If you went to the National Gallery and tore up a Titian, you’d be arrested. But what about blowing up a historic building which has defined a place and its people; a building in which sweet nothings have been uttered and lives altered? Go for it! It’s strange how our attitudes to destroying art and destroying architecture are so different.
“I don’t make didactic films, but if there’s one implicit lesson [in my new one], it’s that one should hang around before one destroys stuff,” reckoned Jonathan Meades, when I spoke to him recently about his new documentary celebrating the “concrete poetry” of mid-20th century Brutalism, which is on BBC4 next month. “People are beginning to see the merits of Brutalism – even as it’s being destroyed,” he lamented.
Meades is right – and I’m not just thinking about the recent architectural hara-kiri we’ve committed on our best 1960s buildings, such as Portsmouth’s Tricorn shopping centre. In the 1960s it was neo-Gothic that was thought “ugly” and Leeds, Chester, Glasgow and the others replaced whole swathes of Victoriana with huge new roads. Ugliness is not a fixed notion – it’s a faddish one.