Articles and Reviews


by Stephen Moss - The Guardian - 29 September 2001

in a series looking at the difficult arts.


Stephen Moss interviewed Jeremy Till, Professor of Architecture at Sheffield University

Till starts with people rather than with structures, asking us not to venerate buildings, but to occupy them. He studied philosophy as well as architecture and offers a vision based on ideas rather than structures. His heroes are Rem Koolhaas, and the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre, who argued that architecture and social life were inseparable.

He rejects aesthetic judgments about buildings and claims they only take on meaning when full of people - our perception of buildings is in large part determined by how our fellow users fill the space.

" Buildings have to take account of dirt, time and people, and architects are frightened of these things."

Why are buildings always photographed empty?

In place of aesthetic judgment Till offers the idea of space: how architects and designers allow us to use their structures. The way a building looks is irrelevant. What matters is the way it feels. This relies on the way one encounters space. This is difficult to evaluate but you know it when it happens. With a great building like the Festival Hall you can strip away the 1950s detailing and get a sense of spatial empowerment all the way through that building which is extraordinary. The National Theatre does that too, yet the discussion is always skewed into an aesthetic argument about the way it looks. In a recent Radio 4 poll the National Theatre featured in both the best and worst lists. Till reckons this was because its fans were judging it spatially, while its foes were looking at it aesthetically.

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