THIS IS THE KIND OF DETAIL THAT GIVES BUILDINGS THEIR OWN MYTHOLOGY
The Unity building in Liverpool by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (see pages 21-33) shows how pattern can be used to anchor idiosyncratic architecture in its physical and historic context.
It is a common trend in contemporary architecture, but has a particular significance with regard to the British tower block.
Hovering at two extremes of the architectural spectrum, the tower tends to represent either the shameful legacy of a particularly deluded social-housing policy or the high-gloss manifestation of corporate prestige. It is architecture's outsize bogeyman, a permanent reminder both of the fallibility of utopian ambition and of the power of Mammon. Cowed by cultural baggage, we view the design of tall buildings as a serious business. Too serious to be determined by anything more frivolous than tangible equations: of cost per square metre and market forces; of housing targets and structural loads; of planning regulations and urban grids.
But the bid to inject our city centres with high-density mixed use makes a mockery of such simplistic formulae. Housing and offices collide.
Thrust onto the centre stage, the modern tower block is an integral part of the city's cultural fabric and a landmark on the tourist map. They still have to work, but they also have to be loved.
The Unity building has been designed with a degree of irreverence which is rare in the UK.
The historic references are a little offbeat, there is a certain chirpy defiance in the angle of the penthouse suite and, for those in the know, a particular reading of the facade reveals the name of Paul Monaghan's mother spelt out in Morse Code. Irrelevant perhaps, but this is the sort of detail which gives buildings their own mythology and allows cities to claim their buildings. Like the ecclesiastical stonemasons who carved the churches' cherubim to resemble the faces of their loved ones, the architects have personalised their contribution to the public realm.