Architecture: fine art or not all it’s cracked up to be?

Published on 11th January 2017
A ruin is more interesting than a freshly completed building; it shows the effects of time and experience.
Walker Evans, photographer.

There is a petrol station in Nottinghamshire with Grade II listed status. Disused now, this one-time roadside filling station has a great, swooping winged canopy that has something of the Sydney Opera House in its style. Designed in the 1960s, it has a futuristic swagger which manages to capture some of the excitement and ‘go-getting’ attitude of the age, and yet in 2012 the structure was slated for destruction. The decision split local opinions. Should we hold on to our heritage, even if it is just an empty shell, or with an ever-growing population and a distinct shortage of space, is it time to let the fine designs of yesteryear be swept aside in favour of modernity?

This petrol no longer serves a function but can we still appreciate its form?

The question, at the most basic level, is one of form and function. Architecture, of all kinds, is essentially about use. While a designer may embellish a house with decorative features, they would never knowingly plan a property that was functionally flawed or structurally unsound, no matter how beautiful they could make it on the outside. So if a building is unused – and never likely to be used again – can it be considered as possessing value?

Another way of looking at it is the classification of the business; is an architect an artist in the way of a painter or sculptor, or a tradesman like a plumber, electrician or bricklayer? If the former, the architects work could justifiably be kept for futurity. If the latter, it is arguably only of worth for as long as it is used.

At Apropos we think that there is room for a middle ground. It is a simple statement of fact that not everything can be saved. However, with care and imagination, we can preserve the past while embellishing it in the present so that we can utilise it in the future. There is a 300 year old mill near Peterborough that delivers the perfect example.


Decrepit, near derelict and a long time disused, a few years ago Oundle Mill was converted into a small hotel and restaurant; although at Apropos we’re not in the reviewing business, we must applaud the innovative design (which includes a glorious amount of glass) that allows the building to live on and the mill the keep turning while the function has evolved to a suit a thoroughly modern audience.

hartley vanThis is not a new premise; an old Apropos favourite, The Great Exhibition of Crystal Palace, chopped and changed as needs dictated. A perfect example of united form and function, the building regularly altered its internal spaces (and even relocated in its entirety), allowing it to remain relevant right up until its ultimate destruction by fire in 1936.


The world is full of shadows and highlights; very little is truly clear cut. The same can be said of architecture. One man’s eyesore is another woman’s modern art; it’s really all about perspective.

To discuss your architectural dream home with us, get in touch today or arrange a no obligation design consultation with one of our local experts.


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