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School Days

I was delighted to see you take up cudgels for Evans and Shalev’s Newport High School (AJ 10.01.08), which I visited when it was first completed, and which I think is one of the best buildings (of any category) the UK has to show from that period.
To call it ‘Brutalist’ merely because the walls are in exposed concrete seems to miss the point: the concrete is precast and highly finished. Brutalist has the implication that the building seeks to affront, grating on the viewer by displaying its mechanical workings and leaving the walls brutally exposed. There was no evidence of any such intention about Newport High School, which, on the contrary, seemed welcoming and humane.
The vendetta against pre- Thatcher building pursued by the current educational authorities, which would see them vacated and left to vandals, is much like that against listed houses. Fine buildings are neglected until they can be deemed perilous, and can then be pulled down in order to make way for something wretchedly inferior but considered more profitable.
This is a sustained assault on our built heritage. I would regard the destruction of Newport High School as a tragic loss. The real shame is that this is not an isolated case.

Joseph Rykwert, by e-mail

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