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Towering Modernism makes icons inevitable

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Graham Morrison's AJ/Bovis Awards speech (AJ 8.7.04) has been interpreted as taking up a novel position criticising iconic design when, in reality, he only claimed some icons are good and some are bad. Your editorial and George Ferguson's followup letter also claim preferences for this or that icon.

But the really significant point about icons is that they are part and parcel of the desire for perpetual avant-gardism that is an essential aspect of contemporary Modernism. As long as we have an atmosphere that places great merit on the way a design represents a radical departure from what went before, the attainment of iconic status is going to be the goal of any building that seeks respect.

In the same issue of the AJ, the reported shock Ken Shuttleworth experienced in finding a 15-year-old precedent for his Vortex Tower comes from the fact that this instantly devalues its avant-garde status. His attempt to refute this by saying that the precedent was red while his is pink and blue is unlikely to convince many of its claim to be avant-garde, and so as a potential future icon it is already stillborn.

Perpetual avant-gardism by its nature produces diminishing returns, which is why successive waves of icons are now looking more and more tired.

Peter Kellow, Plymouth

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