Category Archives: Speer, Albert

Birmingham’s giant pissoir

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The much-loved Free Public Library (left): rebuilt superbly in 1882 after a fire, demolished in 1974

Dalrymple confesses that he finds it difficult to write temperately on the subject of the mass desecration of Britain’s architectural heritage, which often, he says, leaves him

trembling with rage. My wife tells me to calm down; as she rightly notes, I can do nothing about this disaster now.

No town or city in Britain, he writes,

has inherited so little in the way of beauty that officials did not think it worth destroying.

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Birmingham Central Library: opened 1974, demolished 2015, replaced with something just as bad if not worse

It was the hope, for instance, of Sir Herbert Manzoni, an energetic city engineer and surveyor of Birmingham with modish proclivities,

to pull down every non-modernist building in Birmingham’s city centre.

Fortunately Sir Herbert dropped dead before achieving his ambition,

but he got quite far, and his spirit sputtered on after him.

The magnificent Victorian library

was pulled down and replaced with an inverted concrete ziggurat of such ugliness and, before long, dilapidation, that it defied description, at least by me.

Paris 1865

Ordinary, human-sized pissoir. Paris, 1865

Rapists’ haven

The environs of the library served as

a giant pissoir and, at night, as a haven for drunks and rapists.

In this way

the Albert Speers of Britain converted the Victorian dream of municipal munificence into the nightmare of administered anomie.

Manzoni and Speer

Manzoni and Speer

Postcards from Brussels

A bourgeois city gone to seed

A Sint-Jans-Molenbeek street, Brussels:

The Sint-Jans-Molenbeek district: Brussels, the ‘sepulchral city’, as Conrad called it in Heart of Darkness, is, says Dalrymple, ‘dirty and unswept’; the houses, once all ‘bourgeois pride and prosperity’, are neglected

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The degeneration Brussels: 'Despite the fact that the public sector accounts for 50 per cent of GDP, it remains dirty and uncared for, and is architecturally ever more a hideous mish-mash. Many of the buildings were defaced by graffiti, the architectural equivalent of tattoos and just as idiotically egotistic'

Degeneration: ‘despite the fact that the public sector accounts for 50% of GDP, Brussels remains dirty and uncared for’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cretinism: 'Many of the buildings were defaced by graffiti, the architectural equivalent of tattoos and just as idiotically egotistic'

Cretinism: ‘many of the buildings were defaced by graffiti, the architectural equivalent of tattoos and as idiotically egotistic’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An architectural 'mishmash', says Dalrymple, but he would surely acknowledge that this is part of the city's charm

An architectural ‘mishmash’, says Dalrymple, but he would surely acknowledge that this is part of the charm of Brussels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palais des Beaux-Arts (Paleis voor Schone Kunsten), Victor Horta, 1928: the ugliest of all the major art galleries of the world, a building in the fascist style but without the courage of its megalomania, designed as if by a pocket Albert Speer

Palais des Beaux-Arts (Paleis voor Schone Kunsten), Victor Horta, 1928: ‘the ugliest of all the world’s major art galleries, a building in the fascist style but without the courage of its megalomania, designed as if by a pocket Albert Speer’