Lockdown Jottings – 02

Sinking In

Well, the big clear out of the diary continues apace: just about everything in my diary up to the end of April has been cancelled or deferred ‘sine die’, as the saying is. Some meetings are being switched to video conferencing while other matters are being cleared by email and telephone, but all the social engagements such as meals out with friends and trips to the theatre have been wiped from the diary. A couple of short breaks booked for May have also gone and it’s likely this trend is going to continue for some time yet.

All this is, of course, no more than a minor inconvenience when compared with what is happening elsewhere in the country (and, indeed, the world) at this moment. Spending so much time at home, it’s difficult to avoid watching the news. Minute-by-minute briefings on the numbers of people being admitted to hospital, being taken into intensive care and, in some cases, sadly dying, really do make one realise the enormity of the situation. It’s too early to speculate on how long this is going to continue, but there’s no obvious end in sight yet.

As I write this, it’s been nearly three weeks since, on 23rd March, the Prime Minister declared the country was going into ‘lockdown’. Although it had been much anticipated, the announcement still hit hard: it was important, it felt momentous, it was certainly going to be life changing. Suddenly, freedoms we have taken for granted were being curtailed by a government responding to unbidden events. At the time of the announcement, the call for people to stay at home was actually no more than guidance – new legislation had to be brought into effect to give it legal backing and confer powers on the police to enforce it, but I suspect most people could see the thinking behind the decision and I’m sure many would regard it as a sensible and necessary step, at least for the time being.

The full implications of the announcement take a while to sink in. Yes, social distancing means curtailing movement. Some of us are ‘old hands’ at this social distancing business having had a head start of a week or two by choice so it seems at first that it’s going to be more of the same. But this is different. What had been voluntary if recommended behaviour, now carried a government mandate enforceable in law (although it takes a few days for the paperwork to be completed, leading to some confusion, not just in the minds of the public but also, it seems in the instructions being given to some police forces).

We are urged only to leave home in certain prescribed circumstances – such as to shop for essentials such as food and for medical reasons, to exercise, to go to work but only if it isn’t possible to work from home. Businesses not regarded as essential have closed their doors, moving their business on-line where they can. Theatres, cinemas, restaurants and bars are all closed.

And when we do go out, we have to keep a distance of two metres from other people who are not members of our own household. Suddenly, even talking to neighbours over the garden fence is conducted at a ‘safe distance’, hailing each other in loud voices or waving to each other rather than chatting casually with our elbows resting on the fence.

The two-metre rule causes some interesting distancing manoeuvres at the supermarket. These days, we have to queue to go in. Despite markings on the floor every two metres to show people where to stand and signs showing that two metres is roughly equivalent to the length of two shopping trollies, there are some, it seems, who either have no understanding of how far two metres is or are just playing it very safe indeed. Gaps in the queue open up – what is two metres to you and me turns out to be closer to something around 15 feet to others.

Once inside the supermarket, where the aisles don’t really lend themselves to keeping the full two metres between shoppers, people try to observe the guidance: they wait politely for each other to make their selections from shelves, trying not to show impatience when someone lingers a little too long in front of the canned veg or tinned fruit (how long does it take to choose a tin of peas?). Then, items selected, they move on, continuing their elaborate cotillion, trollies pirouetting around each other at arm’s length as they mark out their territory.

Lockdown Jottings – 01

And so it starts

My ‘lockdown’ began a few days later than some, a few days sooner than most. For me, it started on the evening of Thursday 12th March.

My partner and I went out for a meal with an old friend (by which I mean long-standing, just in case she’s reading this) at Duchniak’s Restaurant in Wakefield, one of our favourite restaurants. We had a lovely meal and a delightful time chatting about this, laughing about that, as you do. But on reflection, the writing was already on the wall, so to speak, if not actually chalked up on the specials board. Other people, it was clear, were already deciding to stay home; we were the only customers in the restaurant that night.

The day hadn’t started like that. In the morning, I’d been out overseeing the fixing up of three blue plaques for Wakefield Civic Society – we use a professional builder for this work as I’m not trusted up ladders. In the afternoon, my partner and I had done the usual weekly shop at the local supermarket. Life was very much business as usual. There was no ‘panic buying’ back then and shelves were still full. Happy days! There was even a slight sense that those who’d already decided to distance themselves from others were, perhaps, just possibly, over-reacting.

The week had begun as normal. Being president of Wakefield Civic Society and chair of YHACS (the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies), I have no problem finding things to do. My diary was brimming over with society commitments and social events as well as talks and walks I organise in my own name. I had a booking to give a talk about the Orient Express to a community group in Morley on the Monday morning, a meeting of the Wakefield Civic Society Design Award judging panel on the Monday afternoon and a talk to give to another community group in Netherton on the Tuesday evening about the blue plaques of Wakefield.

Wednesday proved similarly busy and even in the quiet moments between meetings, phone calls and talks, I had emails to deal with and respond to as well as keeping up to date with social media. I guess, thinking back, it was through Twitter that I first realised the mood was changing. People were starting to talk about the Coronavirus more and more.

By Friday morning, things really started to change. People were beginning to feel nervous; they were getting in touch to cancel events. In fact, I soon found I too was having to cancel events that I’d organised, both for Wakefield Civic Society and for others including myself. By the end of Friday afternoon, my diary was starting to thin out considerably – my social calendar felt more like a social colander as event after event and meeting after meeting just leaked away.

I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or something that just dawned on us, but by the end of the day (somewhat inauspiciously it was Friday the 13th), we too were playing it safe. Yes, we were practising ‘social distancing’.

A week that had started out full of confidence and vigour was to end somewhat darker and more hesitant. We had become people who were not going out.

Is our future behind us?

53 Northgate, Wakefield, as it is today – Fino Pizzeria and Cicchetti, showing the new front added to this c. 15th century building in the 1990s. Before this, it looked like the building next door to the right of the picture but its appearance today is perhaps closer to how it originally looked.

I’m going to go out on a limb here; bear with me.

As President of Wakefield Civic Society, I often find myself being asked to comment on what sort of city Wakefield should aspire to be, particularly given the apparent decline in retail and the empty shops to be seen on the high street (a problem which besets many towns and cities, of course, not just Wakefield). We need to envisage what sort of place Wakefield could be and what it can offer for residents and visitors if it is to retain any sense of vibrancy and vitality.

Creating that vision for Wakefield isn’t quite as easy as it looks. In trying to think about the future, it’s only natural to think about the past. What makes the city unique and distinctive, certainly in terms of the physical fabric of the buildings and street layout, is steeped in its history.

We know that Wakefield has existed as a place of settlement for over a thousand years (it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086). It made its reputation (and much of its money) through the textile industry, quarrying, coalmining and, of course, as a market town. It was a centre for both trade and administration and, in the 19th century, prior to the arrival and eventual dominance of the railways, it was a thriving inland port. In 1472, King Edward IV of England established the Council of the North, an administrative body created not only to maintain the king’s peace in the North but also to stimulate economic growth. The Council of the North was based in Sheriff Hutton and Wakefield (Sandal Castle) before finally moving to York. Later, Wakefield became the administrative capital of the West Riding of Yorkshire

Peter Brears’ book – the front cover features an illustration showing how the bread booths on Bread Street might have looked.

As such an important centre in both commercial and administrative terms, it is perhaps not surprising that the streets and yards were lined with some fairly impressive buildings. A new book, The Buildings of Tudor and Stuart Wakefield, by historian Peter Brears (£19.95, published by Wakefield Historical Publications) reveals just how fine those medieval buildings were. (The book is, incidentally, a really useful resource for anyone interested in the history of the city and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.)

The Black Swan in Silver Street, Wakefield

Sadly, many of those timber-framed buildings are lost to us having been demolished to make way for new properties more suitable to the ‘modern age’. Few examples remain but the Black Swan in Silver Street has managed to hang on, looking more or less as it might have done back in the day, while other survivors are a little less obvious, having been hidden by more recent stone or brick fronts. Such an example is the run of buildings at 53-57 Northgate which at one time would have been one house, according to Brears’ book, but which was subsequently divided into separate properties. No. 53 was given a replica front in the early 1990s to take it back to how it might have looked in the 15th century (plate glass windows notwithstanding) while its neighbours retain the stone fronts (see photo above).

Pastiche? Certainly. But people seem to love it and behind that relatively new front, itself now nearly 30 years old, their lies a genuinely old building, that dates back to at least the fifteenth or early 16th century. The year ‘1596’ moulded into the plaster ceiling of the upper floor is probably the date of an internal re-ordering carried out maybe a hundred years or so after the house was first built.

The former Golden Cock Inn, 31 Westgate, Wakefield. Demolished in 1963.

In Westgate, there stood the Golden Cock Inn. This early 17th century building stood for over 300 years, eventually being demolished in 1963 and some readers may well remember it, not as a pub but as a couple of shops. According to Brears’  book, the building was recorded in photographs as it was taken down and at least some of the timbers were taken into store by Wakefield Museum so that the building could be re-built at some point in the future.

Well, that rebuilding hasn’t happened – and I have no idea whether the timbers have survived. But what if they have? Could the building be recreated? Even if none of the original timbers survive or are usable, would it be viable to build a copy of the Golden Cock Inn and possibly other buildings that have been lost to us?

There is the problem of finding somewhere to erect such buildings. The Golden Cock Inn certainly couldn’t go on the original site – that is now occupied by modern shops – albeit of fairly undistinguished design, typical of the 1960s. So a new site would need to be found – but that shouldn’t be too difficult; there are plenty of empty plots in the city centre, many used as ‘temporary’ car parks.

The site of the Golden Cock Inn as it looks today.

If you follow the conversations about Wakefield that take place on social media, you will be aware that there is huge interest in the history of the city and its built heritage – both in the buildings that are extant and the ones now extinct. Many people, it seems, would like to go back to the past, at least for a poke around. Some very much regret the passing of the buildings that we have lost. Photos are poured over and memories shared. All too often, the developers, planners and councillors who presided over this post-war destruction of our city centre get the blame – sometimes a little harshly: the Victorians probably demolished as much of the city centre as did the planners and developers of the post-war period (although the Victorians replaced the buildings they destroyed with new edifices that are aesthetically pleasing and which have stood the test of time in contrast to much of our 1960s’ ‘cookie-cutter’ architecture.

Now, I don’t really want to suggest that Wakefield’s future lies entirely in the past. We need to be a thoroughly modern, digitally connected city that is outward looking and facing up to the challenges ahead. But we also need to create the sort of city centre that is attractive to residents and appealing to visitors. We should be looking to create, or more accurately, recreate, the local distinctiveness we have been in danger of losing in recent years: let’s make something which people will take to their hearts and be proud of; something in fact that they will not only want to see for themselves but will want to show off to their friends and family who have the bad luck to live somewhere else!

One way of doing this would be to rebuild perhaps just one street with replicas or reconstructions of some of the timber-framed houses and shops that would have once been so evident across the city. Whether they be used as museum pieces for people to explore or as premises for people to live in and work from I leave for future discussion. Done well (and avoiding what I sometimes call ‘the Disneyfication of heritage’ – none of this ‘Ye Olde Worlde’ nonsense please!), the project could have great potential to stimulate interest not only in our own history but in history and architecture more generally. There could be school projects linked to the enterprise; community workshops, writing and art classes and so on. Heavens, there might even be a TV series in it. Visitors would come a-flocking, I’m sure.

Now, I’m not usually one for suggesting we build old stuff (and if I was, I’d be recommending we go for something in Art Deco rather than medieval style), but horses for courses and as a learning and research project that could involve the community, I’m in.

If there’s anyone out there with the resources and enthusiasm to make this happen and the clout to make it a reality, I’ll be right behind you….

On Beauty

Warwick

According to Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever, Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness”.

We all need some beauty in our lives. Beauty, in whatever form, can make us happy. It can improve both our mental and, indirectly, our physical wellbeing. It can cause the spirit to soar and the heart to quicken. No wonder we seek it out. But how do we know that something is beautiful in and of itself? Is our appreciation of beauty something that we learn through others or is it something instinctive, something innate? Does my view of what is beautiful consist with yours? Is it possible to agree universal criteria for what counts as beauty – and would such criteria persist over time and across cultures? Or is an appreciation of what is beautiful entirely idiosyncratic and no more than a matter of personal taste?

I’ve been asking myself these sorts of questions for some time, (not altogether altruistically as I’m preparing a new talk on the subject) but with the government announcing the setting up of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission last year, trying to find answers to these questions has taken on a greater urgency. One of the aims of the Commission is “To advocate for beauty in the built environment”, in effect to test whether or not communities will be more likely to accept new housebuilding on their doorstep if the resulting developments can be said to be beautiful.

One of the ‘occupational hazards’ of civic society membership is to find oneself drawn into discussions about new developments and whether or not they are of good design. If your society is engaged in giving out design awards, then those discussions will be particularly relevant because you will probably need to justify your society’s conclusions to others: something I am very familiar with – been there, done that, and on an annual basis!

As I’ve argued before, I think that good design is something which can be assessed using objective criteria but can such objective tests be applied to a definition of beauty or is beauty very much in the eye of the beholder?

When we talk of beauty, we are really talking about aesthetics, not just visual but about the appeal to all our senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. We might also conceive certain behaviours such as self-sacrifice, kindness, generosity or bravery to appeal to our sense of ‘moral beauty’, while a poem or a piece of prose might be described as having a form of ‘intellectual beauty’.  Even the love of one person for another can be described as beautiful.

“How do you spell ‘love’?” asked Piglet.

“You don’t spell it,” said Pooh, “you feel it.”

A.A Milne, Winnie the Pooh

It is clear then that, in our search for the meaning of beauty, we have to go wider than just visual attractiveness. My copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1988 – yes, that old!) defines beauty as:

“That quality or combination of qualities which affords keen pleasure to the senses, [especially] that of sight, or which charms the intellectual or moral faculties.”

So, when we search for beauty, we need to explore all the world around us; from that which occurs naturally, as in a flower, a face, a sunset, a landscape, via that taken from nature but which is crafted and improved by man (or woman), such as a precious gemstone, cut and polished and perhaps set into a piece of jewellery, or a landscape shaped and perfected by the likes of Capability Brown, to that which is entirely ‘man-made’, an artefact such as a painting, a sculpture, a written work, a piece of music, or a building, and not forgetting the behavioural forms of beauty already mentioned.

If these then are at least some of the various the types of beauty we might find in our lives how do we recognise such beauty when we come across it? In his The Analysis of Beauty published in 1753, the painter William Hogarth distils the essential visual aesthetic quality of beauty down to the serpentine line, the S-shaped curve line found both in nature and in art as well as in architecture (for example in the ogee arch). Such analysis attributes the property of beauty to being an intrinsic quality of the actual object itself whereas other theories suggest it is in fact the pleasure response in ourselves that confers beauty onto something. If we accept that an object can be beautiful in itself, even when it is unobserved or unexperienced, then it might be possible to derive certain formulae that will allow the objective assessment of what beauty is. However, if we think that beauty exists only in the relationship between the thing observed and the person experiencing it, then it will be much harder to agree that X is beautiful but Y is not for we are entering the realms of personal taste with all its variety and mutability.

Let us assume that a state of beauty only exists when something is experienced and that the appreciation of beauty is something we can learn and, therefore, something that we can be taught. We enter life with the capability of recognising what is beautiful but we need to be guided by others to interpret and value beauty when we encounter it. Our parents and teachers will have a role to play in helping us to see the world through their eyes and to formulate our own responses to the natural and artistic world. They will help us to hone our critical faculties. As importantly, experts and opinion formers will also guide us in our pursuit of beauty; they will direct our gaze to what is delightful and help us to evaluate what is good. It is important though to keep a grip on our critical abilities and not to follow others blindly for fear of being considered uneducated: it would be at best disingenuous to claim to perceive beauty when we don’t feel its existence just because others tell us that something possesses the quality of beauty – shades of the Emperor’s new clothes and all that. Nonetheless, when there is critical acclaim, and that acclaim endures over time, it becomes ever harder to justify a contrary stance.

Perhaps this helps to explain why traditional architecture is valued more highly than more recent styles. Georgian and Victorian buildings have just been with us longer. We’ve grown used to them and, crucially, they have had time to accrete a reputation for excellence and beauty through the eyes of generations of experts and critics, whereas modern buildings just haven’t yet been around long enough to amass such critical support.

On the other hand, what if beauty is not something that we learn but is something that is innate: we are born into the world with a natural ability to discern and discriminate; to recognise the presence of beauty and know when it is absent. We don’t need to be guided – we just know. This suggests that our appreciation of beauty is an evolutionary response. Why might this be? Well, how about sex?

For the human race to survive, reproduction in necessary and for reproduction to take place, the laws of attraction apply. This is true throughout much of nature – think of birds whose colourful plumage, usually found in the male, serves only to attract a potential mate: those exotic colours serve no other purpose – you certainly don’t need colourful wings to fly. Even plants which rely on insects for pollination display colourful flowers (offering sweet treats) to tempt the bees towards them. Human beings are much the same although we tend to think of beauty as being a feminine trait whereas the male of the species is more usually described as handsome, good-looking or, perhaps, ‘rugged’. But beauty also plays another role in the continuation of our species: why do you think babies are so cute? Why are puppies and kittens so loveable? Arguably, it’s part of an evolutionary response to ensure that offspring are cared for and fed so as to guarantee their own survival to breeding age.

There are implications here for our discussion about beauty in architecture.  If our appreciation of beauty isn’t a learned behaviour but is in effect bred into us, then our apparent fondness for traditional architecture might somehow be a natural response. The original architects sought to create perfection in their work and we instinctively recognise that perfection in the inherent beauty of that work. In an equal and opposite reaction, our aversion to modern architecture might be a survival technique of its own: be wary of the unknown, let others experiment while we sit on the side lines to see whether the modern stuff stands the test of time and that is safe to live in. We know that, although not without its proponents, modern architecture has fewer adherents than for traditional and classic styles.  

Now, I’m not immune to the charms of traditional architecture myself. The architectural hierarchy epitomised in a Palladian mansion, or a finely proportioned Georgian town house, or a Victorian villa property, show just how beautiful traditional architecture can be. I can understand why people would want to live in such properties with their elegant façades, high ceilings and spacious rooms. Such aspirations are, however, probably outside what most of us can afford: not least because there simply are not enough period properties surviving to accommodate everybody who wants to live in one. This means that original examples hold their value well, making them both desirable and expensive. The closest most of us can get to this would be to live in a modern house but built in something approximating to the styles of the past. Fortunately, many of the mass housebuilders are apparently catering to this need: if you want period features, there’s plenty of choice!  

Except that the choice is illusory. To do traditional styles well, you need space, good materials and craftsmanship and these are all expensive, so the housebuilders compromise. Plot sizes are minimised and in consequence interior space is limited. Rooms are often small and ceiling heights low; standardised materials and components are used and the detailing found in the original is usually missing so what we end up with is a sort of pastiche in a somewhat bastardized style. They are perfectly all right: in fact, they are probably easier and cheaper to run than an original period property would be and will come with all mod cons built in. But I don’t think we can call them beautiful. One unfortunate effect of this trend is that we see similar house types spreading right across the country. (Anyone remember “Little boxes, little boxes, and they all look just the same”? What we might regard as local vernacular styles giving way to what we might call national piacular style?

And this is where I return to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. I have been asked by Civic Voice to join the panel pulling together a response to the Commission on behalf of the civic society movement. Should the panel argue that we need more homes built in the traditional style, albeit with more thought given to choice of materials and individual design based on local context, or should we be saying that to meet the housing needs of a rising population, housebuilders need to build in a more contemporary style that maximises the efficiencies of modern construction techniques, possibly through prefabricated designs created on a factory production line and which can then be rapidly, and hopefully cheaply, assembled on site? Does modern housing have to be beautiful to be acceptable to the local community or is it more important that it is functional and affordable?

And if people are naturally resistant to modern schemes because of their design and, to some at least, an apparent lack of aesthetic appeal, is there anything that we, or anyone else for that matter, can do to help change perceptions of what beauty really is (and needs to be) in modern housing developments?

Of course, if beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and there’s nothing that can be done to change individuals’ perceptions of what is beautiful and what is not, then it’s just possible that we are wasting our time even trying to change people’s minds. Perhaps the question we are asking is the wrong one and no more than a distraction from the real issue. We should forget about beauty, and focus on design? (For which, see my previous article….) 

Natural Beauty?

Good Design Rules!

Design is my theme and I’d like to ask you to consider the subject from the perspective of four different quotes that I shall introduce to you shortly. For me, there is a difference between matters of design, which I think it is possible to assess using objective criteria – design rules, if you like – and matters of taste, for which there’s really no accounting! We often talk about our favourite books, music, food, colours, cars, holiday destinations and so on but when it comes to favourites, these are matters of personal taste. Good design might in some cases have led to something being a favourite, and, indeed a favourite of many, but taste and design are not the same thing.

Before I start, I should make clear that I really writing this for fellow civic society members. I’m not an architect or designer but, like many lay people who volunteer their time to serve on the committees of civic societies, I often find myself drawn into debates about good design. For civic society readers, it is the design of the built environment that will be your main priority, but when it comes to design, some rules are universal in their application.

Let me frame this article by reference to four quotes I’ve selected (not quite a random) from the internet:

Quote 1: “Form ever follows function, and this is the law” Louis Sullivan

Sullivan (1856-1924) was an American architect sometimes referred to as “father of skyscrapers”. The design of any item should take account of its function – there is no point in designing something, no matter how beautiful, if it doesn’t work well. The stylish shoes that give you bunions; the smart alarm clock that is so quiet when it goes off that you have to be awake already to hear it; the  boutique hotel room so over-designed that you can’t find the light switch – I could go on….. The same considerations must surely apply to buildings and to public spaces. Is a building ‘legible’ – as you walk up to it, can you tell where the entrance is? Is its purpose obvious – or do you have to work out what it is from the written signs? Are streets safe for pedestrians as well as vehicles to use? Do buildings have active and interesting street fronts that make them pleasant places to walk by? Are public spaces laid out in such a way that they invite people to tarry and wander, or are they unpleasant places that make you want to scurry through as fast as you can?

Quote 2: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” Eliel Saarinen

People often criticize new buildings because the design doesn’t “fit in”. The concern here is that the new development takes no account of context. I remember someone telling me (although I can’t remember who it was) that when the designs for St Pancras Station in London were first put forward, there were people who complained the new building wouldn’t fit in. Arguably, it still doesn’t but it is majestic enough not to need to fit in: it makes a statement of its own that is aesthetically appealing and a delight to see. There will be times when new buildings will work better if they blend in, but there will be occasions when gateway, or landmark, buildings are required to stand out, to make a statement and to shout about local distinctiveness. Which is right will depend on … er … context.   

Quote 3: “Decisions on artwork by committee end up being made on the premise of not turning people off rather than turning people on.” Paul Attwood

For ‘artwork’ in the above quote, you can also read ‘design’. The planning sub-committee of my own society met a while back to look at a new proposal. We were happy enough with the concept but it was rather ‘safe’. We felt that for what was quite a prominent site in the city centre, something a bit more exciting would be better. We went to see the architect and explained how we thought the design could be improved. He listened patiently then reached for a folder from which he removed his original drawings for the site. Guess what, they were almost exactly what we were looking for! We asked why he’d toned down his original scheme for the rather bland design that had been submitted for planning. He said he had compromised because his clients had made some changes and then the council’s planning officers had asked for further changes to be made.

In effect the vision of the architect had been watered down by a committee of first the clients and then the planning officers. This must have been frustrating for the architect but it also short-changed the people of Wakefield who are perhaps more willing to embrace bold new designs than the planners allow. As a civic society, we sometimes have to campaign for innovative design, something that might just upset the applecart, and developers and planners, as well as members of the public, are sometimes surprised about how adventurous we’re prepared to be.

Quote 4: “We are all designers, the difference is that only a few of us do it full-time.” Sabo Tercero

And this probably sums up why we, both as individuals and organisations, are so often dissatisfied with the new developments going on around us. Rather like when it comes to questions of how to run the county, we all have a view – and we all think we could do better!

When I lead guided walks around Wakefield, the design of the Hepworth gallery often crops up. Some people love it, others hate it. Having met the architect, David Chipperfield, and heard him speak about the design and how he arrived at it, I think it is quite an exceptional piece of architecture and one that is perfect for its purpose.

When people criticise it, I offer to give them a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to draw me the gallery they would have designed. It would have to allow light into rooms that could be controlled to avoid direct sunlight falling on some rather valuable artworks. It would have to provide hanging space for paintings and floor space for sculpture and circulation space. You’d have to avoid lots of pillars as they obstruct sight lines, prevent free movement and make it more difficult to place and exhibit work. Rooms and openings would have to be high to allow for larger works. And you want people to flow through the gallery without having to double back on themselves to reach the exit. Oh, and if you are going to build it next to a river that sometimes overflows its banks, take account of the potential for flooding in your design. Finally, have some regard to context, please, whether that be the adjacent buildings – do you want to stand out or blend in – or topography and landscape – do you level the ground or work within its contours?

Interestingly, no one has yet accepted my challenge! But what if they did? Would they come up with anything radically different, bearing in mind there would also be budget limitations to work within? In fact, if I press people a bit harder about what they don’t like about the Hepworth, it often boils down to the colour of the external walls: they don’t like grey! (“Which colour would you paint it then?”) In other words, we’ve distilled the argument down to one of personal taste rather than whether the gallery is a good design, which is where I came in.

Design is a fascinating subject: for an easy-to-read but thought-provoking study, I’d like to conclude by recommending a book by Matthew Frederick – 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.