Athena

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

‘There will al­ways be a need for look­ing at books in a quiet and civilised place

AF­TER the dev­as­ta­tion of Sec­ond World War bomb­ing, when so­ci­ety was clam­our­ing for re­con­struc­tion in the ‘lat­est mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural styles’, the care­ful Benchers of the Inns of Court re­built their small quar­ter of Lon­don with po­lite brick-and-stone build­ings that faith­fully recre­ated the grain and at­mos­phere of the pre­war Tem­ple, com­plete with gas lamps and paved with York stone.

While the once fash­ion­able post­war of­fice blocks in the rest of Lon­don quickly be­came re­dun­dant and, in many cases, have now been de­mol­ished, the Tem­ple now stands as a co­her­ent bas­tion of last­ing ar­chi­tec­tural val­ues that have stood the test of time.

As part of the re­con­struc­tion de­signed by T. W. Sut­cliffe, a new neo-clas­si­cal li­brary was cre­ated and fin­ished in­ter­nally to the high­est stan­dards. It opened in 1958 and is still much loved by those who use it. For its qual­ity and in­ter­est, the li­brary ought to have be­come a listed build­ing by now, but English Her­itage (now His­toric Eng­land) has in­stead con­cen­trated its ef­forts on list­ing the more stri­dent ar­chi­tec­ture of the 1960s, pre­sum­ably be­fore re­dun­dancy, in­adapt­abilty or poor con­struc­tion push them into com­plete ex­tinc­tion.

In the name of new work­ing prac­tices, there are plans to dev­as­tate the li­brary: its in­te­rior is to be cut in half so that new meet­ing rooms and ‘break-out’ spa­ces can be cre­ated above it. These will be set un­der a cen­tral glass atrium. In or­der to progress through plan­ning, a sham sec­tion of tiled mansard roof screen pays lip ser­vice to the old Tem­ple roof­s­cape, while also con­ceal­ing the air con­di­tion­ing ducts that will be nec­es­sary to keep this over-scaled, glazed space cool. In what is left of the old li­brary, the hand­some ped­i­ments of the door cases will be trun­cated and the el­e­gant tim­ber gal­leries de­stroyed.

In June, the present and past ar­chi­tec­tural ed­i­tors of COUN­TRY LIFE wrote col­lec­tively to The Times to voice their op­po­si­tion to these changes. Athena strongly agrees with them. The plan­ning com­mit­tee’s sub­se­quent vote to ap­prove the work was only 14 to 12, hardly a con­vinc­ing en­dorse­ment of such dam­ag­ing pro­pos­als. How­ever, there is al­ways time to think again.

Ar­chi­tec­tural and work­ing fashions come and go, but, up to now, the Benchers have taken a longer view. Work­ing prac­tices are sub­ject to change all the time, but there will al­ways be a need for look­ing at books and work­ing in a quiet and civilised place. Once de­stroyed, how­ever, the In­ner Tem­ple li­brary will be ir­re­place­able; lost in this case—it seems —from a de­sire to be ‘mod­ern’. How sad that the Benchers, hav­ing held out for com­mon sense for so long, should now fall prey to this short-sighted view of its fu­ture.

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