Friday, April 20, 2007

The meaning of icons

The equally distinctive eighties octagonal glass pyramid that tops the atrium of the former 'New Library' along with one length of external wall is all that remains of that edifice. The atrium has been stripped of its outer panelling, changing its colour from silvery white to pale blue, the colour of the thermal insulation beneath almost the colour of today's sky. Since yesterday one quarter of the octagonal top has been taken down. I guess by tomorrow lunchtime, when the guys knock off for the weekend, another distinctive townscape feature will be only a matter of photographic record. But will anybody remember them? Are there any stories attached to them that made them in a real since 'iconic'.
I hate the use of the word 'iconic' applied to any fancy edifice whose image PR people and politicians propose as representative of the thriving status of a city or an institution. I hear our poorly educated young graduate professionals talk about 'iconic' images. How oxymoronic can you get? Icons are pictures telling stories, usually sacred stories. There's little sacred about the modern vanities that 'iconic images' promote. But stories do give places and their distinctive edifices meaning approaching the 'iconic' - they earn the right to be regarded thus with the passage of time, rather than because somebody with cash or political clout decides it must be like that.
So are there, I wonder, any stories that might have attached some symbolic meaning to these two disappeared images from Cardiff's townscape. There have been many a moan from passers-by about the disappearance of these buildings so recently erected in the memories of most older Cardiffians, but I'm not aware of any protest campaigns to try and save them. Did they really matter to nobody? Or is it that people learned not to care when the original eighteenth and nineteenth century tenement buildings in the city centre fell to the developers' ambitions.
It's also important not to forget that there's nothing new in what happened to 'our heritage' in the city centre during the 1970s. My Grandmother lived in an old tenement building not far from the city market where the family had a stall in the 1880s. This was pulled down in the 1890s to make way for the final expansion stage of the venerable David Morgan department store, currently being recycled as prestigious expensive apartments and posh retail outlets.

Plus ca change!

No comments: