Monstrosity used to be prefaced by "Victorian": the routine adjective, which signified lazy, unseeing prejudice. Little has changed save the adjective. It is "modern" and "concrete" which today signify that the speaker or writer is lazy, unseeing, prejudiced. Victorian architecture seldom requires protection. Nor does the jazzy quasi-modern of the interwar years. That anyone would seek to destroy Owen Williams's exercises in black vitriolite (the Mancunian Foster's earliest inspiration) is unthinkable. But there exists in what we must call the built environment a hierarchy of political usefulness. Were a road builder or a supermarket chain to seek the obliteration of a Georgian terrace - a very ordinary, jerrybuilt, Georgian terrace - he would be calumnised. Were that same party to seek the obliteration of a gigantic soaring work of sculptural plasticity in concrete he would win the gratitude of "the community" and the heartfelt congratulations of Sir Simon Jenkins.
Where does the loathing of brutalism come from? The name? A lack of visual education on the part of the public and those who should know better? The crippling British confusion of prettiness with beauty? There is a rarely recurrent architectural strain that emerges only once a century. Vanbrugh called it a "masculine show". The laudanum-dosed wild men of the 1860s called it "modern gothic". It's a matter of mood, of aggression, of saying - in Owen Luder's immortal phrase - "sod you". After each bout of farouche energy British architecture lapses back into cautious insipidity as though causing offence were the most hateful of crimes. A magazine devoted to the furtherance of modernism ought not to defend, say, Preston Bus Station which requires no defence. Rather it should ridicule the aesthetic feebleness of its opponents. It should mock their timidity, put the boot in with disdain.
© Jonathan Meades
This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'