the fact of the affront makes you revalue their existence. This building now has a name - Vauxhall Cross - and a makeover. It has been transformed from awkward outsider to a doughty, battleworn trooper, for whom it is a matter of public pride to return to its pristine condition.

When Mo Mowlam glibly indicated her surprise that no-one had yet burnt down the Dome for the insurance, she may have hit on what was needed to humanise that building and make it, as it were, one of us. Who would praise the monstrous scale of the Crystal Palace but for its untimely end?

A little superficial injury could be an effective compromise: it is just what we need to make us look again, and endear us to what was previously unseen.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters