Leave it to the clever people
Ordinary people shouldn't have opinions
Bristol Airport has unveiled a building dedicated to prayer, whatever your faith.
As ever, when anyone tries to do something good, the baying crowd has other ideas. So Bristol Airport's 'Multi faith area' is 'coming under fire'. This is mediaspeak for posting tweets on X about how rubbish various people think it is.
It's safe to say that few (if any) voices have welcomed this facility.
Instead, they compare it with a bus stop and think they're being witty. And everyone claps and cheers.
This is because the kneejerk emotional response always overrides careful thought.
But the public reaction is mostly driven by ignorance and a desire for the familiar. Mention prayer and they reflexively picture cathedrals. Because cathedrals and monolithic old, cold stone churches are 'beautiful' and 'spiritual'. So something of simple utility that may bring travellers closer to their God just jams their brain.
All this is deeply conservative and lacking in insight. But it's contagious and in the rush to fit in it's easier to mock than to think. Get a few laughs for your architectural critique, made from a place of ignorance. Or stentoriously lament the decline in western society's willingness to pay sufficient homage to the divine.
As an expert in architectural theory* I lament this ignorance and offer a different view of this structure, beautifully designed to bring comfort and shelter to the faithful ahead of their flights to places like Marrakech, Gdansk, Corfu and the Isle of Man.
Bristol Airport's Multi faith area represents a paragon of intellectual rigor and aesthetic purity. Its manifestation transcends the cacophony of unnecessary ornamentation, guiding the discerning eye (although clearly not the architecturally ignorant denizens of Twitter/X) to appreciate the sublime beauty inherent in purpose-driven form.
This architectural paradigm, marked by its deliberate rejection of superfluous embellishments, represents an eloquent expression of the philosophical tenets underlying the marriage of functionality and aesthetic refinement.
What do people want at Bristol Airport? An entire mosque, with minarets and a dome? Maybe a mihrab guiding the disoriented soul toward Mecca? Attached to a traditional English chapel, with pointed arch windows, steep gabled roof and maybe some attractive quoins decorating the corners?
At its core, the simplicity embraced by the architectural ethos of Bristol Airport's Multi faith area is not born of laziness, lack of care or space constraints but is rather an intentional distillation of purpose.
Each line and plane coalesce with a quiet sophistication, bearing witness to the meticulous thought invested in the pursuit of an optimal spatial arrangement. The essence of the functional architecture lies not merely in the absence of adornment, but in the profound eloquence found in its elemental geometry, a language of form that speaks volumes about the intellectual prowess of its creators.
The deliberate eschewal of gratuitous complexity serves as a testament to the intellectual acuity of the architects, who, in their pursuit of the functional sublime, exhibit a mastery of restraint.
But, no. It's apparently funny because it looks like a bus stop.
Through a discerning selection of materials and a judicious orchestration of space, Bristol Airport has actually distilled the very essence of purpose into an architectural vocabulary that resonates with intellectual profundity. The simplicity herein is not a compromise but an elevation—a manifestation of a refined intellect that recognises the intrinsic elegance in the uncomplicated articulation of utility.
I want to say leave this stuff to people who know what they're doing. The architects. The planners. The decision-takers. The experts. You got some hearts on Twitter for dunking on this building because you just didn't understand it and ignorance is celebrated in our culture and you are rewarded for displaying your stupidity.
And then there is the overlooked fact of its intent to bring people of different faiths together. A shared space to touch the divine, where acceptance and understanding are encouraged to flourish.
I thought we lived in a culture where diversity is celebrated. A Multi faith area in a world riven by often religious divisions is a healing offer.
I made most of that shit up, with the help of ChatGPT. The prompt I used was ...
"Write 250 words intellectually praising the simplest kind of functional architecture. Make the words and reasoning sophisticated as if a highly educated architectural critic is writing them."
Please join in the fun
Something I often reflect on is the persuasive power of certain types of language.
This seems to have reached its apotheosis in postmodern critiques of culture which seem to me to demonstrate one thing only.
You can argue anything with sufficiently sophisticated language and a significant subset of people will be persuaded. Most of the anti-this-or-that isms work like this. The ones designed to persuade us that some things are inherently unjust but fixable by engineering human nature out of people. Because everything is a social construct.
All the language needs to do is seem sufficiently sophisticated and scholarly to gain credibility as a serious attempt to explain the world. Ponderous, obscurantist theoretical discourse is as influential as it is only because most people cannot be bothered untangling it to reveal the emptiness at its heart.
Throw in the fact that you risk looking stupid when you don't understand 'elite speak' and its mostly those who don't care about status who raise objections. Which is - unfortunately - less educated people.
Rob Henderson expands on this here.
Here's a tiny part from the most famous example of postmodern feminist theorist Judith Butler's famously award-winning prose. The award was for bad writing.
''The insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony.''
What she's saying is how things are organised can change who has most influence. At least, that's how I read it. And it's such an obvious point that it's not worth making anyway. Literally everyone knows that already, JB. But her words have more power by dint of sounding hard and clever. She must be onto something, right?
I am definitely with Edward Said on the issue of language, when he lamented the absolute state of some supposed scholarship in the Humanities.
''At some point critics and writers become parodies of themselves.''
Having been criticised himself for impenetrable language patterns he repented and then laid deliciously into the postmodernists.
Language of the sufficiently sophisticated kind is easy to parody. As ChatGPT helpfully shows.
But it's hard to push back on because these people aren't playing by your rules. My intuition is that this is how many bad ideas get a free pass. The 'right' people nod along and it's then déclassé to demur.
I'm extremely mistrustful of two things, in our information 'landscape'.
One is feelings. When words provoke feelings ahead of thought I've learned to examine them more closely. This includes the feeling of being impressed by the words.
The other is needless complication of the underlying idea.
Eric Berne, the developer of Transactional Analysis, had a rule of thumb which would help to expose a lot of theory - especially of the postmodern deconstructivist kind - for the idle gibberish that it is.
“TA writing should be for the people, the layman, and must be understandable to an 8 year-old child, a mid-west farmer, and an M.I.T. professor.”
The problem with that is that it democratises the intellectual sphere and strong incentives to maintain a gap between so-called 'elites' and the rest of us are in play. Which is a whole other can of worms we won't go into here.
The takeaway here is just be careful about theoretical rhetoric that impresses people - especially yourself . It might be right, of course, but if language can demonstrate anything at all, regardless of reality, it seems healthier to me to always be cautious.
I think that ChatGPT made a good fist of justifying that calamitously vile, pitiful and insulting Multi faith area and this reinforces my suspicion of language.
It might well be a "judicious orchestration of space' but it's also the first building I've ever seen and instantly hoped someone would vandalise it.
Let's finish by revisiting's lovely piece (first linked in the parody section above) because it's a nice antidote to looking at that abomination at Bristol Airport that ordinary people are clearly right about.
*I am not an expert in architecture. This was a lie for effect, because credentials weave into this problem too. Hence the parody headline too.
I am somewhat concerned that some ‘outside’ readers might not understand this and think that I’m really saying that ridiculous stuff up top. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve parodied a perspective and some people took it at face value. I had lots of fun with this on Twitter, back in the day.
Also, curious to know when you first realised I had to be joking. Just out of curiosity. The most obvious clue should have been listing some of the destinations you can fly to from Bristol Airport, which was designed to be suspiciously incongruent in the context. So the comments are open to non-subscribers for this one. Please let me know.