Pushed Aside

I wrote about how commercial forces drive design in a certain direction and push art aside. In architecture: the beauty and richness that elevates the spirit of those who see it is now lacking – it’s no longer longer cost effective so it’s not needed, nor wanted. This is of course not the rule, and there is some truly great modern architecture today, but it’s the general trend and state of what we see today on the English city street. Here’s a photo of the Elephant Tea Rooms in Sunderland:

The Elephant Tea Rooms building

It’s a Grade II listed building in England, which means the owner can’t modify it or destroy without permission. But still, they did manage to amputate the ground floor – which was built with the same Hindu Gothic style as the rest of the building – leaving in its place a barren brick wall with a glass window through which passers by can be greeted with ads trying to get them to part with their money.

It’s really quite shocking how the old style is simply pushed aside to make room for the commercial needs of the bank that now owns the building: cheap construction and sales focused design. The old design had higher aspirations, and the building stood tall and proud on the street, distinguished by its lavish ornaments and style. The butchered ground floor has no dignity, it’s only aim is to house and sell.

Don’t take this as a message against commerce – it’s not. What we see here rather is blindness. Destroying art that enriches our lives is blind, for all the commerce that we do is not our purpose, but rather a means to build better lives, and great architecture is one of the ways to do this. Pushing art aside like this is backward: we must build wealth so that we can make art, not destroy art so that we can make more money.

February 2012