Modern man’s religion is progress: what comes later must be better than what went before…But aesthetics are not science: aesthetics do not show the same inbuilt tendency to improvement. From the aesthetic point of view what comes after is not necessarily better than what went before, and is often worse, even much worse. Particularly in an age of progress, however, men are reluctant to admit that they cannot do better than their forebears; to admit it is to admit the heresy that beauty’s arrow, unlike that of time, does not fly in one direction only. A return to the pattern or design of the past – dismissed as pastiche, the worst of all architectural crimes, far worse than destroying an immemorial townscape – would indicate a deficiency of imagination, inventiveness and originality, all the qualities that make the artist, at least in the romantic conception of the artist. And architects, in their own conception, are above all artists: artists, moreover, when it is widely believed that the purpose of art is to challenge, to question, to transgress, never to celebrate, to harmonise, to console, to give meaning.
There is actually no reason at all why old designs cannot be reproduced, albeit with mass-produced materials. Indeed, in London recently a housing authority did precisely this; it copied precisely the elegant early Victorian buildings (still of Regency inspiration) of three sides of a residential square in restoring the fourth side. It did not use Victorian methods, but it used Victorian designs, with triumphant result, far, far better than any residential architecture of the recent past.