Poetry and Architecture

May 07, 2019

Poetry and Architecture

Poetry and architecture have a long and venerable history. Not only are they conceptually very similar, with traditional versions generally very structured and formal, while becoming more informal and experimental in the modern era, but they have inspired each other for centuries. 

When I was studying at Durham University, I remember clearly spotting Sir Walter Scott’s ode to the glorious cathedral, inscribed in the stone of Prebends Bridge, written in 1817 as part of Harold the Dauntless:

Grey towers of Durham
Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half guard ‘gainst the Scot,
And long to roam these venerable aisles,
With records stored of deeds long since forgot

I was reminded of this inscription recently when a poem appeared on the side of Welbeck Street Car Park, which as we’ve seen is seemingly doomed to make way for a new hotel. A hand-scrawled ode to its concrete triangles has appeared, author seemingly unknown, and it speaks eloquently for many of us who love this building and what it stands for, and who will miss it when it’s gone:

Fair Welbeck Street, in all your brutalist majesty, 
Balanced & bold against the massive London sky.
Teetering house of cards, it would be such a travesty
To bring the barrier down, and say goodbye.
In your storey-stacked style, you seem to call
To days when we were young, shook hands, dreamed dreams
Of progress, motion, of standing tall,
A future fast and fine as jet streams.
Those five-sided triangles. Pointing down from above,
Certain in saying: YOU ARE HERE. You are loved.
And now your days are nearly gone, but turning off the thoroughfare,
I find your striplights glowing on, the ever-widening dream, still there.
I know I shall pass by one morning, to find an absence in your place.
Let traffic dip its lights in mourning, for your cemented charm, your concrete grace.
Farewell, fair Welbeck Street, too beautiful to last -
Once you were the future;
Welcome to the past.

Alongside the poem, a pop-up gallery has appeared with what look like fan photos of the car park pasted to a hoarding, along with an official looking notice announcing 'Welbeck Street Car Park Gallery'. There is also an epitaph to the car park.

Many thanks to Stefan Walters for the photos.

All photos © Stefan Walters - used with permission.

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