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.




Isn't it time to put a stop to the myth that architecture automatically benefits from a nice bit of art? Take Brighton's admirable Jubilee Library, shortlisted for this year's Stirling Prize (pages 77-86). The three selected artists have carried out their commissions with aplomb - the random ceramic objects that are glued to the wall in the children's reading room are particularly jolly and are sure to go down a storm with the kids. But you have to question the wisdom of a system that prioritises the liberal provision of public artwork over, say, even halfway-acceptable bookshelves.

The Scottish Parliament (pages 41-50), like royalty, has an extensive art collection augmented by an abundance of official gifts - a burden that has forced it to adopt a wedding present strategy whereby the artwork is rotated depending on which of the donors is expected to call. Miralles' (highly artistic) interiors are left looking a little self-conscious, like an adolescent dressed in a Christmas jumper in anticipation of a visit from an aunt.

At McLaren (pages 65-74), the client's decision to stage a changing exhibition of work by up-and-coming artists is laudable but somewhat surprising, given its zero-tolerance policy towards anything else that might detract from the purity of Foster's vision. In a place where mechanics have to dress in uniform, the expressive artworks look like tipsy party guests who have turned up at the wrong house.

I can just about buy the argument that public art has a role to play in distracting attention from some of our more depressing public buildings. But even our greatest works of architecture are blighted by the curse of public art. Initiatives such as Percent for Art have done more harm than good. In perpetuating the notion that art enhances architecture, they have reinforced the view that architecture, by implication, is entirely distinct from art.

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