Whilst wandering around ListerPark the other day, I was impressed, as I often am, by Cartwright Hall. Stood gazing at a wonderful, beautiful, awe-inspiring building, I wondered why we don’t do buildings like we used to.
Living close to ListerPark, wanders round the gardens are a frequent pleasure. Cartwright Hall, one of Bradford’s art galleries and a sublime building, sits in the Park’s grounds, managing to own the landscape without dominating it, managing to be ever-present without being intrusive. When you look at it, though, it sings.
The other day, my thoughts went off and I wondered about buildings. My mind quickly turned to York Minster, in my eyes the greatest building I’ve ever seen. I considered the intricacies, the effort, the amazing feats of engineering such buildings are. I looked closer at Cartwright Hall, built when Bradford was the Empire’s Silicon Valley and richer than it ever would be again. I considered the delicate carvings, the conscious effort to impress and amaze, the outlandish, ostentatious expression this building represents. The architect and stonemasons must have said Let’s do summat special here and that they did. Angels, cherubim and seraphim look down from on high, and some visit you on the mortal coil and smile upon us. Towers tower and huge blocks of local stone stand immovable making statements and testament to the city’s wealth and stature and presence. The stone work is carefully carved to look exquisitely crafted yet natural, showing what Bradford is or was famed for: doing stuff with nature to the amazement of the rest of the world. Cartwright Hall shows us just how big Bradford’s boots were.
I thought about today’s great buildings and they are incomparable. Huge swathes of glass, glass and more glass, reflecting rather than drawing in the eye. They are big – huge – but where’s the beauty, the craftsmanship, the care? Does size matter that much? Maybe, in today’s world, it does. We’ve stopped building buildings and started throwing up steel and glass towers, from nought to 100 storeys in a few months. Where are the intricate novelties, the follies, the carvings created solely to please the eye? We don’t do that anymore. La Sagrada Famillia maybe the last building built to the lasting glory of God and hubris of man.
And that’s a shame, because what will inspire the everyday buildings?
The streets of Manningham have personality and individuality. Each row is slightly different from the last – just take a look at the windows with the variety of shapes and sizes. Built to house mill workers, some of the poorest people in a city of unimaginable riches, the architects and builders cared, putting in Bradford’s personality into the stone and mortar inspired, no doubt, by Bradford’s big boys, the mills. Now, new homes are boxes, uniform, dispassionate, barren and dry. And why? Money. Ease. Simplicity.
We don’t build Cartwright Halls anymore. We don’t indulge ourselves. Maybe we should. If we build great buildings, maybe we’ll be inspired to be great again.