A. W. N. Pugin's highly influential Contrasts, published at the tail end of the Georgian era in 1836, uses paired illustrations to demonstrate what he saw as a descent into degenerate design. It was also a manifesto for a return to proper, honest design, rooted in moral principles. In the run-up to the General Election on 6 May, we offer our own series of paired illustrations to show how design quality in the public realm has fallen off alarmingly; it is an indictment of recent practice, but also shows the huge opportunities for improvement. Civic space has been badly degraded, with a whole range of negative consequences that go far beyond aesthetics. The second decade of the twenty-first century should be a time when, individually and collectively, we get a grip on the design, management and maintenance of shared urban space.
Click on the images for bigger versions.
Top pair: the great Arch at Euston Station in London, designed by Philip Hardwick in 1838 and an inspiring monument to the railway age. If, as seems possible, we are now entering a second railway age, there would be few better ways of announcing it than by rebuilding the arch. This now seems a realistic prospect as part of the planned redevelopment of the Euston Station forecourt (right), which is now cluttered with outlets selling fast food (ie food that induces a desire to fast). The Arch was, and could be again, uplifting; literally it raised the sights. The current experience is mean, pinched, oppressive and lowering.
Bottom pair: Welcome to Waterloo? That is hardly the message given by this bewildering assemblage of no entry signs, which along with barriers and underpasses contribute to a sense of complete disorientation as the pedestrian approaches the main entrance of Waterloo. The chaos outside seems to foreshadow chaos within - not a good first impression for a major railway station. Originally this was 'a great home railway terminus', as the right hand picture proudly says, but what seems terminal now is the decline. Inside, the former Eurostar terminal lies empty and the carefully-sited statue of Sir Terence Cuneo is cheapened by the jostling food outlets that now hem it in. As with Euston, the potential for improvement is huge.