Architecture: The Taj Mahal at sunrise, Brighton Pavilion, Didcot Power Station... ahh, those great monuments to love

Readers will be the first to put me right, but I do not know of a British church dedicated to St Valentine, the third-century Christian martyr associated, by historical accident, with the sending of valentines. If there is, I wonder what it looks like? Can the idea of love be represented or sublimated successfully in stone or bricks and mortar? I don't mean happy suburban homes with roses around the Kentucky Fried Georgian door, but monuments to grand passion.

Architects and their patrons have tried, but these monuments have usually been erected to lust rather than love, although how far the two can be separated has never been clear.

Brighton Pavilion is clearly a pleasure dome; every voluptuous billow of the Prince Regent's seaside palace speaks of lubricious summers spent among a soft mound of silk pillows.

But, where can you find the architecture of pure love, the sort John Betjeman had for Peggy Purey-Cust (and recorded in "Summoned by Bells") or I had for Susan Connolly, who smelt so wonderful, when I was five? The most famous example is the Taj Mahal, that astonishing white marble mausoleum on the Jumna River in Agra built between 1632 and 1643 by the emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Taj Mahal means the "crown of buildings" in Urdu. Members of royal families, noble peasants and hordes of tourists have come this way for 350 years hoping to share in the latent magic of this peerless Mogul building. Mostly they experience crowds of people, although early on a February morning in the pink rose of dawn and before the coaches and the trains from Delhi arrive, the Taj is a truly moving sight.

I am not sure if this has anything to do with the love that Shah Jahan bore Mumtaz Mahal, for I have felt an equal sense of delight - that same involuntary shudder up the spine - when looking once from the hill above the Thames at Dorchester to Didcot Power Station. I hope this doesn't sound mad, but when the sun catches those great cooling towers and the plumes of fleecy white steam that rise so gently from them, south Oxfordshire seems a strangely heavenly place. Love and power stations are odd bedfellows, I agree, but what I am struggling to say is that our experience of delight in architecture and buildings in the landscape has everything to do with their form and setting and the light that plays against them and probably nothing at all to do with the fact that a particular building might have been inspired by the great love two people bore one another.

Grand passions may be played out in the least likely settings, whether the "high-rise horrors" of tired newspaper headlines or the grand country houses of Brideshead-fuelled fancy. My favourite, though, is a Gothic Horror house in Hampstead that once featured briefly in John Betjeman's TV documentary Metroland. It was called "Agapemone" (or the House of Love), and although the Greek word "agape" has long been used to denote to Christian love (as in God's love for us), this "Agapemone" was a house in which a Victorian CofE priest announced that he was Jesus Christ and shared his love in carnal fashion with a number of susceptible young women.

This, though, is not a very romantic example of a monument to love.

As a counterpoint, I offer another Gothic Revival house, this time St Marie's Grange, Salisbury, a Wilhelmina fancy designed by Augustus Northmore Welby Pugin for his first wife who died, tragically, very soon after this extraordinary home was completed. Pugin had married, he said, a perfect "Gothic wife" and they were to have led a perfect Gothic life in Wiltshire. Today, although the house survives, it has been much altered and is no longer as whimsical and as striking as it would have seemed in the 1830s.

Who knows of other and better examples? I would love to know about them.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sub-editor - Editorial - Publishing

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sub-editor is required to joi...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant - Travel

    £15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Auto centre is based in We...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate