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GOVERNMENT by Ivan Harbour

  • Written by  Mick Herron
  • Published in Books
GOVERNMENT by Ivan Harbour
01 Oct
2015
A friend once pointed out that there’s an inverse correlation between how impoverished a nation’s people are, and the magnificence of its London embassy

It’s tempting to play that same game with Government, a photographic collection of government buildings from around the world, and note that Bangladesh’s Parliament sits within one of the world’s largest government compounds (over 810,000 square metres) and incorporates both a 30-metre high assembly chamber and an artificial lake.

But this is, I suppose, aspirational, as are most of the buildings included here. Some, like Jerusalem’s Knesset Building – an austere, rectangular, multi-columned complex, intended as a modern interpretation of the Parthenon – hark back to traditional values, while others look to the future: the Palazzo Lombardia in Milan, for example, with its ‘active climate wall’, tempering light and heat throughout its 131-metre tower; or the clean, white, open space of the Castile and Léon government buildings in Spain, airy and minimalist, yet managing to contain two secret gardens behind a glass façade.

Others still are enigmatic: the fairy-tale pink of Buenos Aires’ Casa Rosada was either a gesture to ease the political tensions of the 1870s (merging the red and white colours representing the Federalists and the Unitarians) or the result of being painted with cow’s blood as a seal against humidity.

Los Angeles’ City Hall, meanwhile, retrofitted for earthquake protection in 2001, is reduced to fragments on the page by being reflected in a neighbouring glass building.

There’s much to enjoy in this collection, but, as with any insight into government, it’s what’s going on behind the scenes that most captures the interest: here, it’s perhaps the shadowy figure behind Big Ben’s clock face, hurrying away from the camera, that provides one of the book’s most enduring images.

GOVERNMENT by Ivan Harbour; Roads Publishing; £40 (hardback)

This review was published in the October 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

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