Friday Thought: IKEA Architecture, the birth of no place in particular

When you think of a city, or country, one of the first things that pops into your head is its architecture. Rome, London, Paris, Japan, Russia… they all have buildings and structures that take centre stage on their map, and in the brand they present to the world. These landmarks will likely never go away, but the world around them has been fading for decades.

The first modern skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885, since then well over 22,791 skyscrapers over 100m have been built (that’s just the ones in cities with more than 10). More and more begin climbing every day. This is logical as populations boom, the cost of land in cities rises and the emphasis on protecting green belts heightens. This isn’t an anti-skyscraper piece. I find them quite fascinating, and the criticism I have is not exclusive to skyscrapers.

With few exceptions, modern architecture lacks variety. It lacks authenticity and originality. It lacks a soul and identity. Blocks of concrete, walls of glass… maybe some cladding if you’re lucky. In my view, the best pieces of modern architecture are the ones that merge with and transform an old building. One like Battersea Power Station for example, a regenerative masterpiece.

For a long time, Europe bucked the trend, choosing to put the preservation of their heritage and character above large-scale high-rise developments. If they did have them, they were usually restricted to specific zones. This is changing. Even Europe are beginning to lean more and more towards the future of the huge glass box. The IKEA architecture. Buildings that you could take down and put back up in another city and nobody would notice that anything had happened.

I’m pro-development. I love to see places being regenerated, but it’s important that we have our own character. Developments need to be unique and creative, something that stands out amongst the crowd. The globe already wears the same clothes, drives the same cars, eats the same food and consumes the same media. Globalism has been burying local landscapes for ages, and it’s doing the same to architecture too.

We can and should be regenerating, building and designing our cities in a way that reflects their identity, before every city in the world is reborn as nowhere in particular.

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