In my very polite opinion
Today is the first national Good Manners Day, an attempt to improve the way that we treat each other. So, very politely, I would like to discuss good manners in architecture – if that is OK with you.
Most of us think of good manners as a good thing in general life – treating others with courtesy and consideration rather than being selfish and self-centred. There can be a downside as well – a veneer of good manners may mask all sorts of manipulations beneath the surface, and veer into a kind of hypocrisy.
‘Polite’ is a distinctly ambiguous term in architecture. It suggests a lack of ambition, and of boldness. It can too easily segue into the boring. Yet, just as we believe we should respect the people around us, so buildings should in general, respect their neighbours. But just as, if we were all endlessly polite, there would be no surprises, no comedy, no performance art and no peaks of excellence and surprise, so a society which only had polite and considerate architecture would be lacking in spark.
Our best cities are not the easiest to live in. They tend to be overcrowded, dirty in places, a little bit threatening and generally exhausting. Yet they draw people because they stimulate, they challenge and they enhance creativity. We still want proper road manners, some basic courtesy and as much smooth running as possible in our best cities – but not too much. And our buildings should be generally liveable, usable and workable. They should exhibit harmony and consideration – but not all of them and not all of the time.