Meades’s work is so generous, so rich and so obviously contentious that to mount a critique of it seems churlish. No one else could combine all of the aesthetic and political positions he flexes so aggressively.
The enemy of populism and the taste of the ‘masses’ who nonetheless shows a scrupulous respect for their intelligence; the magic-mushroom-guzzling rationalist; the passionate hater of Blair and Blairism who has a place in his heart for the Fabians and the white heat of technology; the enthusiast for Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre (above), demolished in 2004, who dotes on Lutyens; the proud insulter of Islam who loves the multiculturalism of Birmingham; the critic of colonialism who relates the horrors of the Opium Wars and the Highland Clearances, then pauses to excoriate De Gaulle for betraying the pieds noirs; the sympathiser with the nouveaux philosophes who quotes Trotsky approvingly but pictures the ‘future mass murderer Lenin’ pottering around Letchworth.
Above all, Meades is a scourge of all forms of belief, faith and ideology, of everything that he regards as childish and credulous – yet the architecture that shakes him most is created by people crazed with dogmatism and righteous fervour.
Whether or not he is aware of the contradiction, it charges his prose as he grapples with his own horror and fascination: at Victoriana, at the Arts and Crafts movement, at modernism, at Stalinist architecture – most of which he loves, and most of which are based on values, theories and opinions he finds either silly or repugnant.