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Tony Grist

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Victorian Architecture [Jul. 25th, 2004|11:21 am]
Tony Grist
Drooping eyelids cut short an interesting, wide-ranging conversation with sorenr last night. Now- 12 hours later- I'm taking it up again.

We'd gotten on to Victorian architecture. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, when the critical consensus (only just beginning to break up) was that Victorian architecture was florid and hideous. People like Sir John Betjeman said different, but they were all teddy bear-hugging eccentrics, weren't they?

I've never wholly overcome that early conditioning. I go and stare at Manchester Town Hall and try to love it and never quite succeed. It's grand, but where's the soul? And all that machine-tooled ornament is just too crisp and regular. There was a programme the other day about Tower Bridge. Dan Cruikshank (whom I admire) spent an hour trying to convince me that it's a wonderful building, but, sorry, it still looks kitsch to me.

Now Victorian engineering- that's something else. I worship Brunel. I love the ghost of the Crystal Palace. I marvel over the Forth Bridge. But the Civic and Ecclesiastical architecture of the period just doesn't do it for me. It's not that it's ugly- it isn't- it's just that it's insincere, it's play-acting. It's a chap in mutton-chop whiskers putting on tights and tabard and strutting about.
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Comments:
From: archyena
2004-07-25 04:26 am (UTC)
A disgust with Victorian architecture isn't a bad thing. Generally, I see the Victorian styles as a singular departure from history and good aesthetics generally. But then, I'm prone to unseemly bouts of classicism.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-07-25 06:04 am (UTC)
Victorian architecture looks good on the skyline; close-up you can see it's not the "real thing". I don't come down on either side in the classical v gothic debate.
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From: archyena
2004-07-25 07:12 am (UTC)
I think most of my problem with Victorian architecture is that I find ornamental clutter distasteful. Which is odd, seeing as though I happen to like the aesthetic qualities of crumpled up piles of clothing scattered liberally about my apartement. Call it "college student chic" I guess.
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2004-07-25 05:18 am (UTC)
Oh, this would be a hard one to answer; I might try to put away my classicly modernist views on architecture (this is still what is tought at Scandinavian schools of architecture...) and make a defense for the Victorians. I'm too confused to do it straight away, though, so you'll have to wait a bit, but it'll come...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-07-25 06:06 am (UTC)
How about Victorian domestic architecture- The William Morrisy, Arts and Craftsy end of things? Now some of those buildings I really like. And early Lutyens- o yes!
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2004-07-25 06:13 am (UTC)
Well of course, but it would be more interesting to piece together a coherent defense for the Victorian grandour, as it is with this style that you have a quarrel... The vernacular style is still quite popular, so there seems little reason to defend it. At any rate the two are intertwined, and with a little help from my bookcase I should be able to piece something together; just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait! (Don't really know where that came from, but it was begging to be written, and I am very bad at refusing words...)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-07-25 06:51 am (UTC)
I wait with eager anticipation.

Are you an Audrey Hepburn fan by any chance?
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2004-07-25 07:45 am (UTC)
Well; only moderately, but she has had some great lines that are worthy of quoting; Too early to go to Tiffany's; I suppose a drink will be the next best thing!...
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2004-07-27 07:10 am (UTC)
You CANNOT be defending 60's architecture can you?!?!?!!??

There's Victorian and Victorian. I have always rather liked the earlier stuff and I like the centre of Newcastle with is quite hadsome. But the on-the-verge-of-Edwardian stiff I agree is vile.

I am learning to warm to the Georgean style though I think that lacks soul - like much of the 18th c it was the visible so much and for that reason I have never really warmed to the literature of the time.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-07-27 08:12 am (UTC)
No, I'm not defending the 60s. Far from it.

But I do like the Georgian style. They got the proportions just right I think. Georgian domestic architecture is beautiful.

So is much Victorian domestic architecture. It's the big, showy Victorian buildings- the town halls and the cathedrals, even the museums- that I just can't learn to love.
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