Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Researching “space-frames,” the subject I originally planned for this space, I re-encountered images of the London Skylon, which I hadn’t seen for a very long time.  Structurally related to space-frames through tensegrity principles, I thought the Skylon was much cooler and a more compelling subject, a lost icon obscurely embodying the inchoate aspirations of the age which is my age.  

Built as the symbol for the 1951 Festival of Britain, a popular contemporary joke about Skylon went that, like the British economy of 1951, Skylon “had no visible means of support."

Named by Mrs A G S Fidler, wife of the chief architect of the Crawley Development Corporation, Skylon was designed by the team of Hidalgo Moya, Philip Powell and Felix  Samuely (who also acted as engineer and ensured structural safety).  The monument was fabricated by Painter Brothers of Hereford, England on London's South Bank between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge.  Its base was nearly 15 metres (50 feet) from the ground and the giant silver rune reached a height of nearly 90 metres (300 feet).  Skylon’s frame was sheathed in aluminium louvers, which were lit from within at night.

More than any of the other “international exposition” type monuments I remember from my youth, including the disappointing Tent of Tomorrow and its accompanying Unisphere from the 1964 New York World’s Fair and their quite magical 1939 fair predecessors, the Trylon and Perisphere (which my parents had seen and told me about), Skylon seems to embody all future hopes and present cluelessness and confusion.  As such, it remains eternally relevant.  Quo vadis?  Who knows?    

And now that U.S. president Obama has definitively stated: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that;  somebody else made that happen,” I’m forced to wonder about my own past (and the provenance of any success I may have achieved) as much as about my future.  I’m executive-directed to understand that my hindsight is no longer 20/20 and that any proud memories I might have had are merely self-flattery.  Who on earth is actually writing this?  Somebody else?  What do I tell my daughter?  Am I now meant to discard the photo albums also and substitute strangers' pictures?
The circumstances of Skylon’s removal and demolition, which were ordered by Winston Churchill in 1952 as part of a desire to remove indicia and evidence of the Labour government that preceded his return to power, remain a mystery wrapped, as they say, in an enigma.

Our modern design series will continue shortly with an exploration of the “peek-a-boo shower,” a bizarre hotel room phenomenon I recently experienced, which has me completely flummoxed.  

Until then:

Graham Parker -- You Can't Be Too Strong (Link)

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