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Beauty in the eye of the beholder

Have about you only those things which you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful

One of the nice things about travelling across the country by train is the amount t of stuff you can see looking out of the window.

Trees, fields, rivers, bridges, factories, houses, shops. All different, all built and designed by people with products designed and made by other people.

And, as I speed across the west country on my way to Devon, I am struck by one thing. How on earth did so many god-awful buildings get permission to be built?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely buildings , well thought out estates and developments which make the most of their surrounding and complement rather than clash with the local vernacular. And then there are some horrors.

Now I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that building that to me seems beautiful, might to another seem mundane in the extreme. Or indeed, the opposite. My heart never fails to leap when walking along the Euston Road I catch a glimpse of St Pancras station in all its gothic glory. Others, I know, view it as a gothic monstrosity.

I certainly don’t want to come over all Prince Charles about this (Though I happen to quite like the extension to the National Gallery that so upset him). The last thing I think this country needs is to get stuck in some kind of Downton Abbey-esque nostalgia-fest where all we want to build are throw-back Victorian or Georgian-style cottages.

Architecture should and does develop along with the development of a nation and there are some outstanding modern pieces out there.

There’s one particular horror that struck me on this train journey. It’s a huge development of flats about ah hour out of London, about which there is nothing remarkable until you get to the roof. It’s bright blue and makes the whole place look like something you’d find in the Early Learning Centre – Happyland Apartment Block, perhaps.

It’s the sort of development that wouldn’t look so out of place in a city centre, or one of those waterside city developments, Paddington Basin or Docklands perhaps. However, on the edge of the countryside, it just seems to jar, horribly. (Although, bizarrely, the bright blue painted country pub we’ve just sped past doesn’t look out of place at all…);

I know there are lots of delays and problems getting much needed housing developments going when you get a planning department that gets a bee in their bonnet a bit like I have and the last thing I’d want to suggest is that we let the process take even longer.

It’s just that there are some things we do well in this country and making great building materials and using them to construct beautiful buildings and is one of them. The right products, used in the right way, in the right setting can be awesome.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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