Design for the New Law Courts
George Gilbert Scott
“Design for the New Law Courts Strand Front”
Source: Building News
Other entrants in the competition
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As might be expected, George Gilbert Scott was one of the strongest competitors in the competition for the new Law Courts on the Strand in 1867. Although the competition was won by George Edmund Street, some aspects of Scott's design were liked by the commentators in Building News. In a long analysis of it in their issue of 1 February 1867, they note that
The general plan which Mr. Scott has adopted is very unlike all the others, in as much as the outer shell of building does not completely surround the site, being omitted towards the Strand in order to give more space to the central block of building.... Within the outer shell is an area or street opening into the Strand. Bounded by this internal street on the north, east, and west, and by the Strand on the south, is a huge block of buildings, with a central projection towards the south of one-third the length of the main building, and 'an open space' in the centre of the block. This central mass is devoted to twenty-two out of the twenty-four courts required, and the chief offices.... no one can fail to see that the courts are brought well together, and every convenience afforded for the legal public without waste of room or unnecessary display.
In the end, however "the great question of concentration" seemed to sway the case against him, together with the feeling that Scott had not given of his best here, partly no doubt because of the pressure of time (there had only been nine months to work on such a major project) and the stringent requirements of the Commissioners, but also because, when he did have more scope for his own ideas, he failed to capitalise on it:
we think Mr. Scott's architectural power declared itself in his Gothic designs for the Foreign Office [later used at St Pancras and the Midland Grand Hotel], in his design for the Hamburg Exchange, and in his new Town Hall at Preston, much more than in any of the drawings for the Law Courts. It is true that Mr. Scott insists that his design is the outcome of the plan, and that nearly all the great features of what people call the architectural composition result from the practical distribution of the building. We can only say that the requirements of the Commissioners, even though contrived with Spartan courage, are not the sort of things to encourage the development of art. In the towers which flanked the projection towards the Strand, Mr. Scott was unfettered, and so practically he makes them both clock towers, for, although one is to serve as a ventilating tower, its great purpose would appear on its four sides, in the shape of huge sun-dials. These towers and the whole composition which they flank we look upon as the greatest defect in the design; the portals are low and out of proportion with the superstructure. The smaller features remind us of the most unsatisfactory parts of the Foreign Office designs, and the attempt to secure lightness has resulted in monotony, the effort to grasp repose and strength has ended in baldness. (79-80)
In a summation published on 12 April of the same year, the commentators write simply: "Mr. Scott — Merits: Grouping of courts compact, ambulatory or central corridor well arranged, architecture of entrance vestibule and ambulatory dignified and well proportioned in themselves, treatment of levels good." However, the "demerits" evidently outweighed these merits: "Judges' corridor too exposed. Strand facade poor, especially in the centre, superstructure too much for the portal and monotony of skyline" (249). Scott, it seemed, had wasted the better part of a year's work, an occupational hazard for top-flight architects entering competitions for major commissions. — Jacqueline Banerjee
Building News and Engineering Journal. Vol 14. Internet Archive. Uploaded by Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto. Web. 1 February 2012.
Building News. (5 April 1867): following 238.
Last modified 3 February 2012