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  • Writer's pictureD. Maurice Kreis

Penny Lane it Ain't

Here's the thing about me as an architecture enthusiast and occasional critic: I have no taste.

Specifically, I have no training of either a formal or informal variety. The only relevant part of my academic pedigree is a semester of art history as a freshman at Middlebury. I have few if any notions of building science. Though I admire buildings that seem to facilitate rather than undermine the humanity of their users, resonate with their environments, and are sustainable, I am easily bedazzled by the unusual and bold. I have visited Las Vegas and learned from it.

I also think golf -- unless we're talking about miniature golf -- is really stupid.

Which brings me to the Allerton Golf Club in the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool. (Apologies to my British friends. Here in the U.S., the Fab Four are only thing Liverpool is known for.) There's a clubhouse on the grounds of the club that first built in 1815 according to a neoclassical design by Thomas Harrison. The owner was Jacob Fletcher, whose father was a slave trader.

Alas, the place was devastated by fire in 1944. Perhaps Fletcher's karma caught up with him and his successors-in-interest. For years, the building lay in ruins.

Now it is in the process of being updated by the architecture firm of Ratcliffe Groves, based in Manchester and London. Into the shell of the old there is to be inserted a cheeky hotel of the new -- so disrespectful of what Thomas Harrison could have ever intended that the design attracted the attention of the twitter account known as "Crappy Cheapo Architecture." (I'm a devoted follower.)

Oh come now, Crappy. Where is your sense of humor and whimsy? Are you going to side with British snobs like Prince Charles, who famously derided a similarly ahistorical (but ultimately discarded) plan for an addition to the National Gallery in London as a "monstrous carbuncle," or with the late Robert Venturi (who, with his partner Denise Scott-Brown) designed the addition that was actually built at the National Gallery)?

I'm with Venturi's famously proclamation in his classic Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture:

I like elements which are hybrid rather than “pure,” compromising rather than “clean,” distorted rather than “straightforward,” ambiguous rather than “articulated,” perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as “interesting,” conventional rather than “designed,” accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur and proclaim the duality.

Who knows if this design, in all its hybrid non-purity, will really work? I've never been to Liverpool. But it brings a smile in the midst of the pandemic-induced gloom. Plus: This is a private golf club, not a public university, or the halls of Parliament, or even some museum piece of an old building you can visit to catch a glimpse of how Lord Grantham and his brood really lived. I'd much prefer to be exploring a dazzling new building like this, sipping a Vesper Martini (made according to the design of noted mixologist Ian Fleming) than to be driving around on some clunky cart and doing "birdies" and "bogeys" and whatever the heck else it is that golfers do. (To establish my golf bona fides, I have included a photograph of my most recent golf outing, at Hollywood Drive-In Golf at CityWalk in Orlando, Florida.)

In conclusion, quoting out of context those most famous of Liverpudlians, I offer my learned but ultra-socially distanced assessment of Allerton Manor Golf Club Hotel & Spa: "So I say . . . It's all right."

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