This wraith-coast of tumbling headlands and snouts, mist-layered staks made of windblown desert sand piled high. We struggle round, three children and I, beaten beneath a suprisingly harsh March sun, Jurassically excitable. Past nameless tide-threatened beaches, up stairways of concrete that hang out over vertiginous drops, make your mother weep. It’s further than anyone said it could be, and when we get there, almost back to the further beach, yet as hidden from that world of concrete chalets as we are from the depth-charged ribbon development of beachview retirement homes above, we find it gone, collapsed, a great elbow in the cliff where it turns in sudden treasure from sand to a glistening white ivory-crystal wall. No cave then, but a remaining opening large enough for each of us, tired and hungry, to crouch in its mouth: and as we emerge, the glassy boulders of the shoreline are delinated anew, each a collapsed vault of heaven, a great glassy geometrical mass of diamond and deep sand-charged metamorphic pink.
Primeval, stepped, penetrated by grottos and failed art projects, this mighty elephant in the genteel room of the College. We tiptoe around it, accessing common rooms and kitchens through its tarmacced moat, criss-crossing Court as if we were legitimate inheritors of the bailey, the coaching inn. Even the road to Aqua Sulis swerves to mark this one; or is it the castle they’re avoiding? Or perhaps that very shifty uncertainty is what makes it so hard to acknowledge, so easy to ignore, barbarian and uncomfortable at the heart of all this order. Even the grotto has shifted: from gothick hermitage to classical cavern, within a real feast of shell-like spaces and deep lapis blue. I climbed it once: at the top, some brickwork and a tank, and the words ‘Lavinia and Adam made love here’. Or should that be Merlin and Shrek? Names have been changed, history 4 ever 2 gether 4 never 2 part.
Lying on the floor of the north transept (bad back), the extraordinary layered power of this place. The great bare stones made eleventh-century firm; the vault a palimpsest of patching, all light grey, Hamprshire-white. Holy Sepulchre chapel an intense presence in the distance. And after a very pleasant time with Aled Jones and a camera crew (…Songs of Praise…), I get chantry chapel after chantry chapel unlocked… Edington, early Perp-plain, yet the man himself an Edward II-following extraagance of alabaster and purbeck; Wykeham, a mini-church, the bad tempered clerics at his feet gazing up at the wall-sized reredos, tiny fan vaults in the doors (both of these with two doors, at Edginton at least apparently to encourage lay circulation); Beaufort, as swagger within as without, a great hulk of expensively deep-cut purbeck, yet oddly battered, sunlight raking across the retroquire; but far more inventive and finely done next door, Waynflete, with first-rate limestone marginalia and the good bishop literally with his heart in his hands; Fox, with its tiny priest’s room at one end; Gardiner, with its extraordinary radio-tuned-to-two-stations at once late gothic/well-informed Renaissance interior.
To Oxford with 11-year-old daughter, touring some of the traces of Philip Pullman’s Lyra and Will. Summerdown Avenue: the hornbeam trees a real presence in an otherwise undistinctive urban 30s arterial strip. Hard to imagine this A40 is ever quiet enough for kids to disappear out of and into thin air there… the Museum of Natural History, as horrifically thrilling I ever remember. No one college quite equals Jordan, but the racked combination of medieval alleys, glimpses into grandly obfuscational courts, shut-off lawns and the sense beneath one’s feet of bottomless subterreanean book racks does the trick, for me at least. Most touchingly, someone has scratched ‘Lyra + Will’ into the bench in the Botanic Gardens. But the best thing, Bill Spectre’s excellent ghost tour aside, is the moon, giant, so close it appears to have evaporated every wisp of vapour. Close enough to make the towers of All Souls seem to glow with a strange inner light of blue and red; close enough to make the crust of the earth crack, to make powerful men trigger-happy.
Rowan Moore in Sunday’s Observer: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/mar/06/michael-gove-architecture-in-schools.
So let’s see now, what kind of built environment assisted Michael Gove’s education? This, maybe?
Followed by this?
And Gove is comparitively underpriveleged compared to many of his peers in Cabinet.
Clearly, architecture has no connection to education, and to create a flat playing field of opportunity we first have to create a flat field where certain rather fine buildings now stand, or at least replace such structures with 1950s concrete hulks that smell of mouldy baked beans, being kneed in the groin behind the bike sheds, and generally put you in your place before you’ve even found it. Vive the architect-free revoution!