Kenneth Powell's simpering review of Foster and Partners' Great Court is a fine example of feudal commentary, in which the knights and lords of the architectural establishment are deemed to have risen above criticism by their serfs. While the roof of the Great Court may be a clever piece of technology, all is not well below. Foster has rolled out another of his corporate Modernist spaces. Perhaps this is appropriate for the culture capitalists of the new museums, but I am not sure that such arguments, let alone irony, have much currency down in Foster's office. Corporate Modernism is what Foster sells. Unremittingly.
Whatever the context.
The atmosphere in the Great Court is somewhere between an airport and a high-quality retail space. It is not just the acres of limestone flooring (also to be found in remodelled Marks and Spencers), the shiny desks for cultural check-in or the departure lounge tables. Neither is it simply the lumpen detailing around the Reading Room and the brutal staircase which completely lack the deftness of Foster's early work. It is also the sense of unease and discomfort that the space imparts; when I was there people craned their necks in awe and then moved quickly on. It is not a place in which to linger. Powell expounds the cliche of this being an oasis of calm, but this is a strange kind of subduing calm in which the stripped Classicism and monumental staircases bring memories of authoritarian architecture which humbles the user/citizen into silence.
What Foster has given us is an imperialist urbanity which sits uneasily with the chaos of democratic London beyond.
I feel sure that I am coming across as one of those annoying academics and acolytes of the PhD industry that Powell dismisses with a sneer. But I do find that a bit of reading often forestalls his brand of thoughtless hagiography.
Jeremy Till, Sheffield School of Architecture