The Old Lady and her lead­ing men

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Books -

From em­bez­zlers to bail-outs, the che­quered his­tory of the Bank of Eng­land makes a rip-roar­ing tale. By Si­mon Hef­fer

APlace for All Peo­ple takes its ti­tle from a com­pe­ti­tion pitch de­vised by a young Bri­tish ar­chi­tec­tural team in 1971 for a new cul­tural cen­tre in Paris. It was a long shot, which very nearly misfired. Sub­mit­ted late, after the draw­ings had to be hastily cut to size on a filthy post-of­fice floor with blunt scis­sors and the date stamp forged by hand, their en­try got lost in the post. After turn­ing up be­hind a door in the Bri­tish Em­bassy, it faced a for­mi­da­ble field of 680 in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors. Even the as­ton­ish­ing news that they had won was tem­pered for Richard Rogers and Renzo Pi­ano by the re­al­i­sa­tion that “we had no idea what we were tak­ing on”.

Con­tro­ver­sial from the out­set, Rogers and Pi­ano’s Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre be­came a bruis­ing test of cre­ative nerve. Dur­ing the six years be­tween com­pe­ti­tion and com­ple­tion, the ar­chi­tects were booed at pub­lic meetings and al­most uni­ver­sally vil­i­fied by the press for “des­e­crat­ing” Paris with a build­ing that, to many peo­ple,

re­sem­bled an oil re­fin­ery more than a mu­seum. Like it or loathe it, how­ever, you have to ad­mit that few mod­ern build­ings com­pare to the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre for sheer bold­ness of con­cep­tion. Forty years after it opened, as you ap­proach its multi-coloured, pipe-clad flank through the stuc­coed streets of old Paris, it still feels as if it were dreamt up yes­ter­day.

Whether you per­son­ally find this an ex­cit­ing, ide­al­is­tic dream or a dystopian night­mare will de­ter­mine your feel­ings about Rogers’s achieve­ments, both as ar­chi­tect and as thinker about the mod­ern city, which are suc­cinctly doc­u­mented and beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated in A Place for All Peo­ple. Any­one who vis­ited In­side Out, his ca­reer-sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion at the Royal Academy in 2013, will find much the same ground cov­ered here. If, how­ever, you’re more fa­mil­iar with Rogers’s build­ings than with the ra­tio­nale be­hind them, it will add depth to the ur­ban land­scapes on which he has made his mark over the past half-cen­tury.

The Mil­len­nium Dome, Lloyd’s Build­ing and Heathrow Ter­mi­nal 5 in Lon­don, the Bordeaux Law

Courts and Madrid-Bara­jas Air­port – there’s a good chance that build­ings that started life in Rogers’s head have fea­tured in your daily sky­line or hol­i­day snaps. On a more in­ti­mate scale, projects such as the River Café (run by his sec­ond wife, Ruth) and Mag­gie’s Cen­tre for can­cer care bear out his con­vic­tion that “good ar­chi­tec­ture civilises and

hu­man­ises”, Even the staunch­est tra­di­tion­al­ist should find that the eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples un­der­pin­ning Rogers’s vi­sion of “compact sus­tain­able cities” (sub­ject of his 1995 Reith Lec­tures) strike a sym­pa­thetic chord.

Th­ese prin­ci­ples are rooted in the “pro­gres­sive post­war con­sen­sus” of Rogers’s youth, when At­tlee’s Labour gov­ern­ment

Richard Rogers, right, with Renzo Pi­ano, cen­tre, at the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre, 1974

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