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Jay Merrick

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  • Comment on: Whitehall’s confusion about architecture explains the beauty parade

    Jay Merrick's comment 14 November, 2018 12:31 pm

    The civic furniture of the past has often been architecturally striking (though not necessarily indisputably beautiful); and more likely to be so when, despite being extruded from the trajectories of earlier architecture, it has been clearly a product of its particular time. We might think this of buildings as different as the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, St Stephen's Walbrook, Soane's House, Crystal Palace, Fallingwater, the Sainsbury Centre, and the Kolumba Museum. The difficulty with assigning beauty as the guiding light for development in the 21st century is that, because of its protean aspects and definitions, beauty can only be presented and discussed in a reductive manner; and this is likely to produce, at best, "beautiful" architecture that stolidly repeats that past rather than addresses the socio-urban conditions, aka most lives, of its time. There is quite enough utterly dreadful, pimped-up contemporary architecture without sending Light Brigades of fatally conceived, essentially neo-historic buildings into the Balaclava of Britain's planning and architectural failures. Mr Scruton is reported to have said that women are only harrassed by ugly men. Leaving aside the fact that this is so obviously untrue (see: Sir Kenneth Clark, Alan Clark, Bill Clinton, ad infinitum) isn't it most likely that the government's new commission can only lead to our towns, cities, and countryside being increasingly harrassed by the architectural equivalents of the Night of the Living Dead? For decades, successive governments have demonstrated no decisively engaged interest in architecture's contribution to society. Will the new commission be anything more than yet another headline-only contribution to the urban status woe? Jay Merrick

  • Comment on: RIBA poll takes its toll – what we learned from a turbulent election

    Jay Merrick's comment 29 August, 2018 11:13 am

    Having attempted to watch and listen to the short speeches given by the three candidates (which the Riba and AJ put online) I found myself descending into an almost narcoleptic condition. None of the candidates seemed able to communicate any ideas that were distinctly interesting in a distinctly engaging way. There was a pervasive sense of safety-first defensiveness and box-ticking in their presentations, a verbal intertia worthy of the uniquely turgid Chris Grayling that must surely be erased if the Riba is to communicate more effectively right across its membership, and to the public. This is not a matter for its PR department, or simply generating increased, and pointlessly quantifiable, column-inches of publicity. It's a question of whether the President and the Riba's key officers are able to communicate their ideas and narratives for internal or external audiences more effectively. It's perhaps also an ethical matter. In essence, one acts ethically by acknowledging the fundamental importance of community existence, in which personal and singular ideas and intentions must always be considered in the light of a plurality of other ideas and intentions. After the rather shambolic run-up to the election, one must hope that the management of the Riba can pursue this ideal more intently and effectively. Jay Merrick

  • Comment on: ‘Mischievous’ architect and artist Will Alsop dies aged 70

    Jay Merrick's comment 14 May, 2018 10:59 am

    No mention of Will Alsop's die-stamped bon viveurship in AJ's short report. I recall the unexpected question that Jean Nouvel asked me as I settled down to interview him after he received the Riba Gold Medal: "Do you know ow I can contact Will All-soap?" The inference was obvious: the French genius wanted a drinking buddy. Like Nouvel, Alsop was always the most engaging of lunch or dinner hosts, and in the Premier League of wine consumption. Alsop's personal conviviality and his dry humour always seemed in some way generative of his architecture. I therefore could never think of him as a radical architect because he wasn't assiduously polemical. But he was one of the few among his cohort who could only ever be a designer of visions. And some, it must be said, were highly original, functionally. Jay Merrick

  • Comment on: Sajid Javid questions RIBA House of the Year result

    Jay Merrick's comment 13 December, 2017 12:50 pm

    Leaving aside the bleedin-gaff-for-the-rich-innit point, Sajid Javid has made a hash of his punchline. He simply cannot suggest that there's no need for "bold" design to make ordinary housing "beautiful". It would be more to the point for him to have said that bold domestic design was actually vital to counter the rashes of cheap-to-build pattern book housing estates under perpetual construction. Ordinary housing doesn't need to be beautiful; it just needs to be better designed, better built, and better championed by planners and developers. The last two cohorts are the problem. We have faux planning rigour (see: Greenbelt Boot Sales And NPPG, aka Whatevah) and little or no desire to pay our better, and perhaps younger, architects to find ways to design buildable, affordable homes that, by default Poundbury plc standards, are architecturally bold and contextually adroit. Jay Merrick

  • Comment on: David Chipperfield on why the trees at Haus der Kunst should go

    Jay Merrick's comment 24 January, 2017 10:19 am

    This is a very peculiar, if not satirical controversy. Hundreds of buildings, worldwide, have been associated with appalling events or regimes. Removing or concealing them cannot erase their histories; and, quite obviously, nor should they. The death of an ex-Austrian vegetarian corporal in a Berlin bunker in 1945 has not removed the dreadful facts of his life. From the late 1920s, the Messberghof building in Hamburg, next to Hans and Oscar Gerson's brilliantly Expressionist Chilehaus, contained the offices of Tesch & Stabenow, the distributors of the cyanic Zyklon B gas used in the German concentration camps. Shall we tear the Messberghof down? No? Ah, yes, a few trees around it, perhaps, for the hard of understanding. Jay Merrick