Tuesday, 5 April 2011


^Peckham, South London (photo by author)

Thankfully, most of our lives are played out through a chain of objectively unimportant, low level events that are on the whole unremarkable in the grand scheme of things, quotidian. In the same way, we tend to grow up, live, work, fall in love, have families, and fade away in entirely ordinary, run-of-the-mill architecture, built stuff that gets the job done, that holds in the heat and humidity in the local pool, and manages to pass planning because it has a gable roof and red brick fa├žade, stuff that answers similar questions in similar ways in a million different variations from Perth to Plymouth.

If you took a picture of any of this low level architecture that fills Britain, the image would present a depressingly mute mediocrity, nothing but the complete factual averageness of the building or space which, if of recent vintage would no doubt end up, to howls of anguish, on Bad British Architecture. But Architectural photography severs the container from what it contains, it shows the aesthetic failure, but not how that failure is really a triumph.

It is precisely these places’ anonymity, their almost total lack of outstanding independent qualities, that ramps up the value of any uniqueness that does exist to such a degree, meaning that we become like archaeologists digging for clues, constructing local significance from minute fragments of singularity that are gathered slowly, over time. It takes longer to become attached to places so messy and banal, their qualities are not handed to you on a Haussmannian plate, one must work for it. And everyone does, instinctively, attaching their memories cumulatively to slight peculiarities, like the unusually large traffic island where the ice cream van sits vampiricaly, opposite the school, or the incredibly narrow gap between two wings of the sports centre, that is just the right size for kids to squeeze between to sneak a smoke, or a snog. Memories which gradually fill the most mediocre of piles with magic, memories which we all tot-up, and that cling to apparently inhospitable places and thrive there, generating an ambient, splendidly subjective beauty, a beauty which only stands out in its greatest relief when the objects of architecture sink, or rather rise, into glorious mediocrity.

NB, this post was initially published in The BiBlog

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