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An extraordinary year, with or without architecture

Paul Finch
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While Project Fear’s losers run around like headless chickens, Paul Finch looks back at some of the architectural books he has enjoyed this year

Three votes set the context for how we will remember 2016: Sadiq Khan triumphed in the London mayoral election; Donald Trump in the US; but in the UK it was the referendum vote that put all else in the shade. The repercussions are still with us: a newly elected government more or less forced out by a popular vote, the arrival of an unelected prime minister in Theresa May, and a phoenix-like return to power for Boris Johnson, David Davies and Liam Fox.

Project Fear’s frustrated losers are still running round like headless chickens, but everyone else is getting on with the job. By and large the major construction projects that were put on hold in the wake of the Brexit vote have been reconfirmed, not least the tallest tower in the City of London, designed by Eric Parry for a Singaporean investor.

With buildings for people like Google in the pipeline, fears of commercial isolation look ill-founded

The construction and architecture sectors are not doing badly out of this government, with HS2 now definite, funding for growth areas around key stations agreed, plus new financial support for house-building and estate regeneration announced. And with buildings for people like Google in the pipeline (and presumably McDonald’s as it moves its non-US tax base to the UK) fears of commercial isolation look ill-founded. Incidentally, overseas investment in UK buildings and infrastructure announced in the last 12 months totals more than £14 billion. 

The really bad news for UK architecture this year was the loss of Zaha Hadid, which was marked by a Royal Academy event this week; we will not see her like again.

On a happier note, here are a few recent books I have enjoyed, in case you are in search of reading matter over the holidays: Architecture and Surrealism: A Blistering Romance by Neil Spiller (Thames & Hudson) was a subject waiting to be addressed, and now it has been by the head of school at Greenwich. Two other titles from Thames & Hudson worth mentioning: The New Pavilions by Philip Jodidio reviews contemporary pavilion design of every type in a well-illustrated survey; while Adjaye Africa Architecture by David Adjaye and Peter Allison provides a useful tour d’horizon of that mighty continent, focusing on cities and regions of most architectural interest. 

Available in paperback for the first time, The Future of Architecture. Since 1889: A Worldwide History by Jean-Louis Cohen (Phaidon) is, as ever with this brilliant French critic, a stimulating and informative read despite the oddly punctuated title. So, in a quite different way, is The Time of My Life in Architecture by former Princeton dean Robert Maxwell (Artifice), a mixture of autobiographical fragments, speculations and shrewd observations.

Two titles dealing with the here and now reflect the enormous range of the built environment world. Planning Politics and City Making: A case study of King’s Cross by Peter Bishop and Lesley Williams (RIBA Publishing) is a warts-and-all account of how this significant piece of European urbanism was generated and delivered, though of course it is still a work in progress. Growing Awareness: How Green Consciousness Can Change Perception and Places edited by Brian Evans and Sue Evans (RIAS/Glasgow School of Art/Central Scotland Green Network Trust) is a reminder of the power of landscape as ecological benefit and place-making element.

Of various recent monographs, I liked most Porphyrios Associates: The Allure Of The Classical (Rizzoli), a handsome production which reminds us how extensive the work of the practice is, and also that it is possible for the language of Classicism to evolve rather than endlessly replicate.

Tradition is still tradition, however, so a Merry Christmas to one and all! No elections (to speak of) in 2017 …

Finchy's books

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