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Not impressed by 'mass of black grilles and bars'

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letters

I am glad that yrm has ‘pulled back from the brink’ in the past two years. Given the tender date of 1996, I can only assume that the special-needs Whitefield Schools and Centre extolled by Kenneth Powell (Building Study, AJ 22.7.99) belongs to a previous era. I could not match the article’s words to its pictures.

How do the mass of black grilles and bars enhance the ‘painstaking’ efforts of the children to regain their senses? Look at the intimidating pictures on aj’s cover and on pages 31 and 33, faithfully taken by Peter Cook. What exactly is the ‘central circulation arcade’ with those secret, glass- blocked ‘front yards’ to each class-room? Powell’s solemn threat that it would have been ‘too easy to produce a soft, ‘humane’ building’ which he equates with ‘sentimental gesturing’, sounds like Orwellian double talk to me. The lithe and humane aims of abstract Modernism are quite at odds with such corporate reductionism. And always have been. Or was the budget so tight that only black and white paint was available?

The skilful deployment of energy is praiseworthy, but why does the whole thing look like a magistrates’ court (see page 30)?

Powell’s defensive presentation of the building fabric and lack of critical appraisal of its symbolic and associative values do little to advance understanding of the mainstream Modern tradition that he rightly celebrates in yrm’s early work. I would suggest that designing for special needs calls for a wider palette than seen here.

Giles Oliver, London N19

Van Heyningen & Haward has claimed design of this building to Stage E, although not of the cladding (AJ letters, 29.7.99) -Ed

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