Letter: A white elephant lacking sensitivity

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Sir: Jonathan Glancey's praise of Norman Foster's Royal Academy modification (10 February) as a 'small masterpiece of sensitive modern intervention' prompts me to question this 'sensitivity' from a user-specific rather than general aesthetic viewpoint. I refer especially to the 'magnificent stairway and glass lift' providing access to the Sackler Galleries.

I can assure him that those of the public who dislike heights find negotiating these impediments such an unnerving experience they have no spare capacity with which to appreciate any inherent 'magnificence'. Instead they dwell upon what they perceive as the gross arrogance and insensitivity of such a design. To watch the ground recede while trapped in the equivalent of an upturned spirit level, or to try desperately to ignore the view to the floor between slatted glass stairs seem particularly confrontational methods of negotiating vertical space.

When public buildings, however 'sensitively' conceived in terms of superstructure, fail to perform their prime function sympathetically for even a small proportion of the general public, they have failed; their status then becomes that of aesthetic white elephants, merely reflecting the narcissistic isolation of their creators.

Yours faithfully,


Liss, Hampshire