“It’s a strange monument to the Irish”
When I was studying in Liverpool, there was an architecture student two doors down from me. A lad from Manchester by the name of Adam Sowerbutts. I call him a lad, but there was nothing laddish about Adam. In fact, sometimes there seemed to be very little human about him.
Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t weird – no more than anyone in the early 80s – but he did seem alien. Possessed of arcane knowledge and spouting references that would spin past and crash against the wall behind my head.
Tales of Le Corbusier, daily consultations with the i-Ching, and a capacity for coffee that threatened both our sanities.
Ever since then, I have always regarded the architect as part scientist, part mystic.
I think that’s the way he’d have liked it.
The same goes for their craft. So when I talk to Ruth McHugh about the architectural oddity that is the Liverpool Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral – and it is an oddity, even if you don’t think it’s about to be fired towards Mars – I still have these twin reactions at play.
I’m awed, and more than a little frightened. I don’t want to make an ass of myself.
Fortunately, despite her daunting qualifications and experience, Ruth talks neither down nor across at me, but with me. She’s thoughtful and generous and even laughs at my jokes.
I describe her as having a questing intelligence, and I think that’s a reasonably accurate description (as much as anyone can be defined by two words). You can hear it in the interview: her fondness for her previous projects, such as “Spectres of Modernity” at the old Ballymun tower block in Dublin; her delight at a sudden thought or connection.
You can also hear that in many ways, this project – like all of them – will never be completed but abandoned, just as an author must inevitably abandon their latest novel, in order to write the next one.
This is not your standard Plastic Podcast, but then Ruth McHugh isn’t your standard interviewee, just as “Paddy’s Wigwam”/”The Mersey Funnel”/”The Pope’s Launchpad” isn’t your standard cathedral.
Embrace the oddness.
As I believe Adam Sowerbutts once advised.