John Prescott, Tony Blair’s deputy prime minister, and responsible for urban planning in the UK throughout the early 2000s, was continually asked, “What is wow?”. His response? “It’s buildings that strike you and you say, ‘bloody ‘ell'”.
Prescott, in his typically raw manner, has described what has gradually become architectural consensus over the past decade-or-so. For architecture to be good, we are told, it needs to be so spectacular, so radical, so mind-blowing, that we should unanimously say “bloody ‘ell”. And many buildings elicit exactly that response – great buildings like PTW’s Water Cube, Foster’s Gherkin or Gehry’s beautiful but ridiculous aluminium franchises that have sprung up everywhere from LA to Bilbao (there was even talk of him building one in Geelong, for chrissakes).
For me, ‘wow’ doesn’t have to equate to spectacular. A perfect example is Casey Brown’s Mudgee Tower. Here is a building that is small in proportion (only a 3 sqm footprint), yet with a wow factor beyond comparison. It’s setting, sense of place and permanency, innovation and simplicity are what gives the Tower its ‘wow’ factor.
And if, when viewing such a building, you still say “bloody ‘ell”, then so be it.