Mark Hurrell.


High tech

03 May 2018

The most thrilling and enduring high-tech buildings are not tasteful. Works like Hopkins' Schlumberger Laboratories in Cambridge or Grimshaw's flats and supermarket in Camden are War of the Worlds steampunk kitsch, and all the better for it, exciting and strange in a way that neither firm would be again. The most fascinating of these buildings are outright nasty. They celebrate the Zeitgeist not as an ongoing march of technology, progress and precision engineering, but as something crushing and frightening, something much bigger and more powerful than you are.

In the Centre Pompidou anything too unnerving is hidden by the jugglers, but those two monumental financial headquarters, Foster's for HSBC, and Rogers' for Lloyds of London, are modern architecture at its most daunting and sinister – made even more so by the architects' straight-faced insistence that they were merely carrying out the logic of the brief, the will of the era.

The atria aren't the calm lobbies of today, but vertiginous drops, designed to intimidate. The spiky exposed services of lifts and pipes made these buildings resemble monstrous human threshing machines, oil refineries for people. At the top were monstrous gothic skylines. All this has long since been streamlined and straightened-out, as if it had all gone too far. High-tech was interesting when it reflected the fact that the world is not a nice place, and that the people running it are not savoury.

Owen Hatherley on Dezeen, High-tech never went away, though many wish it had

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