The Palace of Westminster must be saved, but not the vast expanse of interior detail | Rowan Moore

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The Guardian

Last Monday, the roof of the House of Commons chamber contrived to leak. This adds to the long list of hazards – asbestos, sewage leaks, crumbling masonry, fire risk – that I described in the Observer two weeks ago, along with the mind-bending £7bn-£13bn estimate for putting them right. The daunting scale of the problem prompts in many an understandable reaction, that it would be better to relocate parliament to an entirely new building. The palace, though, as a globally famous monument, will still have to be restored, whether or not MPs and lords continue to work there.

An alternative way to reduce cost would be to think the unthinkable about heritage. For a feature of the building is the sheer expanse of intricate interior detail, much of which is never seen by the public. It is like a big fat Victorian novel that doesn’t know when to stop. Is it essential to the building’s beauty and significance that absolutely all this detail be retained and reconstructed? Does world heritage truly need mile after mile of Victorian double-flock wallpaper and linenfold oak panelling? The answer, from parliamentarians, would probably be a scandalised “yes, we do need to keep it all”. In which case, subject to robust scrutiny of the costings, the bill will have to be paid.

Toxic twaddle

Jordan Peterson: ‘The Socrates of toxic masulinity’. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

I hesitate to spend time and space on Jordan Peterson, the Socrates of toxic masculinity, the Abraham for incels, whose attention-seeking statements are the intellectual equivalent of a small boy making farting noises. But, given that he is still treated respectfully by leading newspapers, it feels useful to point out how repulsive are some of his views.

He argues in a recent video that Putin’s war on Ukraine is sort-of justified. Russians think, he claims, that “those westerners are so out of their mind, that a devastated but neutral Ukraine is preferable to a functional bordering state aligned with the US and Europe”. Russians believe they have “a moral duty” to oppose the “degenerate” ideas of the west, he concludes. “There’s something about that that is not wrong.”

Peterson bases his argument on a refusal by the supreme court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to define the word “woman”, even though her own womanhood, given that Biden had promised to appoint someone female and black to the court, was a factor in her nomination.

This refusal, says Peterson, breached the principle of non-contradiction, which means that anyone who goes along with it has “become insane”. Thus, somehow, the bombing of maternity hospitals and shopping malls, the murder, torture and rape of civilians, the obliteration of cities are almost reasonable, not to mention Putin’s well-known perversions of truth and logic. I am sorry, but who is the degenerate here?

Leave it out

An office building ‘is not a leaf. It’s nothing like a leaf’. Photograph: Andreas Michel/Getty Images/EyeEm

A 285-metre tower has been proposed for 55 Bishopsgate in the City of London, potentially the third tallest in the country. It’s your usual big glassy thing, except for a pattern of curving lines on its exterior. The developer Schroders Capital says it “resembles the shape of a leaf, echoing its meaningful connections to natural elements”.

This puts it in the same category of supertall plant metaphors as the thankfully cancelled plan to build a giant “tulip” in the City. There is only one possible response: no, it’s not a leaf. It’s nothing like a leaf. It doesn’t function like a leaf. It is 74,000 square metres of office space and it is banal to call it something else.

July 16, 2022 at 08:54PM Rowan Moore

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