Thursday, 27 August 2015


A building of the media, for the media, heralding the beginnings of our saturated age with its palatially cheap-and-cheerful exuberance, TVAM (by Sir Terry Farrell) was a complex, clever, and delightfully giddy stage-set, back-drop, and active instigator in the nation’s newfound –commercialised- breakfast pleasures. Mad Lizzie and her team did aerobics under the neon keystones of the its retro-futuristic-classical-pop entrance arch, while its oh-so-eloquent plastic eggcup finials were beamed straight into our living rooms as the utterly endearing markers of the end of each morning’s entertainment, and the beginning of the working day (no doubt while some of us were eating similar boiled eggs from very similar eggcups). Its interior was like the very coolest American industrial design and Italian fashion had exploded on impact with the dour British working environment, performing with perfect ease as the backdrop for impromptu broadcasts, being far more interesting than the majority of the actual TV-show sets themselves.

Buildings, spaces, tools and machines of high-tech media content, whether it be smartphones or studio buildings, are today mostly the very inverse of that which they contain and produce –they are all too often black boxes, slick tablets and neutral sheds. TVAM was something it would be wonderful to see more of: a rapturous celebration of its contents, a building that functioned perfectly as a studio, but which also performed brilliantly as an architectural embodiment of, and story about the new world we were entering, in which old categories were dissolving and hierarchies collapsing, in which cleverness could be a joy, old could be new, pop could be culture, and architecture could be free to be sophisticated, fun, fashionable and communicative. It was a stylistic explosion of pent-up tectonic energies that formed itself around the volatile excitement of a new media age, and in the process became entrenched in our national consciousness.
As Paul Greenhalgh said, postmodernism stands in relation to our own moment as the Steam Age did to its own oil-powered future; the mediated nature of our economy and lifestyle that was only beginning with TVAM has now effloresced into a saturated environment unimaginable at that time. TVAM encapsulated the complexities of its time -good and ill, beautiful and ugly- with stylistic bravado and architectural panache. It would be very good indeed to see young architects picking up the baton, and throwing themselves headlong into the maelstrom of contemporary culture, bringing some of its raw brilliance back into the built environment. In its spirit, it is a model to be revaluated, revisited and taken-up once again.
What would a TVAM of 2016 look like?

1 comment:

Rich T said...

Good defense of a great piece of architecture of its time (although without a credit for the architects Terry Farrell); particularly great to see those photos of the interiors in all their exuberance; an aspect of the architecture I imagine is now vanished utterly, rather than just diminished as the exterior is now.
The real problem with TV-AM is I suspect it was hoist by its own petard; it celebrated the ephemeral, particularly obvious corporate ID of its occupier who were from an industry (TV) of ephemeral corporate identities (although to be fair that was only just emerging as a phenomena at that time). TV studios today are black boxes containing easily changable sets because the identities, images & relevant architectural symbols of TV change too rapidly for architecture.
The best way to express architecturally the use & identity of such a building would be to somehow find a way for ephemeral temporary set designs to be somehow visible on the outside, to make that the architecture.
But I guess that would crash into another truism of the TV business / art, also awkward for the more long termist vaues of architecture; the need for confidentiality, or privacy at the very least, to allow set design to be an experiment only revealed at the intended time. Black boxes with everything interesting hidden inside allow that.
TV-AM presaged its opening day in its emerging building, as part of a marketing campaign as well as providing a building that reminded its employers of what they were doing. The BBC were able to pre-empt TV-AMs launch without having a building that screamed "breakfast"& defeat their initial lineup & style