Why not resod the old sod?

Parliament, in London. (bdonline.co.uk)

Parliament, in London. (bdonline.co.uk)

Unsurprisingly, there have been proposals to demolish and replace the Houses of Parliament along the Thames in London. The excuses are a perceived need for greater openness, to be supplied by glass of course, or for more accommodation of the digitization and securitization of society. No doubt some Brits regret the outcome of the last election, and feel somehow violated by the failure of all the big polling organizations to predict the behavior of British voters.

If transparency is the answer, why not merely augment the British glass jaw with a glass skull for all registered voters? Don’t take it out on the building!

Taking it out on the building is a longstanding dodge to avoid looking reality in the face. Slavery in America lasted 400 years, starting long before the advent of columned verandas on Southern plantation manors. Yet the modernist always blames the buildings. In Charleson, where a slavery museum is planned, only a building farthest away in conception to a traditional plantation will do. (Not that a plantation would be appropriate, but neither is a hovering rectangular box the only conceivable alternative.)

Hitler used classical architecture to lend authority to the new Berlin he planned along with Albert Speer. Classicism had been the default ruling architecture for millennia, but because Adolf Hitler spurned modernism, modernists consider classicism as the default architecture of fascism. (This in spite of the fact that Mies van der Rohe, with help from Goebbels, tried to get Hitler to adopt modernism as the design template for the Third Reich.)

So elegant verandas have become totemic of mankind’s most sinister institution and classical architecture generally has had to carry the baggage of a human ogre, a terrible war and a form of government that stomped upon its citizens, figuratively and literally. Now the Palace of Westminster is taking it on the chin for the of flaws of governing institutions that stretch back to the Magna Carta.

No more sophisticated or accurate response to this can be made other than to declaim that it is really, really, really, really stupid.

Hank Dittmar has written “Don’t Scrap the Palace of Westminster” for Building Design magazine. Formerly associated with Prince Charles and his classical initiatives, Dittmar gets it. And if you look at a few of the comments at the end of his piece you will see that yes, there are people who really think Parliament should be torn down and replaced – possibly far from London – and surely by something ugly, representing the orthodoxy of the architectural establishment, certainly not by anything representing the British public or its inclination for beauty in its public weal.

It’s almost as if these design elites believe that the uglier a building, the more beautiful will be the politicking that goes on inside. Rhode Islanders, with their lovely 1901 State House designed by Charles Follen McKim, know this to be fantasy.

Let’s hope that the British people do not fall for it and rip down their beloved Parliament and replace it with updated versions of, say, the Scottish Parliament, which is modernist and thus, naturally, disliked by most of the Scottish public.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Why not resod the old sod?

  1. hampshirehog says:

    Yes, it’s slightly over egging the pudding to suggest that we want the place demolished. I quite like the Welsh Assembly with it’s large expanses of glass but… that will soon become unfashionable and/or in poor repair and be replaced with something else I suspect…

    Like

  2. kristen says:

    None of the recommendations included tearing down the House of Parliament; they do suggest building a new government seat elsewhere and repurposing (after major restoration) the original — and landmarked — Palace of Westminster.

    Like

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