Matter of Taste?

26 05 2011

Posted by Jun

I found the Lancaster Square Routes Project which aims to ‘upgrade’ public spaces in the Lancaster city centre and I learned that the Sun Square is part of the public spaces to be ‘rejuvenated’ in the proposal. It could be said, probably, that, when I saw Sun Square, the weather was so perfect so that I did not see the claimed neglected feeling. However, there are some elements in the design that makes me dubious about the aesthetic quality it would bring about if realized.

To me, the square has good juxtaposition of humble side elevations of buildings, the distinctively decorated ‘Music Room’ facade and the well-grown tree. I think the unusual juxtaposition gives the atmosphere of ‘hidden gem’ as the proposal calls it. To make it clear, I am not arguing that we should keep the space as it is. Facilitating more interactions between buildings and the square, putting better seating or better accessible pavement would surely improve the place. However, covering the bare elevation with Greek mythology themed art-work, putting highly mannerist topiary trees and high-maintenance fountain in such a intimate-scale square seem, simply, too much. It just reminds me of Art Nouveau obsession revived by entrepreneurial urban landscape rhetoric. I hope that the proposal will be upgraded when they secure the fund for the project.

The Current Sun Square



2 responses

31 05 2011

Jun, I was brought up in Lancaster and of course had no idea as a child that all the spaces like these little squares, narrow alleyways, cobbled streets and historic buildings were anything special. As a teenager, I just wanted to scale up and be in Manchester whenever possible. It’s only as an adult, returning home, that I realize that Lancaster is quite gorgeous in places, unique and full of character. It is a brilliant little city to explore still, even though over the years the council seems to have been equally unaware of what they have and some very bad decisions have been made. When I was growing up there was a stunning Victorian covered market which, after a fire was replaced with a horrible scheme, which spoiled the legibility of the city centre. But it still has one of the best skylines in the UK. Sun Street and Sun Square has always been one of my favorite places in the city centre, hidden away, quiet, undiscovered, a bit unloved but unspoiled. I’m rather alarmed that they want to do this to it when it is so lovely!! As I’ve said to you before, I think I’m discovering that I’m actually quite anti-design, fueled by this kind of proposal, a definite case of overkill. Throw everything at it with the assumption that more is better.

2 06 2011

I never imagined I would get a response from a Lancasterian, if I can call you so, and I am glad that you agreed. Always, one thing makes me hesitate to speak out loud about issues like this is the worry that it could be just a matter of taste. I think I am trained to beware of imposing my taste, or confusing matters with individual taste. So I have been questioning whether I was resenting the scheme just for the taste but criticizing it as if it lacked some essential integrity. And so far, I think the scheme has some symptoms of such projects without sufficient needs or bottom-up initiations, which go on, once it starts, thanks to the regeneration industry. Probably, it is not just about taste.

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