John Hayes is wrong about Brutalism – architecture doesn’t have to be pretty

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John Hayes is wrong about Brutalism – architecture doesn't have to be pretty
The Euston Arch

John Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Transport, wishes to rebuild the “Euston Arch”, something more to his taste. Let him do so. It could have taught most of the Brutalists something about toughness and bloody-mindedness: black with dirt, its columns as heavy and bullying as any in classical architecture

John Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Transport, has launched a “bloody battle” against a “cult of ugliness” in architecture: “the overwhelming majority of public architecture built during my lifetime is aesthetically worthless, simply because it is ugly.”

Hayes was born in 1958. He likes Victorian architecture and hates Modernism, and especially Brutalism. That’s fine – he has every right to his tastes. His error is to use those tastes as the basis for a statement threatening to “make aesthetics a matter of public policy”, and to impose a “new orthodoxy”. Leaving aside whether this is a role for government, his arguments themselves are confused.

Hayes says he likes “older buildings, shaped by vernacular style, where architects and craftsmen have taken care that what they imagined and constructed fitted what was there before.” Yet he then praises St Pancras Station, whose qualities are exactly opposite to these: its bright red Midland brick – clashing with London’s browny-yellow brick – was aggressively anti-vernacular; it made daring use of new technologies for a soaring train shed proudly unlike anything London had seen before; it gleefully dwarfed and humbled its neighbour and rival, King’s Cross. I share Hayes’s admiration for St Pancras, but it was intentionally as brutal an intrusion on London as anything the 1960s were to offer. […]