Sunday, May 30, 2010

And a Lid to keep the rain off, Please.

I am at the beach again today.  To the west the sand flat dissolves, warm and muddy and smelling of old shoes, into the mangroves. To the east is the rock seawall of the marina - tinted orange-pink by the ubiquitous red dust. And almost in front of me is the most appalling piece of seafront architecture built since the eclipse of the Soviet and the demise of the late lamented Josef Stalin. (All Peace be upon Him.)
            The architectural brief was clear: a flight of stairs from the promenade down to the sand, a ramp for the less-able-bodied, and a lid to keep the rain off, please.
            This modest brief was answered by an insufferable concrete monolith that has more mass, and less attenuated grace, than the larger Egyptian pyramids.  There is indeed a staircase.  And there is indeed a ramp - for those extreme wheelchair enthusiasts who enjoy whizzing around three non-code-compliant hairpin bends and being pitched off a twelve inch lip into three boulders and a pile of decomposing seaweed.
            Everything about the behemoth is massive - the flight of Brobdingnagian steps suitable for a People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, fat concrete balustrades that would stop a mortar round, and a pitch on that ramp that would - and recently has - sent wheelchair-bound Vietnam veterans screaming toward front-page newspaper exposes with words like "Shock!" and "Damning!" in the headlines.  And the roof!  Sheets of unpainted corrugated tin lofted twenty five feet into the air, pitched to guarantee entree to the most meek and self-effacing of rain-showers.
           The thick gray paint that coats the vast and benighted enterprise stops half way down, giving way to an equally monolithic foundation, this one raw, ragged, chopped, pitted and scabbed, and ending in a cliff-hanger of a finish, where most of the sand and gravel has washed out from underneath. Visitors are prone to instinctive and violent reactions: they screw up their faces, bawling "What's the bloody point?" and hold their breaths until their faces turn purple.  It's a choice between a classical tantrum or an act of principled vandalism, and you couldn't dent the thing with a bulldozer.
           The thing is sea-side-ish in the same way that a supertanker is nautical.  Naturally, it is the winner of a major regional architecture award. I enjoy visualizing the committee, a row of solid soviet chins nodding above solid soviet suits, smiling solid soviet smiles of solid soviet satisfaction and saying "Da! The Monument to the People's Surf-fishing Industry will show the world the strength of our Recreational Blue-Swimmer-Crab-Catching Collective!”
            We brought The Architect to have a look at it when he was here. He stood on the beach and stared at it in silence for seventeen seconds, then his face turned red and he started bellowing the Internationale and went away to try and kick a seagull.

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