Stephen Bayley

Stephen Bayley is an honorary fellow of the RIBA, a trustee of the Royal Fine Arts Commission Trust and the co-founder of London’s design museum.

The eccentric genius behind Big Ben

One test of great architecture is whether it, and the city it stands in, can be recognised from its silhouette alone. There is Spavento’s campanile – or bell tower – in Venice by St Marco’s Basilica and Giotto’s by the Duomo in Florence. London has a campanile too, perhaps more recognisable than its Italian precedents.

Architecture for all occasions

Architecture is a public art, but public intellectuals tend to engage with more abstract stuff. The style-wars ructions excited by our new King nearly 40 years ago have been settled by gravity, but intelligent discussion about what makes a great building is still a rarity, especially in the Ministry of Levelling Up, where there is

The story of architecture in 100 buildings

One recent estimate claims there are 4.732 billion buildings on Earth, but it’s difficult to establish a credible methodology to count them. Is Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center, created out of swaggering pride and ambition, in the same category as a shanty hut in an Algerian bidonville? Unless you live in a desert, buildings are unavoidable, making

Why are heritage enthusiasts so stubbornly hidebound?

Even if notions of beauty are treacherously fugitive, and even if interpretations of history are nowadays subject to revision by class, gender and race, there can be no civilised argument against the preservation and enjoyment of great architecture and art from the past. But ‘heritage’ is not quite that simple. There’s something else going on.

Must we now despise colonial architecture too?

Here’s a thing. A disturbing book about disturbing cities. And it’s full of loaded questions. Like Hezbollah, the publisher uses the silhouette of an automatic weapon as its logo. This is a trigger warning. Jonathan Swift wrote: All poets and philosphers who find  Some favourite system to their minds  In every way to make it

Enjoy your beloved car while you can

Remember ashtrays in cars? Soon cars will themselves become objects of wet-eyed nostalgic reverie. A thrilling era of propelling ourselves, while gassing others, via a series of explosions more or less constrained by gears, steering devices and friction materials, is coming to an end. Enjoy that very loud Porsche while you can. It will soon

Stylish and useful: why the Anglepoise remains a design classic

The tide of survival bias has retreated and left the Anglepoise a design classic. Its contemporaries from the mid-1930s, a BSA Scout and de Havilland Dragonfly, for example, have become quaint antiquities. Almost unmodified since 1934, it is that rarest of things: a design beyond fashion. And it has totemic qualities. For my generation, the

The country house is dead: that’s why we love it so

The true English disease is Downton Syndrome. Symptoms include a yearning for a past of chivalry, grandeur and unambiguously stratified social order, where Johnny Foreigner had no place unless perhaps as butler in the pantry or mistress in the bedroom. And the focus of the disease is the country house, Britain’s best contribution to the

The disgraceful decision to remove Liverpool’s heritage status

Unesco has cancelled the ‘World Heritage Status’ of the Necropolis at Memphis and the Giza Pyramid because a Radisson Blu hotel has been built in neighbouring Cairo. That’s not true, but for a similarly absurd reason Liverpool has been de-listed from heritage Valhalla by word-mincing bureaucrats. Not many Liverpudlians will care about this imbecilic and

The magnificent fiasco of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House

John Ruskin believed the most beautiful things are also the most useless, citing lilies and peacocks. Had he known about the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, a rural community 50 miles west of Chicago, he might have suggested it too. Except this modernist building of 1951 is an evolved expression of the emerging industrial culture

Is it farewell to the handshake?

Ella Al-Shamahi is a Brummie, born to a Yemeni Arab family. From a strict Muslim upbringing she transitioned (evidently con brio, as ‘dick’ appears in her new book) to the secular life. She is now an author, explorer, academic paleoanthropologist, stand-up comedian and television presenter. This is an impressive c.v., deserving many congratulatory handshakes. But

Roy Strong’s towering egotism is really rather engaging

There is nothing wrong with being self-invented. The most interesting people in the world designed themselves. And in this matter Roy Strong, once upon a time the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum and National Portrait Gallery, can offer a master class. He has discovered the mines of self-invention to be very deep and

The 747 was the last moment of romance in air travel

I felt a genuine pang when British Airways announced that it was retiring its fleet of Boeing 747s, the largest remaining in the world. But the jumbo’s final approach to the elephants’ graveyard in the sky was a long time coming. In the US, United and Delta retired their 747s three years ago. With a

René Dreyfus: the racing driver detested by the Nazis

I have driven a racing car. On television, it looks like a smooth and scientific matter. It is not. A racing car is a fearsome environment of engulfing pyroclastic heat, metaphor-testing noise, vision-blurring vibration and nauseating centrifugal forces. Ninety years ago it was even worse. The cars had tyres with little grip, feeble brakes and

Clean lines and dirty habits: the Modernists of 1930s Hampstead

With its distinctive hilly site and unusually coherent architecture (significantly, most of it domestic rather than civic), Hampstead has always had a singular character. But it is as much a state of mind as an address. Although two of England’s greatest native artists, Keats and Constable, made it their home, over the past three centuries

Plumbing the mysteries of poltergeists

This is a paranormal book — by which I mean it exists in a truly out of the ordinary netherworld of amiable smut and arch silliness not normally associated with titles reviewed in these pages. But hold on, there is a point — which I’ll come to later.‘Perhaps Wakdjunkaga was really Gef the Talking Mongoose.’