From Malawi to Montreal, Canada, from cosmic domes to buried light passages, architecture proclaims its name. The woman is not an architect, but she has been doing the same work for 70 years. Overseas Chronicle.
June 2022 will be purple in the UK. The color will spray in the media and in the streets it will be impossible to escape it. Even the Thames will be purple – at least in central London, thanks to the Illuminated River project *. Purple denotes “Platinum Jubilee” for Elizabeth’s coronation.
A state-of-the-art pipeline called the Elizabeth Line will have opened and will appear in … purple on the London Underground map. Elizabethan architecture is an English language practice in the 16th century, while the architecture of Elizabeth II is global and dates back to mid-20th century modernism.
Before we embark on the epic journey of Queen Elizabeth Buildings, let me state that this is not about a psychophantic nationalist argument with a pro-royalist message. Royalty is a system crazy which make nations and peoples hereditary values for a lucky family. Fortunately, this queen is not a despot, but an intelligent and socially conscious woman who has actively played her part in transforming Britain from an exploitative but failing colonial power to a fairly open, liberal and multi-ethnic society.
Politics is rooted in architecture. In fact, the buildings bearing his name, born out of a certain colonial paternalism (or maternalism?), Were instilled with Western post-war optimism that rational design would create a bright future for the people.
Princess Elizabeth was on holiday in Kenya when she heard about her father’s death in 1952. One of the first buildings bearing her name is also in Africa – Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, opened in 1958.
As the straightforward mysic aesthetic took hold of modernist architecture, this building is reminiscent of a large English suburban house from before the war with its sloping roof and large pediment over the entrance. . No one would then have thought of using a linguistic architectural language in this hospital. It was not until the 1990s that Italian eco-architect Fabrizio Carola wanted to use traditional construction techniques and form for a hospital in Mauritania.
Sloping roofs also characterize the Queen Elizabeth Building (1957) in Toronto, a showroom designed by Page and Steel, but they are parallel, like a curved plate, and the ‘look’ is modernist. The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel (1958) in Montreal, designed by Canadian National Railway architects, is American metropolitan modernism. It was here that John Lennon recorded ‘Give Peace A Chance’, live with an audience. That was in 1969. That same year, he returned his ‘MBE’, a royal medal, to the Queen.
Also in Canada, the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium (1960), built in Edmonton (Alberta) by architects Walter Tefler and RF Duke – today carefully restored by David Murray Architects – evokes a flying saucer, an echo of Googie architecture ** inspired by modernism space age in the United States. Meanwhile, the twelve-story plaque at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (1960) in Hong Kong looks like an urban block from Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse.
In Britain, magnificent buildings bearing the Queen’s name had to wait for brutalism. The Architectural Department of the GLC (Greater London Council) adopted it when the South Bank Cultural Center was expanded, and headed by Hubert Bennett, Queen Elizabeth Hall (1967) became their showcase. This is the building where skaters *** have now colonized the lowest level. Despite recent yellow paint on the exterior staircase and the addition of a mismatched Mexican restaurant, the deeply colored concrete remains depressing.
Brutalism is now a fashionable cult fetish in architectural circles, but is largely just grim doom in the eyes of the public. The suspended concrete shafts in the impressive entrance canopy of the Queen Elizabeth II Hall (1977) in Oldham, Lancashire, seem so heavy that you rush inside so that they will not crush you. The Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts in Liverpool (Farmer and Dark, 1984) is a brutalist interpretation of a medieval castle. Exposed concrete is already in retreat, and in Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth Conference Center (1986) designed by Powell and Moya (Powell helped design the Barbican), glass and metal dominate the stacked concrete floors.
The architecture remained silent about the Queen until 2002, when its own base in London, Buckingham Palace, secured an extension to display its art collection, called the Queen’s Gallery. Architect John Simpson’s pedimented entrance manages to be both neoclassical and postmodernist with whimsy.
Another royal anniversary, in 2012, spawned hospitals and sports centers in the UK as well as an extensive courthouse, made of glass blocks and concrete, in Brisbane, Australia. The Spanish architects Luis Vidal also designed the Queen’s Terminal, Heathrow Airport (2014), an airy 220,000 m² mega building under arched roofs. Sustainability was already a design priority, while air travel remains a planet killer.
That brings us back to the Elizabeth Line, which should have opened in 2017 as the largest urban construction in the EU. Since then, the shadow of Brexit has sunk across the UK and the price of the line has risen to £ 18.8bn. (about € 16 million, which is not so bad – only 18% off more than the 2005 budget). The delay made it possible to find a much better name than the original “Crossrail”.
And Elizabeth Line will be magnificent. The 21km of twin tunnels, via seven giant underground stations (all but one opened on 24 May 2022) and an east-west extension of more than 100km will carry trains of 200m. It will increase London’s rail capacity by 10% in one fell swoop . It’s as if London had a Parisian RER line! (Yes, the Grand Express Paris is larger, but there are many lines, and unless you are near the Périphérique around Saint-Ouen, you will wait for years for a train. The Paris extension of line 14 to the northeast is roughly the same scale as the London Underground’s only Battersea Power Station expansion already opening this year).
There is so much amazing new architecture on Elizabeth Line that I will return to it another time. Just as the Canary Wharf station has since 1995 seven levels designed by Foster around a garden lined with cylindrical wooden trellis ready, all stations of different architects have their own characteristics. Here, Grimshaw architects designed a line-wide identity.
In the anthem God save the queen of the Sex Pistols in 1977 Jonny Rotten sang: there is no future in england dream (There is no future in England’s dream) ”. Brilliant poetry … but erroneous!
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* Read the article In London, Illuminated River and light pollution makes the bridge
** Googie architecture is a type of futuristic architecture that is influenced by car culture, jets, space age and atomic age. It originated in Southern California with the Streamline Modern architecture of the 1930s and was popular in the United States from around 1945 to the early 1970s. (Wiki)
*** Read the column Crescent and big sun: a skate park, a structuring element?