The Brits who built the modern world


The brits who built the modern world

The outstanding generation of 1930s-born British architects led by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster are celebrated in a new TV series and RIBA exhibition

There is always a dilemma in writing about the British tradition of architecture once called “high-tech”, whose best-known protagonists include Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Nicholas Grimshaw. On the one hand its achievements – the Pompidou Centre, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Eden Project – are magnificent and world-changing, the result of epic efforts of will and daring. On the other hand its rhetoric can be head-bangingly simplistic and blatantly contradictory. Which, if it were only a problem of rhetoric, might not matter much, but it has physical effects in the real world.

To be specific: in the 1970s, when the high-tech style was forged, much was made of its power to create flexible and adaptable structures, with roofs hung off wires so that floors could be unimpeded by columns, and panels and pipes on the exterior that could be switched around at will.