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Respect in Architecture

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

In all aspects of design, creativity and art, there will always be varying opinions on what is perceived as good and ugly design. The same goes for architecture, what is an "ugly" building? and why do certain groups of people perceive them as such?

There are a number of factors that give a new building the reputation of bad design, they may be bold or against the current trend in architecture at the time, making them social outcasts.

Other reasons centre on the public's memory and experience. An unassuming building that may have stood in a neighborhood for many years will hold memories for the local community, a connection to its bricks and mortar that a new facade will lack and will add to a new buildings negative reception if other design features are lacking.

St Pauls Cathedral, Dome
St Paul's with its controversial italianesque dome

Sir Christoper Wren suffered this concern for the design of the new St Paul's to replace the older Gothic style building that had stood on the site since 1240. His design for an Italian style dome to replace the existing spire was against current architectural trends at the time and he knew his design would attract criticism. So he planned to build the new dome around the existing Gothic spire and when the dome was complete, to demolish the old spire. The great fire of London in 1666 solved his problem by the need to demolish the entire building as it was structurally unsound, and start afresh.

Is bad architecture bad for your health?

There is a strong argument for this, and many journals, websites, books and academic philosophers have debated this together with the architectural community.

On a basic level, a building that doesn't provide the most basic human needs will inevitably cause bad health, overcrowding in the most modern city conurbations today will cause physical and mental stress. The easiest example to use for this are the failed housing estates built in the 1950's.


Pruitt-Igoe Housing Estate in St Luis, USA was a housing complex consisting of 33 buildings all with 11 stories, housing some of the poorest members of the community that had originally lived in buildings dating back to the 19th century.

Government budget restraints and cutbacks limiting the height of the buildings and forcing identical building construction, created a design that was on trend for the architectural community at the time in the 1950's mimicking Le Corbusier's unrealized Ville Radieuse.

Its original blueprint was to have had USA style segregation for lower middle classed white and black inhabitants on separate building sites, but with the end of black segregation this never materialized, and with most white inhabitants not wishing to live in a black community, 98% of the inhabitants became black.

Pruitt-Igoe in St Lewis

Occupancy of units were at its highest in 1957 with 91% tenanted lots, but in the space of 8 years this percentage occupancy had dropped to a third, a dramatic decline. Lack of maintenance appears to be the main cause of a drop in occupancy, with frequent lift breakdowns, poor ventilation and quality of fixture and fittings. Muggings and gang violence were frequent.

Pruitt-Igoe was finally demolished in April 1973 and has since had the unenviable honour of being used as an example of how not to build social housing for the mass population . It was one of the first demolitions of modern architecture and architectural historian Charles Jencks called its destruction "the day modern architecture died".

Public Acceptance

One way that the public shows its affection and acceptance of a person or a new building is by giving it a nickname, London appears to be a City that holds the most for newly constructed buildings.

Reasons for this could be how the public interacts with the new structure with its form and shape being at the top of the list, It can help to allow the building become internationally recognized and makes it familiar to the City that it originates in

skygarden looking down at an angle
Skygarden, part of 20 Fenchurch Street, otherwise know as the "Walkie-Talkie"
122 Leadenhall St - The "Cheesegrater" under construction

20 Fenchurch Street - Walkie-Talkie

122 Leadenhall Street - The Cheesegrater

30 St Mary Axe - The Gherkin

These are a few of the buildings in London that the public and the media has given a nickname to.

Respect gained can easily be lost, especially when taxpayers money is involved. The case of the Millennium dome is a case in point, a project conceived in 1999 by Richard Rogers to celebrate the dawn of the new millennium. It was labeled in the press as a "shabby tent", "The Black hole of Stratford East" amongst other headlines. Its failure can be due to financial mismanagement, a lack of a clear purpose for the building itself and the misconception by the public that the building was constructed at the taxpayers expense, something that was untrue as the majority of funding came from the National Lottery and private funding.

millennium dome
The Millennium Dome - at the time a controversial building

Over time, all buildings achieve a degree of respectability if they last long enough and some end up revered and studied for their uniqueness.

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