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Housing minister promotes Classicism from the Deep South


The UK’s new housing minister has held up a Neoclassical federal courthouse building in the US state of Alabama as an example of what this country should aspire to build

In a tweet that sparked outrage among architects, minister Kit Malthouse unfavourably compared a modern glazed scheme by Robin Partington & Partners (now Apt) on Oxford Street with the temple-like Tuscaloosa Federal Building and Courthouse by the Chicago practice HBRA Architects.

The tweet, which has had more than 300 ‘likes’ on Twitter, prompted Manchester-based architect Ian McHugh to predict the onset of a new era of ‘style wars’, while RIBA president Ben Derbyshire questioned whether the government imagined that a Neoclassical future ‘was a better future’.

Duncan Blackmore of developer Arrant Land responded that he was sickened by what he called a ‘shamelessly reductive anti-progress pandering to right-wing populist nostalgia’, while Invisible Studio’s Piers Taylor accused Malthouse of having ‘no idea’ what he was talking about.

Last week, Malthouse – who replaced Dominic Raab as housing minister in July ­­– cited the Philip Larkin poem An Arundel Tomb in concluding a speech about beauty in the House of Commons.

Malthouse said: ‘At the end of the poem, he ends with that very famous line “all that will remain of us is love” (sic).

‘And in 200 years’ time, 300 years’ time, what will the generations look at and see as a symbol of our love for them, projected forward in time?

‘Well, all that will remain of us is those things that we build today. And you and I are joined in our ambition to ornament their lives and create the beauty that will enhance their existence for centuries to come, as ours has been enhanced by the generations that came before us.’

Partington’s £120 million Park House mixed-use scheme for Land Securities involved contractor Mace and engineer AKT II and won several awards after its completion in 2013.

HBRA’s Alabama courthouse is a $48 million (£37 million) scheme built in 2012 and was part of the US General Services Administration’s (GSA) Design Excellence programme.

It features a portico modelled on the Greek Temple of Zeus at Nemea and, according to its architect, ‘establishes a dignified presence for the Federal Government and provides a civic resource of a scale and architectural aspect reflecting the unique identity of the city of Tuscaloosa.’

HBRA and Partington’s rebranded practice Apt have both been approached for comment.


Readers' comments (16)

  • Wakey Wakey architects. Your time is up.....
    More and more people, including a minority of architects have woken up to the fact that we're simply perpetuating an ideology that never lived-up to it's empty promises. A system more about the pretend elitism of architects rather than the interests of the population we should be serving.
    And yes, even government ministers have a the right to have an opinion and are no longer afraid to voice it.
    You can all deny this but just reading the previous comments is proof enough.
    Schools must begin to teach architecture again, and stop calling the rubbish that has ruined our towns and villages for generations now architecture.
    It will be impossible for most the look truthfully at the damage modernism has been doing and change. It would mean beginning to learn what schools of architecture don't teach.
    Most of you will prefer to continue to live un denial.

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  • What has either of the examples got to do with housing?

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  • Did I say something wrong?

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  • Try this picture for 2 buildings built in the last 10 years, one in front of the other. From the south coast, not the deep south.

    Which will last longer?
    One reflects the town's character and has won several -popular- awards. The other was disliked by a ratio of over 30:1 during the public consultation; for which the context drawing changed the colour of the established building and faded out its roof features: making the proposal look less out of place and out of context. That misrepresentation is likely to be the subject of an ARB complaint.

    The (non-local) architects were inspired by waves crashing over pebbles:
    “The waves twist and distort as they pass over the pebbles and this is translated to the toilet building and (unbuilt) beach office.
    “The pebbles themselves create a softer, more inviting, form, resulting in a striking dialogue between the two.
    “The concept creates a conversation between the beach and the architecture, connecting the two elements harmoniously."

    They should have tried 'harmony' with the surroundings. Plus sustainable design, as there are no sustainability features in the building envelope; despite opportunities for natural lighting, solar power and sustainable water use.

    It is buildings such as these which mean the public will back Kit Malthouse's views and the Government's new NPPF. As the NPPGuidance pointed out: architecture is too important to be left to architects.

    Some building designers 'get' it: others appear completely out of touch, as do most of the comments.
    Also it is not a re-run of the "style wars"; just a matter of respect and context.

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  • Phil Parker

    Kit Malthouse is better known as Boris Johnson’s yes-man at City Hall and before that an apologist for Dame Shirley Porter at Westminster.

    With that kind of track record, can anyone take him seriously?

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  • Difficult to make out, but the statuary atop the Tuscaloosa Courthouse looks mighty like a party of apes contemplating the scene below - couldn't be, could it?

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