The Cenotaph by Edwin Lutyens: Entasis in Action…

November 15, 2015 Leave a comment

With this years Remembrance Service at The Cenotaph in central London being somewhat hijacked by the shamefully childish and pathetic (but sadly typical of the right wing press here in the UK) “how respectful was the bow” debacle, I thought it might be worth thinking about the actual monument itself, highlighting an aspect of its design of which you may not be aware…

Orighinal wood and plaster versionOriginally commissioned by the then prime minister David Lloyd George just two weeks before the London Victory Parade (or Peace Day Parade) planned for 19 July 1919, Sir Edwin Lutyens’ design was necessarily simple and quick. Famously taking only six hours from that initial meeting to acceptance of sketch proposals, the appointment of a suitable contractor followed within days, and a full size temporary timber and plaster structure was constructed in time for the event (see photo to the left).

It was the simplicity of the design, a 35ft (11m) high, unadorned stepped block with an empty tomb at it’s summit and wreaths and flags around the perimeter, that visitors found so moving. Everyone who saw the monument (and by all accounts that was millions over the summer months) was able to project their own feelings of loss and grief onto the clean, unadorned planes, resulting exactly a year later and after huge public pressure, in the unveiling of an exact replica in portland limestone…

Very few people however knew that this permanent version, was not in fact an exact replica. Lutyens had used the intervening months to refine his original ideas, and although not immediately visible to visitors, the principles of entasis were in full effect…

Drawing by Andrew CromptonEntasis is the “application of a convex curve to a surface for aesthetic purposes” which at The Cenotaph, results in no parallel verticals and no flat horizontals. The base in fact forms a small segment of an imaginary 900ft (275m) diameter sphere buried below Whitehall, whilst the sides of the monument taper inwards and upwards meeting at a point 1000ft (300m) above the street.

So why would Lutyens go to so much trouble? Firstly he was supposedly something of a Theosophist, that is someone who seeks to understand the mysteries of the universe in terms of both the human and the divine. One key tenet of this belief is that everything is part of an eternal cycle of birth, death and regeneration.

The curved bands of the Cenotaph’s base form part of such a circle, one that not only embraces us all, but whose center is rooted deep in the earth. At the same time the extended vertices of the upper block high in the air, create a direct connection between heaven and the grave.

Note also that the upper mass of the cenotaph could be seen to resemble the hilt of a sword. Andrew Crompton (whose article here fired my initial interest and from where the above drawing is borrowed) suggests that lines from Rudyard Kipling’s 1922 poem “The Kings Pilgrimage” (written two years after The Cenotaph was unveiled and after Kipling’s tour of the Cemeteries of Northern France) comes closest to capturing this aspect of the design…

And the last land he found, it was fair and level ground

About a carven stone

And a stark Sword brooding on the bosom of the Cross

Where high and low are one

This sentiment also links into the idea that Lutyens may have been influenced by that most English of heroic tales, King Arthur, with echoes of a hilt referencing Arthur’s legendary sword Excalibur, whose magical powers and ownership came to define the rightful sovereignty of Britain. Looking at the photo below, there could be something in the sword iconography…

Or maybe it was more mundane than either of these two concepts. When asked to explain his use of entasis, Lutyens replied that it was for aesthetic reasons, explaining that “The difference is almost imperceptible yet sufficient to give (The Cenotaph) a sculpturesque quality and a life that cannot pertain to a rectangular block of stone”

I’ll leave you to make up your own mind as to whether one of this countries foremost and gifted architects was playing clever games or had deeper, more secret intentions….

Simon Stålenhag

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Another find by my good friend Mr. Wong in the form of some rather fine paintings by the Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag.


Wong emailed the link below saying you’ll like these, and he was not wrong. We both agreed that the juxtaposition of the achingly familiar (landscapes, cars, kids, junk yards) with more, other worldly entities was a winning formula, bringing a sense of the humdrum to what should in all normal respects, be life changing events…


Im also a fan of the style in which Stålenhag paints these images, not hyper real or neon coloured, but low key, with an almost sketchy quality that only adds to the feeling that these could be real happenings that the artist has somehow managed to capture…

In a similar vein (but this might just be me) I can see echoes of the Ladybird book illustrations that meant so much to me in my childhood, illustrations that made the mundane and everyday, seem somehow more special.


More of these wonderful images can be found here






Going to the Dogs…

November 8, 2015 4 comments

CoverA couple of years or so ago, I was looking through one of the many second hand shops on the Walworth Road when I was working down in that neck of the woods, and came across a box of old magazines published in the early 1970’s by the Architectural Association, a highly regarded institution based here in London.

11One magazine in particular caught my attention as it contained an article about my own bit of London, The Isle of Dogs. So I handed over my 50p, read the article on my way home that evening, told And all about it, agreed that we should follow the route the first sunny Sunday that came along, and then promptly forgot all about it…

Until recently that is, when I was asked about my island life, and whether I thought the place was worth visiting. After I’d said yes of course, it’s a brilliant place, I remembered the magazine and scanned the article for this post.

Spread out over 10 pages was a fascinating walk through the Isle of Dogs. Written originally back in early 1972, it describes the island as I can only now imagine it, a fact brought home by the opening paragraph which reads..

“The Isle of Dogs shares with Tibet and Timbuctoo, the reputation for being one of the least inhabited parts of the habitable globe”..

Obviously the opinion of an architectural academic and not one of the local islanders, the writer (Hubert Murray) begins his introduction to the walk with reference to a recent Tower Hamlets Planning survey that recorded the most common complaints of the people who lived on the Island (poor bus services, poor shops, lack of schools and too many tower blocks being the most common) and ends it with the bombshell that nothing was likely to happen in the short term until a decision had been made about whether to build an urban motorway across the IoD, a drastic and disastrous sounding solution to relieve traffic problems in  Greenwich and Blackheath… Remember this is nearly 10 years before the LDDC was set up in 1981 to create the success/ wonder/ hell hole/ expensive/polarised/ integrated/ etc. etc. (delete as appropriate) place that the Island has become today…

The walk starts at the top of the island on the east side in Poplar at the recently completed Robin Hood Gardens (a big favorite of the architectural profession at that time), heads down to Island Gardens before heading up around the west to Limehouse. Sights and landmarks on the way include: The Gun, Kelson House, The Watermans Arms, Edies Cafe, various allotments and the Globe Ropeworks building (now sadly long gone).

It makes for interesting reading, describing an area that has, for better or worse, long since been polished up, and one day I’d like to think we really will get round to following the route, finding some of the locations of these photos and seeing what still remains 43 years later…. 14




Yesterday’s Forgotten Future…

November 1, 2015 1 comment

I came across these rather excellent images recently.

Dorothy_DO_0048 Lost Destination_Frame_Preston_Web

They’re produced by a group that goes by the name of Dorothy (wearedorothy) a graphic design/ arts studio whose “about” page tells me that their work has been variously described as ‘beautifully clever’ and ‘terribly wicked’. Whatever, they obviously have very similar tastes to me…

These images are part of a series entitled Lost Destinations, although I prefer the sub title they use on each print and which I’ve used to title this post.. The idea of yesterdays ideal architectural solutions becoming derided and forgotten tomorrow, as materials, theories and tastes develop and change is something that interests me greatly.

Lost Destination_Brunel_C

Visitors to these pages will instantly understand why these prints appeal: demolished/ forgotten/misunderstood brutalist architectural masterpiece? (check), block colours and strong shadows? (check), simplified graphic/ illustrative styling? (check), dynamic viewpoint with portentous sky? (check), classic sans serif font? (check)….

Dorothy_DO_0047 Lost Destination_Frame_Tricorn_Web

And what’s more, at £35 each for 5 beautiful colours on very nearly half a square meter of 120gsm uncoated art paper, they’re an absolute bargain…

Dorothy_DO_0044 Lost Destination_Frame_Spaghetti_Web

Dorothy_DO_0045 Lost Destination_Frame_Forton_Web

Dorothy 0091 - Lost Destination - Rotunda Frame Web A

Lost Destination_Stockwell_C

Dorothy_Lost Destination_New Street_Website Images

Normal Service will be resumed shortly. ..

October 23, 2015 Leave a comment

After an unintentional but with the benefits of hindsight, a much needed four month break, with poor old Chris Squire holding the front page since the end of June, I’m finally gearing back into blogging mode…


News that won’t change many peoples lives I know, but the realisation I need to start writing again is becoming hard to ignore….

So watch these pages for more thoughts and observations on all sorts of arts and cultural type stuff that hopefully you didn’t know, and just maybe you might find of interest….


Chris Squire – RIP

June 29, 2015 Leave a comment

I’m very saddened to learn of the death yesterday (27th June) from leukaemia, of Chris Squire, the bass player and only member of the prog band Yes to play on every single studio record they made, from their formation way back in 1968 until last years… erm, whatever it was called (to be honest, I gave up listening to the new records many moons ago…)


But back in my teenage days, I was a huge Yes fan. I got my mum to embroider their wondrous Roger Dean designed logo on the back of my denim jacket, bought American imports of records I already had just because they had different covers and paid ridiculous sums of money for 12″ singles on blue vinyl…

The trio of records they released during 1971 and 72, namely The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge meant more to me musically than virtually anything else, and until my discovery of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream in the mid 80’s when I went to Uni and headed inexorably towards the electronica that makes my ears happy today, I would eagerly espouse their merits to anyone within earshot…. I still rate Close to Edge very highly, so much so it inspired one of my tattoos

A truly phenomenal bass player, the complex patterns, lines and rhythms Chris created using his trademark Rickenbacker 4001 are certainly not to everyone’s taste, but his technical ability was beyond doubt. The sad irony is that I saw an advert only 2 days ago in Saturday’s Guardian Guide for a Yes gig next year at the Albert Hall, where they planned to play two albums, Fragile and Drama all the way through… And said I should go, for old times sake, and I admit I was thinking about it…

Now I guess it won’t happen… Yes are famous for having replaced every single member of the band at one time or the other over their 46 odd year career, but somehow a Yes without Chris Squire, surely that’s a step too far. The journey had to end sometime…

Stanley Kubrick { one-point perspective }

June 2, 2015 Leave a comment

I came across this rather intriguing video online recently….


Who knew that Mr. Kubrick had such a thing for centrally positioned, one point perspectives in his films… Can’t say I recognise all the clips (probably because I’ve still never seen Barry Lyndon all the way through) but it’s truly fascinating seeing them all together like this.

Top marks to whoever realised how often Kubrick used this visual device, found all theses instances and edited them together…


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