High rise — but not necessarily high art

000232A few years ago, the philosopher EF Schumacher propounded the idea that small was beautiful. He had a point and in a world where a new brutalism was becoming everywhere apparent — in the scale of commercial enterprise, in architecture, in the size of our cities — he soon had a following. But not so much in Ireland. In Ireland we were fed up of small. We were, we were endlessly told, a small nation and we came from small farms on a small island where small shops served our needs in the small towns and cities which were our typical urban centres. Nor did small is beautiful seem to make much sense as an aesthetic doctrine. Why should it? But you may think that it made and makes at least as much sense as its opposite, a fact which it is necessary to emphasise just now because in Ireland at this very moment we seem to be moving fast towards a general view that Big is Beautiful without reservation or further qualification. In fact, judging from a lot of what is admired merely for being big, aesthetics has very, very little to do with it.

I live beside an infant school where young mothers (the “yummy mummies” of David McWilliams’ mythology) deliver their small children in the morning and then collect them in the afternoon. Almost one and all, they use SUVs and people carriers for this. Mostly the ratio is one small child per one large vehicle. But the attraction of these monstrous conveyances is not their practicality. Nor is it, I need hardly say their beauty — in fact they are amongst the ugliest motor cars ever made. What makes the young women’s eyes shine when they sit in behind the wheel of one of these dangerous monsters is simply their size, their power and their cost. There was more than a touch of the yummy mummy about many of the responses when the plans for a new building on the Jurys-Berkeley Court site were unveiled recently.

The Sunday Independent