Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Modern World

I saw a thing about Sir Norman Foster on breakfast news this morning. If you don't know he's the architect of such things as The Gherkin in London and the renovated Reichstag in Berlin. Of no consequence whatsoever but he was born around the corner from where I was born, but about 25 years before me. He was born in Reddish, Stockport, I was born in Gorton, Manchester. There any similartities end.

What I find depressing when I hear Norman Foster interviewed, and looking at his website, is how he rattles on about how the built environment adds to our quality of life, then builds with totally cold, characterless and aesthetically unpleasing glass and steel. His interiors all look like huge shopping malls, fine for shopping malls but impersonal and lacking any warmth for offices and public buildings.

Architects like Foster are turning the world into a bland, characterless glass and steel theme park where you don't know which city in which continent you are in. Do you know whare the building above is? Do you know what continent it's in even? Is it a public car park? Is it a shopping mall? Is it an office block?

Driving across Europe today you ee the same huge retail parks and business parks whether in Prague, Manchester or anywhere else. The detested yellow and blue monstrosities that are Ikea buildings always get my blood boiling. At least the Poles, the Belgians and others faithfully rebult their old towns after being destroyed in wars. In England we waited until after the wars to destroy what the Germans hadn't. That destruction, like some kind of cultural cleansing, continues today in cities like Liverpool and Manchester where swathes of traditional brick built terraced houses are being bulldozed to be replaced by characterless hutches.

I've rambled on before about the death of the traditional pub. Now our traditional markets are dying. All over the North of England market stalls lie empty. A vicious circle, people don't use the markets so traders give up. A half empty market stops people visiting the market and so on and so on. If people don't want markets any more fine, but what has happened to kill all but the biggest and most attractive markets such as Bury market? The answer is the supermakets and shopping malls.

Manchester City Council proved their stupidity by giving Tesco planning permission for a huge hypermarket in Gorton, on condition that a market is built. So you have Tesco, selling everyting from fruit and veg to DVDs, computers and clothes, and right next door a market with sky high rents, and empty stalls.

Bury market is superbly marketted as a regional market, virtually a tourist attraction and, as the home of black pudding, sells the best black pudding in the country. This has cushioned it from the threat of the supermarkets and shopping malls. When I walk from Bury market to Gigg Lane for the football I pass as many as 20 coaches from all over the north who have brought hundreds of customers to the market. For once a local council dseres praise.

Elsewhere there are markets such as Clitheroe, with empty stalls and plummeting trade. It's sad but within five minutes walk of the market there is a Sainsbury's supermarket, a Booth's and a Tesco. Not only are the markets being killed by the supermarkets, so are the high streets of England. My local shopping street now has little more than estate agents, takeaways and charity shops, and the supermarkets are selling Chinese, Indian and pizza takeaways so soon even takeaways may disappear. Carnforth market is largely a key cutting van with an occasional fruit and veg stall turning up.

We are all guilty, if guilt is the right word. We've all found the ease of the supemarket appealing to the detriment of the local greengrocer, butcher and baker. But it is sad that the local shops, another aspect of community, have virtually disappeared under the corporate jackboot of big business.

This is the modern world!

PS It's an office block in ye olde market town of Ipswich, Suffolk.

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