I spend one of the last afternoons of genuine warmth inside 6 Burlington Gardens with my friend Theo, an architecture student who has decided to introduce me to the world of Richard Rogers. I pass this building a few times a week, and I find it beautiful. Built in the Italianite style is what Wikipedia tells me, but the theory is not important to me. I like the clock tower, the detail, the way it sits pleasantly on a street lined with buildings like only London offers. You can feel the sweep of history pull at your ankles as you walk forward into the future. This is not a city that lets go, and it is richer for it.
I know nothing much about architecture, in this regard, as with many others in life, I simply like what I like. If it pleases my eye, it provides me with a certain degree of happiness and inspiration. I might research a little deeper if I am genuinely intrigued, but for the most part I am content to enjoy it at face value. I am sure Theo must be horrified.
The building is not designed by Rogers. I later learn he is responsible for buildings such as the London 02 arena, the Senedd in Cardiff and the Lloyds building. I find his life interesting, his thought process fascinating as all creatives tend to be. When it comes to this, I find art is art, whether sketched on a page or towering concrete and steel over buildings. Grace Coddington doesn’t believe fashion to be art and who am I to argue with the creative director of Vogue, but I do disagree. If you create, if it provokes a reaction in someone, it is art to me.
So this artist architect with his thoughts interests me. His ideas on cities, on London, on creation and preservation. I am sad to say what I find so inherently offputting are his buildings. Putting function over form, Rogers prefers to keep all the pipes outside a building. Granted, for a very good reason. The more is outside, the greater the space inside. Rogers famously had a spat with Prince Charles over the way buildings should look. Prince Charles believed function wasn’t exactly everything, and buildings should still be beautiful. Rogers was quick to strike down this idea as being somehow whimsical and out of touch with reality. Rogers lost me.
When I hear people talk about fashion, unless the person is deeply into fashion themselves, there always seems to be a smugness around their presentation. It is deemed superficial, overpriced, excessive, and fleeting. People think somehow fashion doesn’t in any way affect them, but every day they get up and wear clothes that tell the world who they are and why exactly they don’t care.
The argument for fashion is a longer one than this space presents, because what this is about is beauty. Beauty. Beauty. Beauty.
Beauty is sneered at like fashion. Superficial, hyped, unnecessary for a deep and meaningful life of intellectual pursuit and well-roundedness. It if fed to the wolves of vanity and self-absorption. This is a strained and narrow version of beauty. I am not talking about a homogenised Hollister view of the way the world looks, as much to blame as the very thing it criticises. Beauty can be subjective, fluid, and above all completely yours.
It’s the day you wake up and pick up your best shoes, out into the world to do your battle with the city. It’s the head that turns to smile at you, the striking building in front of you, the pattern on the skirt of the girl on the train, the dog that offers his head for a lazy scratch.
I pick up my boyfriend from St. Pancras station and find myself amused by a piano that has been left there, purely for the enjoyment of anyone who wishes to play it. In a world that charges you £10 for a seat on a plane you have already paid a ticket for, that makes you fill out endless forms just to get internet access, there is something beautiful about the simplicity of just putting a piano in a train station and making the everyday just a little more special.
A few days later we are sitting in a cafe in a little town, a weekend away from the city surrounded by rolling hills and pale blue skies. The last weekend of proper summer weather, we can feel winter turning the handle to take over Britain again.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that piano, about the smallest detail to make the world open up to wonder. John smiles and mentions a similar project in New York, where a charity refurbishes pianos, paints them in bright colours and leaves them around the city for people to enjoy. Cutting through the concrete, the glass and steel and function of a city’s arteries, there is a place for beauty, for beauty’s sake.
I find it ironic that the Rogers exhibition introduces me to an oath sworn by ancient Athenians. I feel like if I ever had a motto and aspiration for life, I think this might be the one.
To paraphrase, I shall leave this world not less but more beautiful than I found it.