Academic and pundit Tony Travers heaps praise on a pier that lends grace to the Naples of the north, and pours scorn on a pathologically misanthropic medical college
Buildings where you live matter enormously. If something is attractive, every time you see it, it lifts your heart. If it’s ugly, the opposite is true. Both my wonder and my blunder are neighbours of mine: in Llandudno where I grew up and in central London, where I live today.
For my wonder, I choose Llandudno Pier, the longest in Wales. This is partly a matter of nostalgia and due to memories of being walked on it as a child, but I also select it because of its architectural impact. The structure has the effect of lengthening the curved sweep of the bay in Llandudno, a town that Queen Carmen Sylva of Romania, who’d spend some time there in 1890, called the Naples of the north.
Apart from that, it has excellent ironwork and the pier head pavilions have more than a touch of the Orient about them. It has always survived as a going concern; now it sustains itself through bouncy castles and slot machines. This proves how right the Victorians were when they employed beautiful engineering and prowess in design in creating places of pleasure.
My blunder is the back of the Royal College of Physicians. You can see why the building won prizes for its front. It’s constructed in a mellow concrete that is as appealing as that kind of brutalism gets. But in Albany Street, onto which it backs, it’s ugly in several different dimensions at once. It ignores the buildings on either side of it and is built in a mix of deliberately “sod you” materials; it maintains the height of none of the buildings or window levels on the street and it is quite obviously a back in a street full of frontages.
It’s wilfully, memorably and balefully undesirable and thus it’s a bad neighbour.
Tony Travers is director of LSE London at the London School of Economics