Blue Boar Quad at Christ Church
I've always liked the title Hymns Ancient and Modern and the way it brings together a whole world and history of hymn-singing which was something we did a lot of at primary school (it was probably one of the few ways to keep a class of forty children under control, and we had a fearsome piano-playing teacher who could turn you into stone with a stare if you giggled at words or someone else's out of tune singing). It came back to me yesterday as Simon and I went to look at a number of C20 buildings in various Oxford colleges on a C20 Society walking tour which could have had the title 'Buildings Ancient and Modern'. (There are a few photos on Instagram.)
Copper-covered Geography building
Led by a knowledgeable Oxford architect, we walked for hours and had privileged glimpses inside parts of colleges not normally open to the public (this kind of thing makes membership of the Society great value). We saw lots of concrete, masses of glass, plenty of Portland stone, and a mix of innovative, creative solutions, clever feats of engineering, and the occasional mistake and vanity project. It must be incredibly tricky to build in or close to some of the most beautiful ancient quads in the world, but some Sixties architects managed it, the best of whom I thought were Powell & Moya at Christ Church (here and here) and Arne Jacobsen at St Catherine's.
Dining Hall, St Catherine's, Arne Jacobsen
But the whole ancient/modern theme ran deeper than the wonderful architecture, as I think this day was the day that we ourselves were classed officially as ancient by Alice and Phoebe who failed to see the appeal of the walk. It's been coming for a while with Tom and Alice going to university and now Phoebe not far off joining them, but it's only now really beginning to sink in that as from September (if all goes well), for much of the time we are going to be back in the situation we were in before we had children, only now we are 21 years older. The things we want to do and enjoy doing sound incredibly ancient to young ears and yet what's funny is that actually they are the same things we were doing pre-children - maybe we have always been culturally ancient.
Barbara Hepworth at St Catherine's
So the Now We Are Old list is growing all the time, and the best aspect of yesterday was the fact that we still love doing stuff together.
One last thing on the theme: I was particularly enthralled by the wonderful, rigorous horizontal and vertical lines I saw in the C20 architecture, and the contrast between ancient and modern and how well they can work together was brought home by seeing Sean Scully extremely vertical/horizontal modern paintings next to the Old Masters and medieval paintings in the beautiful, simple, classically influenced Christ Church Picture Gallery.