Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The architectural criticism of Uriah Rhinepotts

The hospital itself was a TV star, especially the long, clean curves and arches of its main atrium. It would have had, in a better climate than a British winter, sunlight streaming down through it, as opposed to an occasional urban seagull dropping spattering on its windows, as another grey churning gale blew in more pointed winged scavengers in search of the discarded fried chicken cartons which were even easier find on the streets and pavements of early 21st century London than over-quota fish being thrown off the back of a seagoing trawler.

In the late 20th and early 21st century British and US TV loved detectives and doctors. Contemporary meritocrats who diced with death cheaply because they wore their own clothes, (mostly), and did not need to be adorned with spurious togs, togas, top hats and/or wigs. The tecs and docs did not need elaborately built sets or especially chosen locations to frown with actorly angst at the allegedly intense dilemmas concocted for them by scriptwriters: but scripts usually demanded longish sequences of walky-talking, and the atrium was just the place.

“….then Hartenheim was right-handed! He couldn’t possibly have used the secateurs…” One actor might explain.

“..and that means that Ealing roadway could be a red herring all along!” Another sage thespian would noddingly acknowledge, before a cut away to their grinning telegenic visages. Sooner or later, a chunk of synthetic but oozing, allegedly human liver, brain or lights will be shown in some television simulacrum of a ‘scientific’ laboratory signified by smoked glass panels and gleaming chrome. Once in a while you even got a scalpel shot with some gore splatter.

Some say that older British hospital buildings had more character and some say that they are more crowded and unhygienic and needed a large, poorly pad labour force to be available to clean nooks, crannies and other built in dirt traps.

The smooth linoleum floors of the post-modern TV star hospital are cold on the feet of poor old arthritic diabetics, such as Uriah Rhinepotts, and needed a smaller, contracted out, more poorly paid workforce.

So-called post-modern architecture is, Uriah has read, eclectic, almost arbitrary in its referencing of past styles, and the TV star hospital showed this characteristic markedly.

The airy atrium in some ways resembled the entrance hall of a large railway station or of a small airport; except that it had balconies and glazed interior windows overlooking it like a simulated Victorian shopping street in a theme park or a museum.

Whether airport, station or fake shopping centre, the atrium was different in atmosphere to the real interiors of such built locations. It took Uriah Rhinepotts some time to work out why, but eventually he cracked it. It was the only place that he had ever been where people behaved like the matchstickoid beings often depicted in architects’ drawings.

They moved slowly, (no matchstickoid ever went faster than a straight-baked normal walk, they seldom used crutches or wheelchairs in the architects’ drawings they, in the messier real TV hospital, they might employ such disability aids). They moved individually or in small groups in a criss-crossing pattern of purposes. Their conversation was a silent amorphous background hum of calmness, (no doubt brought on by the magic healing properties of the architecture). They were calmly and measuredly going about some business that they knew; not uncertain, hurried, anxious, alienated, anomic, atomic and individualistically pushy and ruthless like any normally, collectively psychotic, big city crowd.

And that was not the end of the wonders of the atrium. There were bridges across it and horizontal porches above doorways, which one could see from above, (if crossing one of the bridges in an orderly, well-mannered, fashion), were filled with shingle.

These suspended beaches might have some ergonomic reason behind them, as they could hardly be a geological tell tale of differing past sea levels, but when you put the whole lot together, including several huge polished wooden pseudo-abstract humanoid sculptures, the whole mishmash fried Uriah Rhinepott’s cultural circuits ’til they frazzled.

A potentially underwater shopping mall and art gallery that doubled as a passageway to waiting rooms, other limbos and , ultimately, death?

Yes, that’s what it was. It would ultimately fulfil the cynical archaeologists’ dictum that if you can’t tell what it’s for, it must be religious. This saying was now being partially reversed as some archaeologists were now guessing that Stonehenge was possibly a Neolithic hospital and/or healing shrine, rather than solely a straightforward temple.

In any event, when the robot diggers had mined the crust of urban seagull guano from about the remains of the TV star hospital and reached the layout of wards, corridors, lavatories, laboratories and many, many, many rusted machines, (perhaps with some plastic sinews still intact), another intelligent species might send its archaeologists and forensic scientists to ascertain what this sprawling edifice could have been.

A hospital? Or a healing shrine? Or a temple? They might guess: but probably never surmise that it was a TV star, even as the cameras roll on the actors, who are much more glamorous than the real docs and tecs, walky-talking about it.

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