One of the most striking architectural spaces in Britain is a completely cubic hall that glistens with white marble and is intricately enlivened by pilasters, pediments, grand doorways, classical reliefs and statues. Look up, and the entire ceiling is a rich wonderland of sculpted stucco. This room, influenced by the Italian genius Palladio, is a magnificent piece of installation art, created centuries before the idea of installation art even existed.
Or rather it was, until fire ravaged Clandon Park House in Surrey this week.
I hope against hope the marble hall can be salvaged from the fire that has torn through this great building, cared for by the National Trust. But the damage to Clandon looks catastrophic.
Heroic conservators and firefighters worked to pull as much of the 18th-century porcelain and furniture as they could from the flames, but a lot of the fabric of Clandon has clearly been tragically lost.
Does that matter? Isn’t it just a bit of posh heritage culture that has gone?
On the contrary, Clandon’s architecture – let alone its contents – embodied a great opening up of the British imagination. The audacity of its marble hall deserved to be better known as a national glory. I only visited this stately home once, but its great central space is one of the most vivid memories I have of architecture. It is – was? – dreamlike. […]