Dan Cruickshank – from heartbreaking destruction of Palmyra to the delights of Diss

Anyone coming to the Corn Hall expecting a dry, sober lecture on the history of world architecture through one hundred iconic buildings might have been a little taken aback by Dan Cruickshank’s exhilarating roller coaster ride of an evening, as his breathless enthusiasm for his subject moved proceedings on at an almost exhausting pace.

Much of his talk was informed by his recent visit to the desecrated sites of Syria, illustrated by shocking before and after pictures of Palmyra. Clearly moved and disturbed by what he has seen, his impassioned wish to protect and restore what is left, was presented as a touchstone for wider questions about the important of architecture in society. In marked, and pleasing, contrast he then moved on to the smaller pleasures of Diss, picking out remarkable details from superficially ordinary buildings we walk past every day.

Cruickshank crammed his talk with thought-provoking and illuminating ideas, delivered with an infectious enthusiasm that was sometimes hard to keep up with. His central thesis, however, remained clear – that there is an intangible, but very real, equivalence between the grandest of world heritage sites and an angel carved on a beam outside Albright’s.   

By David Vass