The Twentieth Century Society was shocked to read that George Ferguson would like to see developers encouraged to demolish buildings via an X-list. The BBC website, where the public was asked to name ‘eyesores’ (X-list plan for ‘vile’ buildings) features many post-war structures. Some of these are easy for the public to dislike on a purely instinctive basis. But it would be dangerously short sighted to follow current tastes with regard to what should and should not be preserved.
It was not long ago that huge swathes of unfashionable Victorian cities were being torn down to make way for the sort of buildings which in turn became unfashionable. But fashion is constantly changing. Buildings such as the Trellick Tower and the Barbican Estate in London are good examples of that change in perception. They are now very popular with many and are seen as desirable places to live in and visit. Both are listed buildings.
The public has started to appreciate the special design qualities of the best post-war architecture. Examples such as the Royal Festival Hall (soon to have it’s fine auditorium butchered in response to changing fashion) are well loved, iconic, define a specific period in time and are an important part of London. Earmarking such buildings for demolition would mean denying the tremendous importance they have as groundbreaking designs of the past century and part of British cultural life.
An X-list is not going to solve issues of poor town planning or maintenance, but many of the suggestions on BBC’s web site point at a very real problem: post-war buildings are often not well maintained, even if they are of great quality, and this affects public perception. Something can be done about this; buildings can be cleaned and cared for and, yes, they can be altered or updated whilst keeping their valuable characteristics.
There are, of course, examples of poorly considered buildings of many periods where demolition may be the best option. But the qualities which make a building special need to be properly understood before this decision is taken. We are disappointed that George Ferguson prefers to fuel a populist campaign against architecture, rather than contribute to an informed debate. Instead of asking to demolish buildings, one should think about how to reuse and maintain the best of them – this would be a historically sensitive and truly sustainable strategy.
For more information please contact Cordula Zeidler, Caseworker, The Twentieth Century Society, Tel 0207 250 3857, or Cordula.Zeidler(at)c20society.org.uk