4 Mar 2020 – noon GMT – 7°C Partly Cloudy – Co. Dublin, Ireland
I started looking for places that we might visit that had been designed by the architect Edwin Lutyens. There are a few candidates, the most likely being war memorials. Thiepval may be possible from Péronne on the Somme itself where we’ll be taking a day off after 34 days on the road.
I was lucky to have had many opportunities to visit and stay in the home of a family friend, a home designed by Edwin Lutyens. Through those experiences, I came to appreciate the benefit of absolute control in design. Architect designed bannisters, door handles and chairs are not just accessories, their presence transcend the generations, preserving the original ideas for a very long time.
In Dublin, Lutyens’ architecture was renowned through the Hugh Lane gallery, never built. A controversial bridge across the Liffey, a Ponte Vecchio in colonial Dublin. His later commission to build a war memorial in Irishtown took many years to be realised. And then it languished unloved for many years, a place that memorialises the dead who had fought and died for an Empire from which others fought and died for independence. Now it sits in a Republic still riven by memories of enforced partition, rebellion and civil war.
I also had the luck to live near to The Cenotaph in London, close enough to be able to walk down and admire what for me is an absolutely superb memorial. I love the idea that the surfaces have a slight curvature and that they project above and below the actual memorial, their virtual meeting points above and below reminding us of the sheer numbers of those slaughtered during that spat between cousins, the Great War. His use of entasis is to be seen in his original drawings. The verticals taper up to a point a thousand feet above. The horizontals describe a circle centred nine hundred feet below. Perhaps it wasn’t built like this in the end. After all, Lutyens wasn’t even invited to the inauguration. But it’s Lutyens and his theosophical beliefs are in his sketches. Coupled with the all inclusive inscription, The Glorious Dead, I see the The Cenotaph as an enormous memorial to every one of the fallen, as virtual as the millions it represents. I made it a point to attend the traditional wreath laying at the eleventh hour in 2019 only to be surprised by the constant references to Christianity while surrounded by multi-faith and culturally diverse people in military uniforms.