October 16th 2013
I’ve just got back from an extraordinarily stimulating – and free – Gresham lecture at the Museum of London. It was by the Gresham Professor of the Built Environment – and Chief Executive of English Heritage – Simon Thurley, and on the subject of “The Building of England” (which is also the subject of his forthcoming book of the same name, due out next month).
Thurley argued, provocatively but persuasively, that much of what has been written of the architecture of England has focussed narrowly on details of individual style, architects or buildings, and in so doing has lost sight of the bigger picture, of the wider world, and of why rather than how people build.
In his holistic interpretation, architectural innovation has always been associated with centres of financial wealth, the geographic locations of which have tended to move over the course of history as the nature of the economy has evolved from agricultural – pastoral, then arable – to industrial (and ultimately technological or service-based).
Uniquely, London has always been a centre of financial wealth and of architectural innovation. And not the least so in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666, which provided planners with the opportunity to create the world’s first stone-built, coal-burning, essentially modern city.