Reviews & Articles
Preview of Trans Mittere, Cathedral Culture by Alan Powers
As all psychogeographers know, the most appealing features of urban landscape – the industrial wastelands, the unconscious anachronisms, the unreconstructed local distinctiveness – are the victims of regeneration and the heritage industry.
Let in the light, and the picture fades before your eyes. The epistemological problem is that as soon as you know too much about a place to see it “as it is”, there is no return to innocence.
Here too the in-betweenness of Scott’s work will be explored in the belfry, which Forster and Heighes imagine as a wrestling ring for the ‘’violent and pointless” contest between tradition and modernism. “For one night only, Sir Edwyn Lutyens bare knuckle fighting with the Mighty Smithsons; the Terror of Tblisi Berthoild Lubetkin takes on the New Towns Commission; the brownfield Barbarian John Prescott versus the Town and Country Planning Association for your entertainment.”
Although Scott made many changes in a project that began when he was 22, and was unfinished at his death two world wars later in 1960, the conflict between tradition and modernism, of which he was well aware, is internalised in the architecture rather than in the intrusion of another hand.
Scott’s cathedral is both strong and sweet, and unavoidable if you are in Liverpool. It was often revised by its architect until, in Quentin Hughes’s words, it became “tightened to the taughtness of a fiddle string”, and, therefore, an instrument of architectural transmission in its own right.
So while those historians who like to categorise their architecture may tick the gothic box for Scott, the reality is that his cathedral embodies conflict. The tick box approach to styles of architecture which will be lampooned by Forster and Heighes also fails to explain the confidence with which one city built two cathedrals in a century, before nearly expiring in the ruin of its own economy? Trans Mittere will not provide the answer, for Forster and Heighes are too subtle to do anything other than amplify the question.