23 July 2015

Conversations with the structured world

By Poppy Drummond, Account Executive at Farrer Kane

In our modern culture of 24 hour digital communication, we like to think a stroll in the 3D world provides respite from the constant scroll of messages and meaning. To unstick our eyes from the live news feeds and public announcements, the global catastrophes and national triumphs.

Yet to walk through a city, along its streets and avenues, is to walk amongst some of the most powerful messages of our time. For centuries, the built environment has been employed to both influence and entrench public opinion. As empires, economies, and political zeitgeists have risen and fallen, so too have architectural styles and national landmarks.

As our current government struggles with the question of whether to vacate Westminster as essential refurbishment works are carried out, the symbolism of this move should not be underestimated. Will we take as seriously a government removed from the dramatic sincerity of their gothic palace?

Egyptian pyramids still honour the power and god-like status of the ancient race's kings and queens, structures toiled on for a lifetime in order to launch the souls of rulers skyward. In more recent history, the vast stadiums and Roman-like colosseums built by Hitler during his early Nazi rule are now interpreted as foreshadowing his craving for global control long before this aim was put into words - through his appropriation of symbolism from of one of earth's most revered empires.

Looking to our own doorstep, architecture can be seen to take a starring role in expressing the British nation's woes and triumphs. As the traditional seat of power, London in particular communicates a great many silent messages. As Royal dynasties across Europe crumbled in the grasp of revolution, Victorian Britain strove to further elevate the nation's admiration of their Queen. The Mall is a particularly grand example of using architecture and city planning to create a space of exhibition and parade - never better used than when filled with adoring subjects eager to catch a glimpse of the passing Monarch.

The fall of the British Empire is perhaps one of the clearest periods when British architecture was used very consciously to influence public opinion, and to great effect. As the Empire shrunk in the post-war granting of independence to many long-held colonies, the British government looked to building grand and powerful testaments to British strength and power.

Our city's buildings communicate both the messages of empires long gone, as well as the dynasties that live on. We should take the time to appreciate the history invisibly ingrained in bricks and mortar. It tells our nation's story, the struggles, and triumphs that brought us to our present state. These are tales worth an afternoon away from the inbox, and should inspire us to ponder what today's structures may one day say about our age to those who come after.