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How a humble postcard fired my resolve to pursue beauty

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One of the questions which occurred to me when I was teaching sculpture was whether the student had ever had an art experience. If a prospective artist has never been moved by someone else's art, how can they stumble across this sensation in their own work? This can, of course, be asked of architects.Some so-called professional artists and architects go to the grave with this particular ignorance.

They tend to be vociferous on the subject of methodology, manners and meaning. Rules are required by the blind.

These thoughts had not surfaced for some years until a friend sent us a postcard of Newton Wood and Roseberry Topping in Yorkshire. The photograph (below) is by Joe Cornisha, who talks on the reverse of the card of attempting, every May, to interpret the beauty of the bluebells which flourish there.

This image took my breath away. Here I was transfixed into an image of England. A rural calm that separates the daily drudge from something better. A view that has nothing to do with accountants and managers.

Roseberry Topping is a craggy 'peak'. It speaks of wilderness, a rare commodity in the UK, yet its aggression is not threatening because it is at a diminutive proportion. In the image it is majestic, but in reality we know that if we conquer this height it will be neither threatening nor dangerous. Below the topping, a slope of soft deciduous woodland rolls towards the arable plain. This part of the picture contains all the possibility of the perfect glade - a glade of watery sunlight that illuminates the late afternoon picnic. Two bottles of Cloudy Bay, a portion of Bath chaps, English tomatoes and English mustard followed by trifle. The view from the picnic takes in four fields of oilseed rape. The brilliant yellow punctuates the distance, helping to articulate the division of the fields as they evaporate towards the distant horizon. On the right, in the mid-foreground, is a plain of Wimbledon green. A field that will turn yellow as the year progresses.

A track leads from the security of the foreground to the 'dangers' of the horizon.

The sky is set fair for tomorrow and nothing can disturb the sense of well-being. At the base of the topping is a building. Is it for sheep or the shepherd? On the distant horizon are two further structures. These may be early warning military installations that connect the whole to a global reminder. Everything is connected: both postcard and reality touch the soul. In my case, it is the postcard which engages with a deeper experience that allows me to spend time with the image.

This postcard strengthened my resolve to pursue the idea of beauty. It stimulates you as an architect to wonder whether it is possible to create a place that engages people in the same way that the postcard does.This could be for 30 minutes, or a memory taken to the grave.

William Alsop, written on flight BA 701 to Vienna

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