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The Future of Architecture? (I Sincerely Hope Not)

January 3, 2015 6 comments

I’ve just read this piece in today’s Guardian and to say it fills me with horror at the start of a new year is something of an understatement… The reason for the article is a proposal for a new housing development near Hyde Park by the father and son architectural practice of Quinlan and Francis Terry, and believe it or not, the proposal looks like this…. d650d1f4-2394-41bd-b5da-5dcd2a221e3c-2060x1236 The article suggests that the scheme takes inspiration from the long, 19th Century mansion blocks that form much of Hausmann’s celebrated plan for Paris. Haussmann_Paris But look again and you’ll see that the simplicity, rigor, and control of a typical Hausmann block has been lost to the overcomplicated and confused self aggrandisement of a Loire Valley Chateau, and has nothing at all to do with housing people in contemporary London, and everything to do with overseas marketing… Chateaus Loire Valley And whilst I understand the arguments for so called “groundscraper” proposals like this: over development in the number and quality of tall buildings currently going up across London, their representation of faceless, corporate, developer greed and the destruction of the city’s historic urban grain, being three that are usually trotted out, I am at a total loss to understand how copying a 170 year old building type from another country will address any of these issues…

To me the key point is when the article refers to the Richard Rogers proposals at Chelsea Barracks, and the intervention directly to the site’s owners by Prince Charles, a move that resulted in the expensive scrapping of a well considered, contemporary and recommended for approval scheme, and the creation of a worryingly conservative approach by wealthy, predominantly overseas developers and investors that view Royal approval with greater importance than Statutory approval…

And think on how this building might look and be constructed should (god forbid) it ever got the go ahead.. It’s common knowledge that the specialist materials, skills and techniques required to construct this type of edifice either no longer exist or do so at such a high price, that the finished building will either be so pared down as to look nothing like the original drawings (think Richmond Riverside) or be so expensive once finished, that the properties will only be affordable to ever more super wealthy owners, totally defeating the point in my view, of building more new homes…. It’s still developer greed, just cloaked in a different (Frock) coat…

I don’t object in an unthinking, knee jerk reaction way to the work of the Terry family practice (their recently completed block on Tottenham Court Road (below) for example, works remarkably well), but I do object to proposals that are in every sense out of time, out of scale, over the top and to my eyes at least, ugly and totally misjudged…

terry2 I really do not enjoy writing “Things I DON’T like..” posts (especially the first one of the year) but I’m more than prepared to nail my colours to the mast and state categorically that I believe that anachronistic, derivative and wholly inappropriate proposals such as this for the prestigious Hyde Park Barracks site, should not be given any credence whatsoever, except perhaps to be held up for ridicule and as a prime example of what NOT to do…

And don’t get me started on what is proposed for demolition to make way for this abomination.. only the wonderful 1970’s Barracks buildings by Britain’s greatest architect, Sir Basil Spence.

I’m so upset by this act of wanton vandalism that I can’t write anything further at this moment in time, but I will revisit this, have not doubt. In the meantime why not remind yourself how Sir Basil described his proposals by watching this short video… especially when he describes as “ludicrous”, the idea that living near the park is like living in the country… the man’s face is an absolute picture…

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October Roundup : Music & Art, Swearing & Skating, Poppies & Birthdays…

November 2, 2014 2 comments

What with one thing and another (mainly updating my portfolio, applying for and getting a new job, a nerve wracking experience that I haven’t been through for about 9 years) I’ve not had the chance to write much recently, which is a shame as we’ve done some excellent things together this last month. So what better excuse for a mini roundup as a way of recording them all…

20141004_203121_aFirstly there was our annual trip to Bedrock land to hear the mighty John Digweed spinning his tunes into the early hours. This year though, as he was promoting his rather excellent Traveler album there was a launch party at Plan B in Brixton and we, along with surprisingly few others, had the pleasure of a private play through.

The three fine fellows in the photo are JD himself, his musical accomplice Nick Muir and the Bedrock label manger Scott Dawson. Middle aged blokes in black, proper pop stars or what?..

Taking of middle aged blokes, we went to see Underworld at the Royal Festival Hall, playing their seminal album dubnobasswithmyheadman from start to finish, plus all the other tracks from that early 90’s that so fired me up at the time, Spikee and Rez sounded particularly wonderful. I got all a bit over excited and sang along loudly to most of the tunes most of the time, so apologies to M, D and A for that, but they all knew how much much this music means to me when they agreed to accompany me…

Easily one of the best gigs I’ve been to for ages…

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Then we were lucky enough to be invited to the private view of Lucy McLauchlan’s new show at the Lazarides Gallery. 20141013_210137 copyLucy is a truly excellent and gifted young artist whose immediately recognisable work moves effortlessly from the street to a gallery. There was an interesting selection of new work based around bark textures and florescent colours, however it was this gridded arrangement of painted timber panels with her trademark swirls and lines that was particularly satisfying.

Lucy had just returned from China where she’d been invited to create a mural high above the streets of central Guangzhou. Check out the video below for a little taster. How on earth she so effectively translates the scale of her work from sketch book to such gargantuan proportions is beyond me, and to be doing it that high up off the ground and from a wobbly cherry picker… I bet they don’t teach you that in College…

There was also a little after show party at the newly opening Mondrian Hotel at Sea Containers House on the South Bank which topped the evening off very nicely, with stunning views over the river (shame it was raining so hard though). I wrote about Sea Containers House several years ago actually when it was empty and being used as a giant advertising hoarding, so its good to see that it’s finally being occupied again. (Photo stolen from Dan, mine was rubbish…)

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A trip to the hidden and graffiti soaked under crofts of Waterloo to see my friend’s son skateboarding was the only excuse we needed to visit the House of Vans, and what an amazing place it is. Buried deep below the station platforms, carved out of impressive Victorian brick arches, two skate areas, a bar, a cinema, a gallery space, a club space and a rather excellent cafe (the BEST scrambled eggs on sourdough I’ve had in many years and only £4..).

No idea how long it plans to be there, but with such excellent and affordable food and free skate sessions, I should go see it quick before someone at Vans realises the maths don’t work…

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The Modern Toss exhibition in Shoreditch was small but good fun. Silliness elevated to art but done with so much swearing that you can’t help but be impressed. The same could not be said for the The Lego exhibition in Brick Lane however, which was very average and not worth paying to see.20141006_145125_b The tag line The Art of the Brick is easily the misnomer of the year. Lots of bricks, f*ck all art (as the Modern Toss boys might describe it…).

We’ve been several times over the last couple of months to the field of ceramic poppies at The Tower of London, but now it’s finally complete, it really is quite something to behold.

Repetitive art on a large scale is almost always impressive (Ai Wei Wei at the Tate for example or Anthony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles) and with Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, Paul Cummins has undoubtedly created a very powerful installation to mark 100 years since the start of WW1 and to remember the 888,246 British soldiers who lost their lives during the conflict.

(And yes I did read Johnathon Jones’s piece in the Guardian, and yes he does make some very valid points about not addressing the realities of the war, but I would still contend that this work is both appropriate and moving, especially when you see it first hand. Making the visual connection that each of the poppies represents a life lost, can’t fail to make you stop and think, and the work certainly deserves its place in the Remembrance .)

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And then finally at the end of October, my lovely girlfriend’s birthday celebrations, which once again she managed to stretch out for nearly a whole week… Happy Birthday And, love you lots xx.

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So all in all a most excellent month, busy and full of stuff… Which of course is why we live in London, and why I love this city.

Lazy Post No. 19: A New Bridge Please…

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Gallions Reach Bridge_trimI’ve been sent an email from Transport for London inviting me to the next round of consultation for the new East London Thames crossing options…

Without doubt my favourite has to be the possibility of a new bridge at Gallions Reach. How amazing would that be?

I’m a big fan of modern bridges, especially concrete ones. Think of Fosters Milau Viaduct in France or The Oresund Crossing between Denmark and Sweden. Obviously the Gallions Reach bridge would not be anywhere near their scale, but it would still be a wonderful opportunity to create an elegant and timeless structure, right on my doorstep…

It’s not at all clear from the blurb if it will end up being a toll bridge, but I suspect that has to be a possibility. However on the assumption that a replacement ferry service would have to remain free for it to be used, arguably (and hopefully) the new bridge would be free also. We shall see.

The land is already owned, so it could potentially be open by 2025 and the whole project would cost around £600m. Cheap at half the price, especially when you think of the Billions that train projects seem to cost these days…

Do it I say. London can never have too many bridges…

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Old London Bridge Illuminated…

May 10, 2014 4 comments

027ROY16F000002U00073000[SVC2]I caught the end of a Dan Cruickshank programme earlier this week about the bridges of London, and one image has really stuck in my mind…

It’s a page from an illuminated manuscript dating from 1483, so well over 500 years ago, and shows a scene from the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans in the Tower of London. Following his capture at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, Charles, a high ranking member of the French Aristocracy was kept prisoner at the Tower for 25 years.

The main pictorial image depicts Charles in various activities: writing a letter, standing at a window of his prison in the Tower and giving an envelope to someone in the courtyard, presumably to send back home to France and possibly containing a love poem (Charles is generally considered to have penned the first recorded Valentines Poem, which began “I’m already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine”).

I digress. The main reason this image was in the programme and the reason it has stayed in my head, is that as well as the Duke, it also contains one of the earliest known depictions of the First London Bridge, which can be clearly seen in the background of the full page and on this detail below.

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Apart from being an intrinsically very beautiful object, the quality of the workmanship on this illuminated panel is stunning… Look carefully at the City in the distance.. it’s magical in its appearance with a multitude of church spires and saw toothed roofs. No wonder London was at this time, considered one of the greatest Cities of the World (and still is I might add).

As for the Thames itself, it looks almost inviting in azure blue and turquoise. The white lines under each arch by the way, represent the effect that the massive piers had on the flow of the river. It’s been suggested these massive structures would have reduced the width of the river by upwards of 60%, resulting in a rushing effect through the openings, especially as the tide turned…

The First, Old or Medieval London Bridge was begun in 1176 and was known to have been completed by 1209, which means it took more than 30 years to build. It was the first known stone bridge in the world and was quite rightly considered one of the wonders of the age: 8m wide (26 ft) and around 255m (850 ft) long, it sat on 19 irregularly spaced arches with a drawbridge at the center to allow tall ships to pass. Also towards the center of the bridge was a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Beckett. As the bridge was the only crossing for many miles, everyone who couldn’t afford a boat to cross the Thames, had to use the bridge, with most offering a prayer and votive  coins at the chapel.

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Famously the bridge had rows of shops and houses on either side, which resulted in a restricted and narrow route through for wagons and horses and was ultimately (along with rotten timber structures, stinking gutters and dangerous alleyways) the reason other wider, non populated bridges were built…

This amazing structure stood for nearly 600 years before being finally demolished in the 1830’s. During its lifetime it survived  The Reformation of King Henry 8th in the 16th Century and the Great Fire in 1666, remaining the only crossing in London until 1750.

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One final thing, the building in the center of the painting above was added to the bridge in 1579 and was known as Nonsuch House. Originally built in the Netherlands 2 years previously, it was dismantled, shipped over to London and re-erected on the bridge without the use of a single nail, and being significantly wider than the bridge itself, cantilevered precariously over the water on each side.

Now that really would have been something to see…

St Boniface’s German Church, Whitechapel.

April 29, 2014 8 comments

f47000695a0afa4f4623518d47fa18faWe came across this forgotten and hidden gem again recently, St Boniface’s German RC Church in Whitechapel.

Initiated and constructed in the late 1950’s to replace an earlier bomb damaged church, this wonderful building was designed by the little known practice of D. Plaskett Marshall & Partners, a London based firm who from what I can gather, seemed to specialise in religious and educational projects…

The main body of this still unapologetically modern looking building is clad externally in small format silvery grey coloured bricks, whilst the bell tower and feature entrance elements are finished in a variety of beautiful profiled mosaic tiled panels, in yellow, red, white, grey and black, truly one of my most favorite of materials, and one that is criminally underused today.

This contemporary black & white photo from the early 1960’s, illustrates the amazing bell tower, with its distinctive cut away top. From what I’ve read, it would appear that the tower had to be to these almost alarming proportions, in order to house the original bells that were salvaged from the previous church.

Sadly on the two or three times we’ve been past, the wonderful hardwood timber entrance screens have always been locked, so we’ve never managed to get in. Some borrowed photos from the internet however depict a calm and structurally unambiguous interior, with clean white plastered walls adorned with artworks and images which to my eyes seem very obviously to be contemporaneous with the churches modernist design intentions.

Surprisingly this wonderful little essay in North European/ Scandinavian Modernism is currently not Listed, which I can only suggest is a huge oversight which should be addressed as soon as…

There’s more here on the fascinating Taking Stock site if you’re interested, with enough detail and background on the Roman Catholic Churches of England and Wales than anyone could wish for. Bizarrely however, there’s nothing whatsoever from my own neck of the woods, The Diocese of Birmingham, where I could have sworn that a certain Mr. Augustus Pugin was involved in at least a couple of  churches and a Cathedral…

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Congress House in The Shrieking Violet Issue 22…

March 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Front CoverI’ve recently had another of my attempts at writing published in The Shrieking Violet, so a big thanks to Natalie for that.

It’s a short piece about one of the least known modern architectural masterpieces in London, which also houses one of the best modernist sculptures ever carved (imho obviously…)

The commission to design a headquarters building in Central London for the Trades Union Congress was won in one of the first and largest post war, open architectural competitions by the then (and even now) little known architect David Du Rieu Aberdeen in 1948. War shortages, changes to the brief and politics delayed the project start until the early 1950’s, so that it wasn’t until 1957 that the building, with Jacob Epstein’s truly wonderful and unforgettable memorial at its heart, was finally opened for business.

Why not visit the excellent Shrieking Violet and read the whole piece? It’s an interesting story about the challenges of getting something brand new and very modern, built in a city that was still struggling to provide basic infrastructure and housing after the devastation of the War…

 

The Isle of Dogs Lido…

February 26, 2014 2 comments

Lido location_planeWere are currently having our bathroom redone, and in the process of trying to find somewhere locally that we might go and have a shower for the next couple of weeks, I’ve discovered that many years ago, there used to be an open air swimming pool on the Isle of Dogs.

Opened in 1925, the pool was located within the red square marked on this now familiar, but still pretty amazing aerial photo of a German Bomber over the Docklands sometime during the 1940’s.

The other photo with a red square on it below, is from the 1930’s (ish) and shows the eastern side of the Island as it was in its industrial heyday, a pretty rugged place for an outdoor swimming pool I think you’ll agree…

The pool itself was about 50 x 18m in size, cost £10,495 to build and was free to get in until 1930. Surrounding the pool were changing rooms and ancillary support buildings and the stepped diving structure you can see in the bottom photos.

Wikipedia tells me that the term lido didn’t really come into common usage in the UK until the mid 1930’s, and that everything built before then was simply called a swimming pool. Like many things however, the name and the lifestyle they proposed became fashionable and eventually all such pools came to be described as a lido (which is simply the Italian word for beach by the way).

Sadly it was just such a plane as on the photo above that bombed the Isle of Dogs pool in 1940, making it unusable and forcing it to close after only 15 years. The lido buildings were later demolished and the land cleared to make way for an adventure playground, and latterly the sports field that lives there today…

Thanks to the ever informative Island History site for much of this info…

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