When Catherine Slessor met Anthony Royal

What happened when the Architecture Foundation's critic-at-large was invited to dine with the High-Rise's infamous creator

Ever eaten dog?’ asks Anthony Royal quizzically. They do in Korea. Ive heard they can be stringy, but palatable with a bit of garlic and herbs. He absent-mindedly caresses the head of the white Alsatian slumbering at his feet. Everything in his airy atelier on the 40th floor of the High-Rise is white: white walls, white floors, white furniture and Royal himself, white skin, white hair, dressed in a white linen safari suit and white shoes, white cane propped up against a white drawing board.

Commissioned to coax some aperçus out of this enigmatic architectural titan at the height of his powers (tentative headline The Real Royal), I feel like an impinging blot on a glacially pristine landscape. And no, Ive never eaten dog. Im afraid I cant spare much time for this interview, says Royal, slightly irritably. Dr Laing is due here any minute for our regular squash game. The celebrated Caledonian anti-psychiatrist?I venture. Who did so much to reframe psychoanalysis through the theory that were all insane, the world is an illusion and that to find our true selves we need to reconnect with our deepest primeval urges and fears?

No, he replies tersely. Some buff bloke from The Night Managerwho happens to share the same name. Though I do believe hes a neurosurgeon and therefore emblematic of the classically cultured and apparently empathic white, middle-class, professional man. This makes him the perfect protagonist to steer an unsuspecting viewer or reader through the visceral, blood-soaked maelstrom to come.

The studio door swings open. Ah, Dr Laing, there you are!Royal rises stiffly to greet him. Im just doing an interview. Needs must, you know. They want to know about me and my buildings. Wont be long. My wifes out riding on the roof in the walled cottage garden, an evocation of Englands rural and feudal past and a necessary symbolic counterpoint to all this concrete. It looks crackingly surreal when set next to my Brutalist towers. Apparently emboldened by Laings presence he continues: As a rule, women loathe modern architecture. Not welcomingenough, whatever that means. Frankly, Brutalism is a mans world, despite the current epidemic of dumbed-down coffee table books. Only boys really know how to treat concrete,he murmurs, with a slight leer.

But, I counter gamely, though Ballards female characters are stereotypically drawn, either as passive wives or sexed-up mistresses, they do ultimately get their revenge, largely through the unorthodox use of kitchen knives. In the book at any rate. Royal regards me coolly and turns to Laing. Why dont you keep my equestrian spouse company for bit, theres a good chap. She does so love horseplay. Oh and I hope youre not going to decorate the walls of your apartment with that. You know the rules.


Laing smirks and departs, an undeniably erect specimen in his grey suit, clutching, for some reason, a tin of grey paint. I apologise for my lateness which has contrived to disrupt Royals busy schedule. Some of the lifts dont seem to be working, I say. So I had to walk up the last 15 storeys. And there seemed to be a disturbance in the swimming pool on the 35th floor. Royal waves his hand lightly, like a ghostly Caesar despatching a quibbling senator. Its just the building settling down, he asserts firmly. In an ambitious project such as this, accommodating 2000 people from all walks of life, from air hostesses to company directors in a 40 storey tower, stratified by class, a microcosm of English society with all its petty resentments, jealousies and hang-ups, marooned in a still terra-forming landscape miles from civilisationwell theres bound to few teething troubles. But nothing that cant be sorted out given time, as our pioneering little community finds itslevelAnd besides, he adds, this is only the first tower in a larger complex. He gestures to his drawing board and unrolls a huge site plan. You see, there will be five in all, like fingers on a hand, radiating into the landscape. I study the intricate cacophony of swirls and scrawls. It looks like some kind of neurological disturbance, I say. He looks up, his eyes shining. Exactly. A fit of architectural imagination.

But, I enquire tentatively, is it not true that a man recently fell to his death? A jeweller who lived on the 40th floor. Photogenically plummeting into the car park that surrounds the building. Royals face darkens momentarily. Again a dismissive imperial wave. Probably a suicidal personality. You should meet his wife.The quip falls flat. He mentally regroups. Of course, I didnt personally witness his Icarus-like descent, but afterwards everyone came out to see what the commotion was. For one wonderful moment the building looked like a monumental opera house, with people staring down from their balconies at the pulverised corpse. I couldnt have choreographed it better. Extremelycinematic. He seems rhapsodic at the thought.


Elevation and perspective roof plan of the estate. Copyright: Michael Eaton 


One of Royal's impenetrable diagramatic drawings of the estate

Let them eat dog: Shag carpeting and suspended ceiling meets the court of Versailles

Japanese Metabolists, I say, trying to steer the conversation back to architecture. Your towers have an overwhelming sense of relentlessly experimental futurism at vast scaleTo some extent, he retorts. But ultimately, form is just form, to be categorised by theorists. I prefer to see each building as an organism, or incubator, with the power to shape the lives of its inhabitants. A social condenser, if you will. Outside the atelier there is the sound of shouting and scuffling. Royal tenses distractedly. Will you excuse me. There is more shouting, but muffled this time. In his absence I idly survey my surroundings, noting the phallic models and the numerous samples of concrete, hammered and texturised, like pieces of moon rock. I glance at Royals bookshelves. As well as what looks like a first edition of Le CorbusierOeuvres Complètes there seems to be rather a lot of Nietzsche in the original German. And a copy of Clockwork Orange.

Royal returns, smoothing his white hair. There are flecks of blood on his white safari suit and on his white cane. He seems to feel the need to explain One of the residents on the lower floors. Fellow called Wilder. Nasty, feral piece of work. Looks like an advert for aftershave; denims, moustache, generally hirsute. Complaining about access to the swimming pool. There are rules, but his sort dont seem to like following them. He calms down. Where were we?But he doesnt seem anxious to prolong the interview. I sense his unease and fire off some final lightweight questions:

Your idea of a perfect weekend: Working, of course, followed by an intimate costume party themed around the court of Versailles at the time of Louis XVI. Incredible wigs and entertainingly entrenches historic notions of social division.

Mies or Corb: Corb. I have a first edition of his Oeuvres Complètes. Mies is all about skeletal lightness and clever corners. Corb is mass and muscle, meat and sinew. Much more corporeal.

Abba or Portishead: Both.

Nic Roeg or Ben Wheatley: Roeg is the indisputable master. Though Ive heard Wheatley shows promise.

Cats or dogs: Dogs. Obviously.