Visiting my first architecture exhibition was like watching a porn film…tall erect structures. This was the closest thing I got to sexual arousal in this period, as there was no internet or anything close to the real thing given my lack of confidence in this area. My only social life was heated discussions around family meal times – parental intervention was as exciting as things got.
Anyway, enough of the saucy stuff, as this is a family blog to discuss the main subject at hand, my introduction to Sir Norman Foster and his ‘Hong Kong Shanghai Bank’ building. I have always had a passion for architecture and three dimensional structures in general. I loved drawing and building crazy structures from a young boy. I was into recycling long before it became popular, using anything I could find to build these structures. Looking back, I think this activity provided some kind of solace from the mad obsessive thoughts going through my head. Certainly from the time of choosing my options, if not before, I had my heart set on becoming an architect, although my careers ‘advisor’ had other ideas. He suggested that I might like to consider something less ‘challenging’, like shelf-stacking, given I had Cerebral Palsy. Red rag to a bull, I had to prove him wrong if nothing else!
Apart from the main A’ Level subjects, there were other non-curriculum options available for us to undertake in ‘free’ periods. One of these was a weekly architectural session – an opportunity for those who had a passion for the subject to find out and explore a little further. Guess what, I signed up to this quicker than a public school educated Tory politician to an orgy of excess. One of the undertakings of this group was a visit to an architectural exhibition on the London South Bank around autumn 1986. Being ‘Benny No Mates’ I was left to go around with the tutor. Nothing wrong with that per se as he was a decent guy, but it did reinforce my social isolation. There were no ‘peer’ groups that invited me into their clan. In hindsight they probably weren’t my type of people anyway, full of their own self-importance like many in Winchester.
The exhibition focused on three architects, James Stirling, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster. Each architect had one built project and one conceptual on display. All three had trained at the same time and had a reputation for groundbreaking modernist architecture. They were influenced by guys like Le-Corbusier and Miles Van-de-Rough; pioneers from the 1920s and 30s. No ‘bullshit’ structures, every component was an integral part of the building’s structure. All the projects featured in this exhibition fascinated me, particularly Norman Foster’s ‘Hong Kong Shanghai Bank’ building. I hadn’t seen anything like this before, the use of steel and glass blew my mind. A few years later, I undertook some further studies into the building that revealed the conceptual ideas behind it. Foster basically wanted to create a democratic structure, with a main glass atrium allowing natural light into all parts of the building, thus giving everyone who worked there, regardless of position, a nice bright environment to be in. This is a trade mark of Foster, very much a socialist architect.
Looking back I can see why I’m drawn to this style of architecture, because it reflects substance over style. People who know me will know my hate for over commercialisation and formulated ‘creativity’. I consider myself a deep thinking person, often on ‘Planet Ben’ as my partner would say. I put this down to frequent sessions with child psychologists and trying to explain to them things I couldn’t understand myself. Consequently, I find shallow things, such as branding that offers impossible lifestyles to sell the latest product, stressfully annoying. However, I feel this provides strength to my personality; I like to think I come over as passionate even if ‘in your face’ at times.
I haven’t made it very far down the architectural road. After gaining my honours degree in Architectural Studies I eventually found work as a mental health admin worker. In a way this proved my careers advisor right (but I would argue that architecture would have been the lesser challenging career). However I still keep my passion for the subject very much alive. So, in this respect, “you can take the boy out of architecture, but you can’t take the architect out of the boy”!
COMING UP IN NEXT MONTH’S BLOG, I get all sexed up in Barcelona with a taste for the social life…