Tony Bingham is left aesthetically stranded by the RAC control centre on the M6, but the Bilbao Guggenheim comes to the rescue
Are you old enough to remember those RAC roadside rescue men on their motorbike and sidecars? The person who designed this edifice certainly is, and they obviously like a joke. It’s the RAC lookout on the M5/M6 junction just past Birmingham. Those RAC men wore an RAF-style uniform complete with peaked cap and chin strap. Look at the slopping roof, look at the vertical glazing – can you see what it is? It’s a gigantic version of that RAC man’s flat cap. And, did you know that if your old banger motor car sported an RAC badge you would always get a salute from the patrolman? Nowadays when I drive up the M6, I always feel the need to give a salute to this building.
Let’s leave the M6 for sunnier climes. Come with me to Bilbao … to the Guggenheim. Yes I know who designed it, yes I know he is brilliant, but all my marks go to the builder. Contrary to appearances, designing the curvaceous form was merely impossible; building it was a miracle. Yet the builder never gets a mention alongside Gehry. When I was there, I could find nothing in the library that could tell me who the master contractor was. For me, the best bit is the walkway at river level. It is curved concrete and completely flawless – not a wiggle or a wobble. But who is this builder?
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator – and a weekly legal columnist in Building