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What did the Georgians do for us?

The RIBA’s exhibition by Pablo Bronstein, ‘Conservatism – The long reign of pseudo-Georgian architecture’ is both seductive and perturbing.

There is no question that the architect draws beautifully and makes us look again at buildings that we might otherwise dismiss.

And, with the accompanying material, such as reproductions of pages from Building magazine showing attitudes to Neo-Geo, it helps us see how pervasive the influence of Georgian is. After all, if you strip away some of the detailing, are you talking about much more than brick and a certain choice of proportions? And what is wrong with that?

The trouble is that there is a lot that is wrong with many of the buildings that Bronstein shows. The proportions are wrong and the details. He points out the bizarre use for example of keystones, and there are some witty captions along the lines of ‘the irregular positioning of burglar alarms breaks up the boring facade’.

But Bronstein’s lovely drawings in black and white, with the buildings seen usually head on and sometimes, accompanies by witty baroque curlicues, disguise so much. We do not see the shoddy use of materials, the bad brick, the wrong texture, the way that the facades work badly together.

Of course, we can learn from perennially popular Georgian architecture, and incorporate some of the thinking in today’s designs. But many of Bronstein’s subjects are, quite simply, shocking buildings. And if his drawings help to legitimise them, that is not good. Perhaps we should have seen some photos as well…

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