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· Colin Rice

Reflections on lighthouses

Outputs and outcomes

The most beautiful image of a building I saw last week was of Smalls Lighthouse, 21 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast. It was built in the 1850s of interlocking Welsh granite in the most challenging circumstances. In the 1970s a helicopter landing pad was built on the top: a hair-tinglingly exquisite silhouette. I've not seen it in the flesh but Happisburgh lighthouse on the Norfolk coast is an old companion. Until 1997 both lighthouses shared distinctive red and white bands.

Smalls Lighthouse

Then on Thursday I see the lighthouse at Burnham in Somerset is 'named as one of the ten most beautiful in the world by the Huffinghton Post'.

Burnham on Sea lighthouse

We seem to be constantly told that successful outcomes are the purpose of our buildings: it's not what they look like but what they achieve that matters. For example, the 2011 James Review of  capital investment in schools concluded 'there is very little evidence that a school building that goes beyond being fit-for-purpose has the potential to drive educational transformation'.

How ironic then that a purely functional building type (desired outcome: no shipwrecks) can be so beautiful, even where most of us have little direct interest in its particular purpose. Yes we do need evidence of good outcomes but also should not be afraid to state the obvious - that inherent beauty touches and sustains us.