This building refuses to get out of my mind. I have never been over enthusiastic about classical design, most of work from Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones is appreciated and some of their buildings held in very high esteem. However, this building’s simplicity and the bold form have intrigued me from the day I set my eyes on it the first time in early 60s.

The ‘History of Architecture’ we were taught hardly gave us a clue about details of classical orders or ‘Tuscan Temples’ but recently I sat down to look at some of the history of St Paul’s Church (which proved to be long and complicated) and ‘the pain of it’s birth’ confirmed some of the basic features this building displays to this days. It also defines the genius of an architect who understood the role of significant buildings within the public urban spaces.

The first impression I gain is that the offer of building a new Church by the Earl of Bedford was not dissimilar to the present day ‘planning-gain’ in return for obtaining permission to develop a brand new high quality housing scheme around a new square.

As you would expect the client told the architect to build this ‘gift’ as economically as possible and that famous lines,” … not much better than a barn.” and the reply by Jones, “Well!! Then you shall have the handsomest barn in England.”

Jones also got entangled in church politics by proposing the seating/alter in the opposite orientation to ‘norms’ and wishes of the parish vicar. Jones’s famous ‘Tuscan Temple’ elevation lost a lot of its relevance by becoming the blanked off rear elevation facing the proposed square but his mind was set on gaining a centre piece of a certain stature.

Inigo Jones was at peak of his career and the opportunity to build this prestigious square development was as attractive to an architect then as it is now. This also offered Jones an opportunity to display his unconformity, scholarly primitivism (tempted to use the word ‘brutalism’) and possibly his aspiration to highlight the purity of the early uncorrupted church.

The picture above and below were taken on a cold evening in late February. A time when the stalls are closing and most of the tourists are leaving. Let me show you some sights as seen the same evening.

The office development by Renzo Piano taken from the hotel window. Centre Point is behind Pianos blocks.

The GLC housing almost opposite Covent Garden Tube station in dark bricks looks rather sombre.

The Opera House Development completed by Dixon and Jones in 2000 looks impressive any time of day. The L shaped part of the development making up one corner of the square has carried on with Inigo Jones like colonnade using modern language.

The old vegetable market now houses a busy craft market and expensive shops and restaurants. The basements which were originally vegetable stores have been opened up to become commercial spaces.

Wolverton, though only few miles away from Stony Stratford, is a very different town, almost in all respects. It is a historic Victorian Railway town, with a Milton Keynes like gridded housing core of terraces, surrounded by railway workshops.

The softness and rustic surroundings are nowhere to be seen and this shift in grain of the town was very sensitively picked up by the MKDC design team in designing this indoor market and Skating/Leisure Centre.

The shopping/leisure building had to be flexible in use and a large space framed covered area surrounded with two storey balcony/ circulation is housed in a robust engineering brick structure with references to Victorian brick decorations. The appearance and the architectural handling has been developed to provide a strong visual rhythm to accommodate ‘uncontrolled’ use and appearance, consequently the building is unlikely to win many beauty competitions but what a wonderful gift for a tough town this turned out to be.

It is refreshing and unusual to see the building taking everything on its chin like a seasoned street fighter, remain standing on its feet, and to shame the ‘abusers’ asks for knock out blows to be landed on it.

The only reference to its inception showing the linkage with the Miesian tradition is a beautifully designed glass box sitting at high level under the large roof to one side of the Market area, dissolving the space, looking down and reflecting the surrounding activities of this well crafted space.

The location of the large bulk of the building within the town is also brilliant.

It links various walking routes through and around it, addressing itself to a small town square, an open air market and car park and two main streets of the town.

Despite the size and bulk of the building, it sits majestically among the Victorian neighbours, with no visual niceties or concessions, without    playing second fiddle to anyone.

This building is a hidden gem (not visually exciting – more like an uncut precious stone) and has a lot of lessons to offer to many people of differing disciplines.