The first day of the first Lord's test each summer is a magnificent historical occasion. Nevertheless, much has changed about the event in recent years, to the extent that the old venue has become a model for urban regeneration.
I arrived late as a result of being locked into an itinerary that included a lie-in and a full breakfast; a tradition unaffected by the earlier starts necessitated by TV. Initially Lord's, a famous London 'room', appears much as before, whenever before was. Visitors from around the world know this place before they even walk through the gates, through its association with great sporting events, as a place of celebration (or crisis). Despite my anticipation of the delights of change, I was immediately aware of the constants.
The different people in starkly contrasting attire remain familiar; the MCC ties (anticipating Michael Craig-Martin's fashionable juxtaposition of colours) wander among the rest of the crowd, who are all pursuing their own particular sartorial predilections. The architecture resembles the crowd.
Lord's has inspired the creation of new structures, that model different possible futures, while sitting happily side-by-side, enhancing their historic setting.
As you wander, you understand that the first of the 'new' stands, the Mound, is actually built off a retained Victorian brick terrace. The old house and the confident cantilevering garden walls behind the new grandstand are also retained but reworked, as is the great boundary wall - creating a citadel. All this is strangely appropriate, for this is a 'private' piece of city, occupied for only a few days of the year, with visitors paying an entrance fee. Nevertheless, when occupied, it becomes a model for a detached private urban realm, more successful than much of the recent adjacent development of dislocated, often gated, estates.
When will the purveyors of the adjacent urban dislocators accept the historical inevitability (and the ensuing benefits) of the extension of the public realm? They need only to look at the historical reclamation of the nearby Bedford Estate and its great squares from the exclusivity of a gated realm. Lord's offers a model for much of the new 'public' space, emerging from well-meaning competition and the call for cappuccino culture. Design does not make places; it only facilitates appropriation by people.
Perhaps ownership, even privatisation of 'public space', can, in some form, be a good thing. It certainly appears to be inevitable. Unlike so many of London's other great public spaces, this incrementally developed, privately owned site is well planned, well signed, has excellent facilities and avoids the horror of a 'visitor centre' (do we really need to have everything explained to us? ). Despite security considerations, CCTV is somehow discreet, contrasting with the world outside, where the sinister proliferation of cameras has turned streets into video viaducts.
Of recent construction at Lord's, much has rightly been made of the 'futuristic'Media Centre, which sits opposite the 'old'pavilion. However, when viewing the two together, it was the latter that stood out: the surreal creation of a gentlemen's club with terraces for spectators in place of roofs, over-sized balconies and unfeasibly dimensioned disappearing sash windows - predating Mies at the Tugendhat by a century. I could only marvel at how the clarity and wit of the Victorian mind had allowed them to arrive somewhere in the future, providing a lesson that the technological leap-forward too often lands sideways.