Landmarks Of Great Britain
Our summer quest: to find the landmarks that truly define Britain in the 21st century. The appearance of the UK is changing at an unprecedented pace. So The Independent Traveller, along with BA's High Life magazine, asked readers to nominate the structures that most enrich the nation.
We sifted through thousands of votes to come up with a long list of 40 landmarks, which were then presented for consideration by a distinguished panel of judges: Iwona Blazwick, director of London's Whitechapel Gallery; Stephen Hodder, chairman of Hodder Associates and president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA); Julia Bradbury, broadcaster with the BBC and ITV; architect Will Alsop, who, over the years, has won the Stirling Prize and the Civic Trust Award – twice; and Kerry Smith, editor of High Life.
The venue for judging was equally distinguished, and a landmark for central London: the Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street. Here, modernity and tradition coexist with ease, notably in the beautiful Pompadour Suite which is full of stories, from wartime liaisons to grand ceremonies.
The judges' first task was the most painful – eliminating candidates from the long list. Many cherished landmarks, securing hundreds of public votes, fell to earth. They included the Shard – a public favourite that failed to secure architectural approval. Will said: "I wish that it would just come to a point." While Stephen said his disappointment was at the opposite end: "The way that it meets the ground. I think that all buildings have a responsibility to create the street." One stately home with plenty of public nominations received no support from the judges: Highclere Castle in Hampshire, used as the location for Downton Abbey, was eliminated early on, with Will Alsop saying: "In the programme I almost feel sorry for the family that have to live in it." By contrast Chatsworth in Derbyshire received universal approval.
A piece of seaside heritage was recognised in the familiar form of Blackpool Tower. It perches above Britain's most popular seaside resort and includes one of the most beautiful rooms in Britain, the Tower Ballroom. "It represents the age of invention, " said Julia. "It opened in 1894 and was designed to put Blackpool on the map, which it did. And it's still a strong focal point."
The majestic form of Edinburgh Castle – Scotland's leading tourist attraction – was a favourite. Iwona said: "It's got this massing of forms the way it rears up out of the rock, I love the colour of the stone, and it's got a tremendous drama about it."
Re-invention has been a key feature of the UK in the past few decades, and two prime examples were added to the list: Tate Modern, filling a former power station on the South Bank of the Thames in London ("A joint celebration of the engineering legacy with 20th and 21st century sculpture, " said Iwona), and Albert Dock in Liverpool. The latter was at the root of the city's renaissance. A courtyard of water, surrounded by imperious warehouses, was created at a time when the Mersey city was Britain's busiest port and second only to London in importance within the Empire.
There was much enthusiasm for landmarks born in the first six decades of the 20th century. The 1930s De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex, was championed by Kerry. "It's a Modernist masterpiece, and I like its dignified restraint, " she said.
Stephen proposed the 1950s Lovell Telescope in Cheshire, part of the Jodrell Bank radio astronomy complex – a post-war Grade-I listed structure: "Even today it's the third-largest radio telescope in the world. In terms of its intervention in the Cheshire Plain it's really quite extraordinary – an amazing structure salvaged from bits and pieces from Second World War battleships."
The single category with the largest number of landmarks can be summed up as "21st-century cutting edge" – creations of the past 15 years that dramatically transform the landscape.
'Angel of the North' (Getty)
On the Thames, the London Eye only narrowly earned a place, after Will praised the "very clever" engineering and Kerry pointed out: "We shouldn't forget that it attracts three-and-a-half million visitors a year."
Stephen described the Millennium Bridge, which connects two other landmarks, Tate Modern and St Paul's Cathedral, as "beautifully elegant, beautifully detailed".
The shock of the new transmitted well beyond the capital. Four years ago, at a seaside resort on Kent's Isle of Thanet, an art gallery opened on the site of a former guest house – and named for one of the customers of the landlady, Mrs Booth. The town is Margate, the guest was the great landscape artist, J M W Turner, and the gallery is Turner Contemporary. "The architect, David Chipperfield, has built something which pays tribute to Turner himself and puts something on the horizon, " said Iwona. "It's a great journey to go inside it. It's transformed Margate."