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This block for Marlborough College is a perfect compromise between the school’s rarefied idyll and the practice’s trademark contemporary aesthetic
For architects who wish to be contextually responsible, which is by no means everyone, there is often a tense trade-off between context and character. Not the pervading character of local surroundings but the stylistic character that is common to one architect’s work and makes it different from another’s. The battle has its most entertaining results when we see architects ideologically committed to one idiom forced to work within another.
At Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ One Hyde Park, for instance, the practice’s trademark structural expressionism as relayed through its signature use of brightly marked cores and muscular cross-bracing, is nervously contained behind an awkward elevational corset programmed to placate the heritage demands of its historic surroundings. Equally at the ME Hotel in London’s Aldwych, cowed by the imperialist timbre of its Edwardian environs, Foster and Partners’ usual brand of diagrammatic clarity flees in favour of a stilted simulation of classical finesse.
Of course, context can always be ignored or terrorised, as unrepentant provocateurs such as the late Will Alsop, Jean Nouvel or Frank Gehry are all wont to do. But for those wishing to chart a more conciliatory course, the basic challenge with buildings – as with people – rests on deciding how much of yourself you should sacrifice in order to fit in. And can that sacrifice ever be made while staying true to the unique motivations and instincts that make us, or our architecture, who we are in the first place? …
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