Jonathan Bate, Professor of English at Liverpool University and author of The Genius of Shakespeare, grew up in Sevenoaks, Kent, where his school overlooked the magnificent Knole House. Its Tudor opulence fascinated him, but he eschews this example in favour of nearby Penshurst Place (above), a more modest Tudor country house.
The seventeenth-century poet and playwright Ben Jonson wrote a poem in praise of it, To Penshurst, which begins: 'Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show. . .' and Bate feels sure he was casting a critical eye over the ostentatious Knole. 'Jonson talks about old ideas of hospitality and festivities - there's an element of nostalgia, 'he says.The poem ends : 'Those proud ambitious heaps, and nothing else, May say, their lords have built, but thy lord dwells', and it is that reiteration of Penshurst's owner inhabiting the house in a very deep sense that resonates for Bate.
Grappling with Modernism, Bate opts for William van Alen's Chrysler Building. 'I first went to New York on a scholarship in my early twenties. I arrived on a boiling hot August day and took a minibus from JFK.From this most extraordinary skyline and just walking around, the Chrysler was the one that stood out for me.'
Bate dislikes the harsh angles of Modernist buildings and loves the Chrysler's curves and flourishes.
'Again, in a way it's about nostalgia - there's something about its elegance that immediately makes you think of Gatsby parties and the enormous sense of energy and possibility of the 1920s.'