Tuesday, 29 July 2008

School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, WC1

It's very difficult to be bitchy in stone, but this pair of plaques on the wall of the School of Oriental and African Studies just off Russell Square pulls it off dramatically.
The top one is an apology to the Russell family for failing to seek their approval of the design of the building (built by Nicholas Hare in 1995). The family had sold a large area of land behind the British Museum to London University in the 1920s but felt they were forced into it - rather than submit to compulsory purchase they attached conditions that would allow them to continue to act as style police for the area. Considering they had allowed the monstrous Russell and Imperial hotels to be built on the other side of the square, and seem to have acquiesced in the brutalist 1970s horror that is the Institute of Education (by Denys Lasdun) this was a bit much.
The wording of the plaque makes it seem as if the Russell family are rather like the Waltons, down-home types who just want to see good taste reign in the developments on the old farmstead. No mention of the fact that the Russells are among the richest and nobbiest families in England, headed by the Duke of Bedford.
Anyway, SOAS got its own back by placing the plaque recording its Civic Trust award for the design directly below the Ducal whinge, as if to say "Up yours, your Grace."

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