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THE HORRIFIC AND SHAMING EVENTS IN THE USA MAKE US THINK AGAIN

EDITORIAL

It is always good to have our traditional ways of thinking challenged. This week the attack comes from an unusual quarter - the Gothic.

In his review of the latest developments at St Edmundsbury Cathedral (Building Study, pages 29-39), Alan Powers praises the 'conviction and certainty' of the architecture. These are manifested in an opposite manner to the more common additions to historic buildings.

Most architects of integrity deal with old buildings by carefully restoring the old and providing a deliberately modern addition, all the time muttering: 'I want the old to look old, and the new to look new.' But the wonderfully named Warwick Pethers and his Gothic Design Practice have taken the opposite approach. By not only acting but in some senses also thinking like an architect of the Middle Ages, he has achieved a result that ignores the contemporary idiom but is neither parody nor pastiche. And because he is not being merely imitative, he is free to be creative within his chosen language.

Rather like homeopathy, it works if you believe that it works. Warwick Pethers can do it; Norman Foster, even if he were to buy in the specialist skills, could not.

If this ambitious single intervention prompts reflections on the meaning of contemporary architecture, then the horrific and shaming events in the USA also make us think again. Ed Dorrell, on page 16, berates the irresponsible attitude of America towards the poor in its cities, but the future will also raise more fundamental questions.

How does such a damaged city recreate itself?

How many people will come back, and to what?

Because the tourist honeypot of the French quarter has at least partially survived, New Orleans will certainly have a function. But it may be a very different city - structurally as well as architecturally - from the one that predated Hurricane Katrina. Gothic architecture and Gothic horror both have a lot to teach us.

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