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Inspiring housing #6: David Lomax on the Brunswick Centre

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[More Homes Better Homes] Patrick Hodgkinson’s 1972 Brunswick Centre was a ‘Big Idea’, says Waugh Thistleton Architects’ David Lomax

Why do you like the scheme?

The Brunswick Centre is a ‘Big Idea’.  Some might contend that big ideas - or even ‘BIG’ ideas with a certain level of sophistication in their geometry were invented in the noughties, possibly by Bjarke Ingels but certainly by Grasshopper. Indeed, twist the Brunswick diagram through 45 degrees and you might have a passable imitation of Bjarke’s Mountain. However, look closer and you also see humanity, wit and historical reference. The computer doesn’t tell you how to make a building meet the ground or to forsake competition with the grand open spaces of Russell or Bedford Square. Nor does it politely remind you to better reference the pedestrianised oases of St Christopher’s or Charlotte’s Place.

What could government learn from it?

Rules are fascinating things. They can enrich complex urban spaces and suppress rampant egos. However, for the skillful to manipulate rules into architecture, they will artfully shape and sculpt them into something altogether different. To support this, an equally skillful, educated and passionate planning department must be available, not as the head teacher, but as the critical friend. Buildings like the Brunswick or the equally sophisticated Odhams Walk in Covent Garden could never exist in the context of blindly enforced policy we have today. Instead, they were designed in a world where the leading architects were also the local planning authority. Rules are for the prevention of idiocy but often at the expense of excellence. A human, qualified and well funded planning department can balance that.

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