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An epic ruin

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REVIEW

Market Complex At the Guildhall, Gloucester, until 28 February In May 1956, The Architects' Journal published a building study describing Gloucester's new market complex. Almost 50 years later, the city's Guildhall is the venue for an exhibition documenting the same building, immediately prior to its demolition.

In 1956, the complex represented optimism about the county's rural economy, and was a Modernist manifestation of civic pride.

The city architect produced a building of elegance and thoroughbred Modernist credentials. Its fate since then reflects a far broader picture of changing circumstances and attitudes. The cattle market is now functionally obsolete as livestock auctions have moved from provincial sites to large regional centres. A traditional meeting place between town and country has gone with it.

The building itself, initially lauded, has rapidly become a ruinous backdrop to the weekend car-boot sale. With the demise of the Modernist consensus, and with local Princely ramblings fuelling the hate campaign, a building of architectural quality, utterly distinct from its mediocre context, assumed the pariah status of many of its contemporaries. But the received wisdom that a good building makes a good ruin was never truer than here. This is an epic ruin.

Photolanguage is a collaboration between Nigel Green and Robin Wilson.

Together they share a fascination with the ruins of Modernity rather than antiquity.

Following similar studies based in Rouen and Calais (AJ 28.9.00), Gloucester provided an irresistible subject.

The show itself is small: photographs, texts and remnants of the building fabric in a single room; the archival record of which it is a part, will be more complete. But the building itself, a mile away, is the main attraction.

A visit confirms the impression that this is a strangely heroic structure. Like a young Brando, its heroism is allied to the sort of dignity only possible when you have been beaten to within an inch of your life, and emerge upright, disfigured, but still impossibly good looking.

There might still be some last-minute reprieve or partial listing - the merits of the complex could justify it - but this would miss the point. Buildings have a life, and a death.

To subject Modernist works like this to zombification, in the name of the new conservationist cult, insults the ambition and faith of those who created them.

It is surely better to let Photolanguage make its exhibits and its archive and let entropy take its course. The surviving architects, such as AJ Ault, deserve our recognition; as for the market complex, let it return to dust, and let Gloucester measure itself today by what replaces it.

Alex Wright is an architect in Bath

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