If the eyes are the window to the soul of a human, then windows are the eyes to the soul of a building. And with many modern designed buildings, the soul has long since departed.
If Shakespeare lived in modern times I’m sure he would have a more catchy line for how he sees the state of Britain’s architecture, how it seems we have steadily gone from the days of grandeur, character and elegance, to shapeless, hollow boxes.
It is June, almost the peak summer season in my hometown of Torquay, and families are arriving in their droves for their ‘day at the seaside’, a tradition of British inland-dwellers for centuries. Each person is stepping out of their various modes of transport into the sun-drenched, 22 degree, not-a-breath-of-wind-in-the-sea-salty-air atmosphere. The sounds of flocking seagulls always dominate this area, and today they are particularly noisy as they are being chased by the large amounts of sun-drunk children on their holidays.
A building appears on the horizon in the distance to one particular three-generation family group, on their walk from their drop off point into the town centre. The grandfather of the group, still with remarkably immaculate eyesight, spots it first; the rest squint in the afternoon sun to focus. He makes comment it looks like that must be the theatre of Torquay, a grand, majestic landmark right in the centre of the town’s famous harbour. They can just about make out the turrets with what look like copper domes and some kind of statue atop of each. From this distance, the shimmering heat haze of the day throws movement all around the building, and he assumes and comments to the family this must be the centrepiece hub of the town, and they alter their path to head for it.
Inside, Charles Ernesco and his orchestra are playing their Overture to the oncoming Matinee show. Older couples from all over the area are pouring in with their folding fans, happy both to get out of the 22 degree heat, and away from the annoyed seagulls and children. Ice cream is being sold almost quicker than the catering staff can refill the freezers. Anticipation is in the air for what is to come, the people inside feeling like royalty in their grande surroundings.
The family outside reach their intended destination, by now the grandfather has given all the tales to the younger ones in the party, how he has heard many stories about how fabulous the building is inside, how Agatha Christie got engaged there after attending a concert, how special the art nouveau iron work is. He has told his excited grandchildren that he will get them tickets to whatever show is on tonight.
They turn the corner to find the front doors and windows boarded up with crude plywood. They are heavily scarred with flyer over flyer about long-gone town events, and warnings about security patrolling the area.
They had arrived 80 years too late.
The once-thriving theatre had shut down in 1976, the carcass being used for an ice-skating rink for three years, followed by a shopping arcade. Once the building had been abused enough by those industries and started to fall into disrepair, it was taken on by a Southampton-based company, who signed a lease formed to run past the year 2100, and the building forgotten about by all except locals and tourists with good memories. Its now-Grade II listed status, granted in 1976, meant any work had to be of similar standard and design as it was- meaning any restoration was to be extremely costly. This same status that saved it from the bulldozers in 1976, was now giving the Pavillion a slow, gradual death.
The local council are keeping the local community onside with a perpetual cycle of phrases like ‘looking to agree a way forward’ and ‘avenues for the best future outcome’ with the leaseholders, all while the building stands lonely and falling on it’s knees, watching the families walk by one by one.
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