Via The Economist : IN 1955, just three years after acceding to the throne, Queen Elizabeth II offically opened Terminal 2 at Heathrow airport in London. In 2014, towards the twilight of her reign—which this month became the longest ever of an English monarch—she returned to open a new Terminal 2 fit for the 21st century. How convenient it would be to see these two buildings as bookending New Elizabethan Architecture. Yet Elizabeth II is the first major British monarch who will not have an architectural style named after her, depriving future estate agents of the opportunity to advertise, 200 years hence, a “stunning two-bedroom New Elizabethan flat in Hackney”.
One big reason for this is that the present Elizabethan era includes as many as a dozen architectural highlights and at least two broad architectural styles. “I cannot imagine a term or an argument that would tie all of this together,” says Stanford Anderson, a professor emeritus of history and architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “’New Elizabethan architecture’ just ducks the question.”
Elizabeth’s reign has had its share of landmark buildings. The Barbican [pictured], a residential and cultural complex in London, is one; the Shard, a commercial tower, is another. Each is, arguably, the high-water mark of its own era. The former represents the height of post-war reconstruction, which includes Brutalist and post-modernist styles. The later is the apogee of what has been called the “architecture of private capital”. As Britain stepped away from public building projects in the 1980s, the state also stopped setting the architectural agenda. Unlike the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII and the first four Georges, the monarchy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has had little influence on what Britain looks like. (Despite the best efforts of Prince Charles, Elizabeth’s eldest son.)
A second, related, reason is the tendency of recent statement architecture to come from nowhere in particular. In the past, when monarchs and architects alike were inspired by outside influences, it was still possible to trace them to other countries or cultures. In contrast, today’s globalised architecture is rootless: glass-and-steel monoliths equally at home in London as in Shanghai. When “starchitects” such as Sir Norman Foster, Renzo Piano or Zaha Hadid design “iconic” buildings and stamp them onto cities all over the globe, the idea of a national architectural style seems as outmoded as a closed economy. Instead, cities end up pockmarked with statement towers that are waved through by planning officials who hope the star quality will stimulate local economic regeneration, says Charles Hind of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
There is also the question of whether some of the more notable buildings built during Elizabeth’s reign will look the same centuries hence. Modern skyscrapers are not designed to last more than a few decades without refurbishing says MIT’s Mark Jarzombek. While 20th-century skyscrapers of brick and concrete—the Chrysler building or the Barbican, for example—can survive longer than the glass-sheathed towers of the 21st, they too need constant care.
Still, there is perhaps one enduring architectural legacy of the New Elizabethan era: for the first time in history, Britons could reasonably expect homes that were warm and contained indoor plumbing and adequate living space. As Victorian buildings are refurbished to modern standards—the St Pancras hotel in London is a prime example—those now quotidian comforts may come to define the architecture of the era.