This article is taken from the June 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Nukes do deter
Patrick Porter (“WHY NUCLEAR ABOLITION SHOULD FAIL”, MAY) makes a cogent case for the retention of nuclear weapons. He might, of course, have mentioned South Africa, which developed its own nuclear arsenal (with help from Israel and Taiwan) only to successfully dismantle it when the Apartheid regime expired. South Africa is now a signatory to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as is much of sub-Saharan Africa. The likelihood that a nuclear power will want to obliterate Johannesburg seems remote, regardless of whether South Africa could retaliate in like.
Perhaps Ukraine provides the best argument for why countries should not lightly discard nuclear weapons. Would Putin have risked his catastrophic invasion if Ukraine had not repatriated the vast Soviet nuclear arsenal parked in its territory when the USSR broke up in 1991?
It cannot be said that the efforts to minimise the potency of this stark counter-factual by the no-nuke activists of ICAN sound very convincing.
Cast in stone
Charles Saumarez Smith (“DREAMY SPIRES”, MAY) rightly contrasts the posterity-minded approach that Oxford colleges adopt as patrons of new architecture compared to the here-today and (hopefully) gone-tomorrow gimcrackery of contemporary London commercial developments.
A further consideration is the use of materials and whether they should strive for diversity or contribute to an aesthetic unity that gives a place its identity.
In Cambridge, the historic use of Ketton, Ancaster and Portland stone along with Tudor redbrick provides modern architects with the latitude that their Victorian predecessors enjoyed with overwhelmingly pleasing results. Cambridge is a treasure trove of variety where only the (thankfully rare) flashes of exposed concrete fail to rise to the occasion.
Not so Oxford, whose honey-coloured stones unify gown and central town and bring a rewarding visual coherence that is commonly the preserve of Britain’s most attractive places — Bath; the Cotswolds, Stamford; Edinburgh; Aberdeen etc…
Architects keen to “make a splash” may rail against such a tyranny of material, but if they consider themselves above being bound by a discipline that clearly works in its setting then there are no shortage of free-wheeling clients to impress in Dubai, Hong Kong and, indeed, London.
To every rule there are some exceptions. The polychrome psychedelia of Keble College, a Laudanum trip in brick, gets away with it through sheer panache, as, more soberly, does Alfred Waterhouse’s Oxford Union Society (perhaps because of its discreet positioning). Likewise, brick at Lady Margaret Hall offends no one as it’s on the wrong side of the University Parks. But there are few examples where modern architects have triumphed by ignoring the materials that define Oxford.
Take one of Britain’s most celebrated modern architects, the late “Big Jim” Stirling. His Engineering Faculty is an adornment to Leicester. But his similar use of red brick and glass for his Florey Building at the Queen’s College is simply wrong for Oxford. It is an alien eyesore that even its Grade II* listing cannot mask. The failure is not just in the design (a long story in itself), but in the complete disregard for the materials that say “Welcome to Oxford”.
Saumarez Smith ends by suggesting that, whatever their faults, Oxford dons “have a sense of continuity and want to leave a legacy.” There are many different design approaches through which this may be achieved but harmony to surroundings means that that the Oxford legacy should be expressed in stone.
Patience is a virtue
Sebastian Milbank’s article (“ROD DREHER COMES HOME”, MAY) on Dreher’s search for an authentic expression of orthodox, thoughtful, traditionally-rooted Christian belief and practice highlights the dilemma faced by many Christian pilgrims living in the “post-Christian” West.
They find themselves falling down the gaps between the apparently successful but theologically simplistic Evangelicals, the self-appointed guardians of ecclesiastical high culture remote behind their defensive walls and the well-meaning “middle-of-the-roaders”.
Meanwhile the Anglican bishops are shackled to the demands of safeguarding, “diversity” and the backlash to church closures.
Thirty years ago, the great missiologist, theologian, cultural commentator and churchman Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was asked at a conference plenary session how long he thought it would take the West to rediscover the truths of historic Christian belief which it threw out with the bathwater at the Enlightenment. “About 200 years”, was his reply. It looks like we are in for the long haul.
Rev Canon Dr Paul Burt
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