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Mark Cannata on the buildings as architects’ pin-up

As a synthesis between history and utopia, the red buildings became a paradigm of the fusion between past and future, somewhere between Paxton and Skylab.

They became the symbol of the tension between research into the future and continuity in architecture. In becoming so, James Stirling’s engrossing buildings became the architecture students’ favourite pin-up buildings– a seductive object, both distinct and indistinct, whose questioning effect was its meaning, buildings whose obvious signifiers did not signify the nature of their presence: the future as a known unknown.

The History Faculty building’s power to represent an aspirational future remains undiminished by its shortcomings. We forgive its weaknesses, just as we do with a classic racing car or an ageing rocker. James Stirling was a master of the alchemical art of weaving history and technology and created a new vision that, like the Saturn V or Keith Richards’ white fender, became a symbol of an era. These are building that, despite their troubled life and reputation had and still have the architectural equivalent of extreme street cred.

All text is extracted from Jim Stirling and the Red Trilogy – Three Radical Buildings,  Frances Lincoln, October 2010, £30

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