Peter Cook on British architecture at last year’s Venice Biennale reminds me of some reactions (Paula Scher) to the Helvetica typeface (see recent Helvetica posting, 19th January: Can a typeface nag?):
Using Venice as a point of cultural definition also involves the much-maligned ‘national' pavilions and you can never help the instinct to make a beeline for your own mother ship. So Shock! Horror! Despair! Sadness! Distaste! Misery! Misery! Misery! At a level of pretension that leaves one gasping, the British Pavilion takes seriousness to a new dimension of Cromwellian piety. While legitimately criticising the banalities of consumer-commercial British housing of the last twenty years the curator, Ellis Woodman, presents a show of quite deliberate interpretational mannerism [so] as to make his real intention very clear: under the mantle of reasoned thinking this is actually a show of Puritan zeal, where guru Tony Fretton is for once outmanoeuvred by Sergison Bates who ponderouslv come across as even grimmer than their familiar grim.
For those who have a pictorial memory of the architecture of Fascist Italy comes immediately to mind. Indeed, the stripped-down presentation accentuates this impression. Friends from other places kept referring to it as ‘dry’', but had no need to recall a history of tedium and architectural whinge that occurs from time-to-time on the British scene: the deliberately dull accompanied by the pious drone - the architecture of the wagged finger. Thank God that history suggests these periods are usually followed by a moment of Great British Invention and playfulness.
Architectural Review, November 2008, p.28