Sunday, 17 January 2010

Momentum grows to rebuild Euston Arch

For the first time in half a century there's a realistic prospect of recovering one of the great lost masterpieces of the early railway age, Philip Hardwick's Euston Arch, which stood sentinel at Euston Station in London until demolished in the early 1960s despite a last-ditch personal appeal to the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, by John Betjeman and other conservation luminaries.

This opportunity to correct one the great pieces of twentieth century architectural vandalism arises because of a projected redevelopment of the Euston Station forecourt (it adds insult to injury that the buildings that replace masterpieces are often so flawed that they themselves need replacing after a relatively short time) and also because stones from the Euston Arch have just been salvaged from the bed of the River Lea in East London as part of a pre-Olympics clean-up. The stones were dumped there unceremoniously after the Arch was demolished. Those that have been recovered, under the supervision of Dan Cruickshank and with help from British Waterways, are now in the safekeeping of the Euston Arch Trust, whose rebuilding campaign is gathering pace.

The recent faithful rebuilding of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, shows that the loss of great buildings needn't be terminal. Particularly where (as with the Euston Arch) a good deal of original fabric survives, there is eternal hope of resurrection. What could be more uplifting? And if we seek a monument for the Olympics, what could be better, or appeal more to a classically-educated Mayor, than the erection of a Doric propylaeum inspired by the architecture of Rome?

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