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Urban sublime

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s a bit cheap-holidays-in-other-people’s misery to go on about overpasses and towerblocks. Which didn’t stop the very people who coined this phrase indulging in a little urban sublime of their own, flowers in the dustbin and all. It just struck me a few days ago, 8am in a London backstreet where a council block reared above a Georgian terrace, that there was something in my reaction that was simply response to the natural world onto that to the man made one: that it was the same mixture of faint thrill and faint fear that accompanies the glimpse of granite boulders erupting clifflike on a far off hill. How much of our reaction to architecture is a transferral, a translation from the natural world? And how much of our reaction to both is born of naivety, ignorance, or too many years of tamed safety? I remember at the age of 12 finding it impossible to enter a storm-tossed Devon lane, so sure was I that malignant natural forces lay within; a terror beyond appeals to reason. A similar feeling a year or three later, heading east in London on a pushbike and suddenly encountering what I now know was the Truman brewery in Brick Lane, but which read as a strange and faceless barrier in an already unfamiliar wild East. This is how my medievals felt faced by unsettled fen or open torland or atlantic beach; how those equally in the know today approach the wrong liftshaft in the wrong stairwell in the wrong part of town.