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Self-confidence is reflected in our new architecture


Carlton Television this week broadcast a live debate on London architecture - and whether it is wonderful or all a ghastly mistake. I am writing in advance of the event, and as an invitee hoping for a chance to make one or two points. Thinking back to the 1970s, when architecture was a fashionable subject for investigative tv programmes, I can only recall a depressing litany of accusation concerning faults both managerial and technical, and a general condemnatory tone about the achievements of the profession. All the hopes and aspirations of the post-war building boom, and the architectural results, seemed to drown in a wave of abuse. In retrospect, the Prince of Wales' Hampton Court speech in 1984 was not so much the start of an era of criticism, but perhaps its high point, and in fact the beginning of the end of architect-as-whipping boy.

How different things are today. The best headline the Daily Mail could come up with in a large feature on Michael Hopkins' striking new Parliamentary building was: 'Is this the ugliest building in the world?' This sobriquet is regularly trotted out (this year Portcullis House, last year the British Library), and is meaningless - except at a certain level where one welcomes anything approaching aesthetic criticism. One important point about the Hopkins building is that, after years of procrastination, something has actually been built.

It is a sign of our increasing architectural self-confidence, in London and elsewhere, that architecture is happening rather than not happening. Where it took 25 years to create No 1 Poultry, it may be only a matter of three or four in the case of Lord Foster's quite extraordinary proposals for a brilliant new office tower in the City of London. At last Wembley stadium is to be rebuilt and, completing a notable quartet of designs, the Foster office is also producing the spectacular Millennium Bridge and the new headquarters for the Greater London Authority. Architecture, helped by the lottery, by low inflation and relatively cheap money, is on a roll - and for once is not threatened by the imminent collapse of an economic bubble (unlike the 70s). Let's enjoy it.

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