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Category archive: Architecture

Sunday April 30 2017

I am intrigued by how political opinions influence aesthetic feelings.  Can you think that something is beautiful merely because it is the way that you think, in a political sort of way, that it ought to be?  I say: yes.

I am now experiencing an illustration of this tendency recently.  And the effect was thrown into sharp relief by the fact that I changed my idea of what the thing was, and that changed how I felt about it aesthetically.  Although the thing itself hadn’t changed at all, I immediately found myself liking the look of it better.  I had felt it to be ugly.  Now, although I wouldn’t call this thing very beautiful, I don’t see it as ugly any more.

This is the thing that I had been regarding as ugly, It is to be seen across the road from Victoria Station:

image

The ugliness of it is in its non-symmetry, and in the utterly irrational and incoherent contrast between the rectangular block in the middle of it and the curvey bits on the top and at one end.  Why would you make a thing looking like that?

The best way to see how ugly this thing is (or was), is to look at it from above.  Here is the google satellite version:

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But then what should have been obvious to me all along became obvious.  The rectangular block wasn’t designed into the building we are looking at.  It had been there all along.  The curvey bits had merely been added to the rectangular block, at one end and on the top.  This building wasn’t all one design.  It was a doubling up of designs:

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There you see a photo, which I took in 2009, of this thing while they were doing it.  It doesn’t prove that it was done in two entirely distinct stages, of which this is merely the second stage, but it seems to suggest that.  The new building activity seems to concern the curvey bits on the top.  The scaffolding next to the rectangular bits looks much more like the kind of scaffolding you put up when you are merely revamping an already existing building.  And that, I am almost sure, is what is happening there, to the rectangular bits.

What I now see when I look at this ungainly thing is that rather than it being a very ugly piece of one-off design, I now see it as a charmingly quaint urban agglomerative confluence of constrasting styles, such as London contains a hundred examples of, and hurrah for London.  London itself, as a whole, is just such a multiple design confluence.  Old meets new, and both live to tell the tale.  Or in this case new meets newer.  This weird-looking building is a two-off design, you might say.  It is a two-off design, and it looks exactly the sort of way a two-off design ought to look.

If I am wrong about it being a two-off design and I learn that actually it was all designed at once, I’ll probably go back to thinking it ugly.

Here are some more pictures of it that I have taken since then, from various angles:

image

That picture, to my eye, makes it look downright beautiful.  As does this next one, taken looking into the evening sun from the top of Westminster Cathedral, even more so:

image

But now, the plot thickens, or maybe that should be: the plot gets thinner, back to its original state.

My internet searching skills are very primitive.  I have just had yet another go at finding out what this odd building is called, at any rate by those who own it or who are in the business of renting it out.  And I have finally managed to learn that they call it “The Peak”.  Heaven knows why.  It doesn’t look like much of a peak.

Anyway, knowing this, I eventually found my way to this description of The Peak.  And what do you know?  (More precisely: What the hell do I know?) It would appear that this ungainly thing was what I had originally assumed it to be: a one-off design.  The whole thing was built all in one go.  So what had seemed obvious to me was not even true, let alone obvious.

The Sheppard Robson designed building adjoins the Apollo Theatre and replaces two existing structures. The Vauxhall Bridge Road and Wilton Road elevations incorporate robust Portland stone-clad columns and spandrels with intricately designed glass solar shading louvres between.

The louvres provide a dynamic visual effect to the building both during the day and at night. The prow of the building facing Victoria Street is curved, following the site boundary, and an arcade has been provided at street level to substantially increase the pavement width along one of the busiest pedestrian thoroughfares in central London.

So, what will I now feel about this building?  Will I go back to feeling that it is ugly?

This will not be a decision.  It will simply be a fact, which I will discover by introspection.  How do I now feel?  As of now: not sure.  My mind may decide that, because it had, for a while, been deceived by this building, and dislike it more than ever before.  But, I am starting to suspect that, having found beauty in this object, even though this finding was based on an error, my mind will be reluctant to surrender this happy feeling.

Incidentally, I have already posted here a photo of the roof of this building, and in particular of the crane that sprouts out of that roof to clean the windows.  I’m talking about the last of the three photos in this posting.

Saturday April 29 2017

Spent the day doing pretty much nothing, frollowing the meeting I had in my home last night, having spent the whole of last week fretting that there wouldn’t be enough people.  There were, just about, but it was close.

So, quota photo time.  This will do, taken from Low Hall Sports Ground (near to Blackhorse Road railway statnion (which is how I found my way there)), in June 2012:

image

I went to this place to try to photo the Gherkin and the Shard directly in line, and as you can surely guess from the above photo, I succeeded.  But this not-quite-aligned version come out nicely too.

Tuesday April 25 2017

I know.  8056.  Not what I mean.

I’m hoping that as the years go by these kinds of comparisons are going to accumulate, and that as I do further trawling through the archives, other similar contrasts will be discovered.

All four of these photos were taken from the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral, in Victoria Street, two of them in April 2012, and two of them in October 2016.

The first pair are looking down, towards the top end of Victoria Street:

imageimageimage

And the second pair of looking in nearly the opposite direction, towards Westminster Abbey and beyond, which is at the bottom end of Victoria Street:

imageimageimage

Quite big differences, I think you will agree.  Cheesegrater.  Walkie Talkie.  And all those pointy things near Victoria Station.

There is only one thing wrong with the fabulous views you get from the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral.  From this spot, you cannot see the tower of Westminster Cathedral.  I like this tower a lot.

Monday April 24 2017

It’s happened again.  I am being made happy by a Mr Ed comment at Samizdata.  That’s twice in two days.  This comment is on this posting, and although I don’t grasp the relevance, Mr Ed provides a link to this BBC report:

A woman who decorated her London townhouse with red and white stripes can ignore a council order to repaint it, the High Court has ruled.

Property developer Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring painted the candy stripes on the building in Kensington in 2015.

image

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said it was out of keeping with the look of the area and had served her with a notice to repaint it white.

Mr Justice Gilbart ruled the stripy decoration was “entirely lawful”.
The council had served the notice under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 claiming the “stripes on the front elevation, is incongruous with ... the local area.”

I wonder.  Will this judgement provoke other outbreaks of architectural colour in London?

Friday April 21 2017

So far, I have only managed seven photo-postings about my expedition to the big old Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is now in the process of being turned into a bigger new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.  Tomorrow, Spurs play Chelsea in the semi finals of the FA Cup, and in honour of this confrontation, here is Tottenham posting number eight.

I made my way eastwards from the stadium, towards the park and then the canal beside which I hoped to walk south.  But before I got there, I encountered this:

image

This footbridge is to be found next to the level crossing at the north end of Northumberland Park railway station.  I climbed up on the footbridge and took this shot, looking south, of that railway station:

image

My main reason for showing this is to show you how far away the Big Things of the City are from this vantage point.  This sort of circumstance being why God invented zoom lenses.  Look what happened when I cranked up my zoom, on my trusty Panasonic Lumix FZ200.

What you see here is the miniscule portion of the above view that you see if you follow the railway lines straight to the horizon, and then shift a tiny bit to the left, just past that big spikey thing, to those tiny little things sticking up, just beyond the big spike and to its left, as we look:

image

And what we see is that those tiny things are the Big Things of the City of London.  Gherkin.  Cheesegrater.  Shard.  Plus intervening clutter of course.

Over to the far left of the station view photo you can also make out the towers of Docklands.  But they aren’t that special to look at.  If it weren’t for the pointy one, you’d hardly know how to spot them, because they’d just be a few anonymous lumps.  What Docklands needs is a mega-skyscraper of a distinctive design.  Maybe a thin tower, with a huge revolving restaurant at the top.  Something along those lines.  But I fear that the nearby presence of City Airport would make that impossible, for the time being anyway.

Wednesday April 12 2017

I have GodDaughter 2 to thank for this picture:

image

That was the sight that greeted me just before I went inside St Stephen’s Church, Gloucester Road, where GD2 and some music student friends, conducted by Matthew O’Keeffe (Scherzo), were performing Rossini’s Stabat Mater.  That’s a link to a piece about the event written in the future tense, so I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s the best I can do.

I can’t be objective about GodDaughter 2’s singing, but she sounded very good to me.

Tuesday April 11 2017

I like this footbridge, and I like this photo of this footbridge:

image

I took this photo on the same day I took this gasometer with towers photo, and these cat photos.

We are looking down from the road bridge that takes Twelvetrees Crescent over the River Lea and Bow Creek.  It’s a delightful spot, to be found at the top right end of the Limehouse Cut.  On the right, we see the Limehouse Cut about to make its bee-line for the Limehouse Basin.  And on the left, the River Lea is about to wend its very winding way down to the River.  Where the Lea empties itself into the Thames is right near where I took these fish photos.

The reason I cross-reference all these photo-postings of mine is because the idea of these expeditions is not just to see amusing things in isolation, but in addition to that to build up the bigger picture in my mind of what that part of London, and in particular its waterways, is like.  All these walks need to join up with each other, in reality and in my head.  The latter I achieve by trawling back through my photo archives, by repeatedly meandering about in google maps, and by connecting up this blog posting with that one.  And by going on more expeditions.

Sunday April 09 2017

As related yesterday, yesterday’s walk was basically pretty boring.  But by this I do not mean truly boring.  I mean: boring, if I had not had a camera with me.  But I did have a camera with me, and I kept a more than usually alert eye out for incidental photoable fun.

What had got me out and about in the first place was the hours of cloudless sky that were going to happen, and this lack of clouds enabled the sun, combined with all the bright shiny objects that abound in a city like London, to create some photoable fun with reflected light:

imageimageimageimageimage

I don’t know exactly how that first effect was created.  I was in too much of a hurry to get to the Limehouse Cut.  The middle one is light bouncing off the water onto the underside of a bridge over the Limehouse Cut.  And the third one is light bouncing off windows opposite.

Here, by contrast, is a picture of light going nowhere:

image

You see a lot of these things on the tops of canal boats, and this makes sense, more sense than it does having them on the tops of houses.  The difference is that electricity on a boat comes with a cost not only in money but also in time and both.  The time it takes to transfer the electricity into your electricity store.  And the bother of finding one of the terminals you’ll be using, which is not so easy, especially if there is a queue.  So any topping up of your electricity store that you can do automatically, without having to stop at a special terminal, is very welcome.  Especially on a day like yesterday.

Saturday April 08 2017

Today I had what I suspect may prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I say that because it was so boring that I may never do it again.  I walked the length of the Limehouse Cut:

image

The thing about the Limehouse Cut is that it is dead straight, as purely man-made things so often are.  So, when you are walking along next to it, you find yourself staring forwards at an infinitely receding, dead straight, unchanging canal-side path.  The Limehouse Cut is dead straight, and hence dead boring.

Click on that dreary little map of the Limehouse Cut, above, and you will get the context, which shows also how most waterways in London look.  Not straight.  And that makes them much more amusing to walk next to.  Usually, when walking beside a London waterway, there are constant twists and turns.  New things regularly come into view.  The whole atmosphere of the journey keeps changing.  But when things straighten out, like they did today, it can get very repetitious.

Here are some pictures that make that point:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage

I have long noticed something similar when it comes to walking along roads.  Long straight boulevards are an ordeal.  Twisty and turny walks, with lots of visual variety and with obstacles in the way so you can’t see miles ahead, are, I find, much more appealing.

The point is variety.  Anything that just keeps repeating itself is dull.  Even if it is something you might think picturesque, like a waterway with lots of boats on it.  But that gets dull also.

I was actually not surprised by this.  I was expecting it.  But, I was hoping against hope that there might be a good view in the distance, like the Shard maybe.  Or that it wouldn’t be boring.  Well, it wasn’t entirely boring.  There were things to see that were surprising.  Plus there was a park that I was able to visit.  But basically, it was boring.

But the thing was, what if the Limehouse Cut was really exciting?  I had to make quite sure that this was not so.  So, there was a meaningful mission today, and it was accomplished.  And it didn’t take that long.

Thursday April 06 2017

Indeed:

image

That’s the model of London in the foyer of the Building Centre, photoed by me last month.

In the foreground, all the new building in the Battersea area.

The small square green bit in the middle of the picture, on the other side of the river, is Vincent Square, which is a short walk from where I live.

London, especially on the south bank, looks like it’s flooded, doesn’t it?

Wednesday April 05 2017

A friend, one who evidently drops by here from time to time, recently noted that I am spending a lot of time in East London.  Indeed I am.

Given that what interests me is places that are changing, and all the cranes and commotion associated with all the change, and then what they finally turn into, this map, of London “skyscrapers” in the pipeline, explains why:

image

I found that map in this report.

The reason I say “skyscrapers”, instead of just saying skyscrapers, is because I doubt whether all these … “skyscrapers” will really be of the sky scraping sort.  I suspect they’ll just be rather tall.  More like tower “blocks”, I suspect, most of them.  Or maybe something between a block and a true skyscraper.  Well, we shall see.

More interesting, to me, is that obvious hot spot there, in Tower Hamlets.  There is a London borough that is really living up to its name.  Just now, Tower Hamlets is also famous for being a hot spot of local government corruption.  There is a lot of news coverage of how former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman was bullying people to vote for him, than there is concerning mere money grubbing.  But you can’t help wondering if all those planning permissions were somehow a part of this story.

I remember, when I was a teenager, travelling through Croydon on a bike trip I was making around London, to get a ferry to Scandinavia.  (Ah how I wish there had been digital cameras then!) And the thing was, Croydon was then a brand new tower cluster.  I was amazed, as it came into view over the brow of a hill.  It was the nearest thing I had ever then seen to Manhattan, in this then green and cautious land.  And a year or two later, a whole bunch of Croydon councillors found themselves in jail.  I remember thinking then that if crooked councillors are what it takes for a decent cluster of towers to get built, then I’m for it.

It stands to reason that planning permission is going to go to the highest (in both senses) bidder, from time to time.

On the other hand, it could just be that the whole of London wants lots of towers in that part of town.  Greenwich is also heavily involved in that hot spot, and I am not aware of any above average degree of corruption there.  Comments from people better informed about such things than I am would be very welcome.

Throughout my decades of living in London (about four of them so far) I have been feeling the centre of gravity o

Tuesday April 04 2017

I find myself becoming ever more entertained by those cranes at the top of buildings, for cleaning windows.  The ones that look like this:

image

Is it a crane?  Is it roof clutter?  It’s both!

The above photo was taken in March.  And then, in April, this month, I took this next photo, because, although not by itself very significant, it really adds to the story being told above:

image

I did a bit of cropping on both these, to make them more identical, in all but the essential difference they illustrate.

For you see (which you now do), this particular window cleaning crane has the trick of disappearing into the (very visible) roof of its building like it’s not even there.

One moment: roof clutter, of the most obtrusive sort.  Next thing you know: roof clutter gone.

There is another such window cleaning crane, very near to the above window cleaning crane, in fact just across the road from it, on the big ugly building with the curved roof, from which a window cleaning crane with a curved bit of roof on it occasionally emerges.  And in February, I chanced upon this window cleaning crane in action:

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From form emerges function.  Function functions.  Then function disappears back into form, like nothing had happened.

Monday April 03 2017

This afternoon I checked out London Fields, hoping for views of Big Things.  But the clearest Big Thing views I got from the trip were taken from London Fields Overground Station.  This is because London Fields Overground Station is, to coin a phrase, overground.  It’s at roof level rather than ground level.  London Fields, on the other hand, is a collection of fields, with lots of trees everywhere.

Big Things were to be seen through the beginnings of the summer’s greenery-to-come, but only very dimly:

image

Actually, I have to admit that with those trees looking all springy and everything that’s quite a sweet looking photo.  But on the whole, views of Big Things from higher up tend to be more varied and more interesting.  You can include more interesting backgrounds and go looking for interesting alignments.

Whatever.  From London Fields station I also immortalised this excellent clump of roof clutter:

image

I took other photos for reminding me of the shape of the building as a whole, and that meant that I and google maps were quickly able to learn that this is the tower in the middle of Pitcairn House.  Follow that link, and you will see that Pitcairn House is two quite big slabs of housing, but because there are two curved roofs over most of it, with only the top of that tower being easy to get to, all the clutter has to be concentrated in that small spot.

Saturday April 01 2017

Five, when they were still building it, as viewed from the south side of the river:

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And now, from a little spot in the City called Bunhill Fields, which is a graveyard, through some leafless trees:

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The first photo was photoed five years ago last Thursday, and the second was photoed ten days ago.

The more I see of this Big Thing, the more I like it.  And I am hearing others say that they like it too.

While I’m about it, one of its admirers singled out what happens at the top of the Walkie Talkie.  This looks like this:

image

I took that in January of last year.

Monday March 27 2017

Today, in the cloudless weather ordained by our omniscient short-term weather forecasters, I took a quite long walk beside the River Lea, out east.  The clocks having just gone forward, there was suddenly a decent amount of daylight, so I took my time and just carried on walking, and now I am knackered.  So, it’s quota photo time:

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That was taken at Canning Town, where I was switching from the Underground to the Overground.  It’s one of those I Just Like It photos, as in: I hope you like it too, but I realise it isn’t that remarkable.

There were no clouds in the sky, but there was something in the air.  Mist?  Pollution?  Whatever it was, it had the effect of turning all distant objects from their usual appearance to a flatly uniform grey, like I’d pushed some kind of Photoshop button.  Those are the Docklands Towers in the distance, looking flatly and uniformly grey.  That one pointy tower makes the whole cluster recognisable.  Increasingly, and as I think I am starting to say quite often here, I find myself valuing recognisability over mere beauty.

I don’t usually like it when street lamps get in the way.  (Street lamps in London always get in the way, of every picture I ever try to take, or so it sometimes seems.) But I rather like the way these ones have come out.  The nearer one frames the view rather nicely, and the more distant one poses in a dignified way, in a way that fits in well with the rectangular shapes in the gas-holder.

I totally trust the weather forecasters.  I left my umbrella behind, and wore fewer clothes than ever before this year.  And it worked.  No rain, no cold.  And not quite so knackered from carrying unnecessary garments.  But still knackered.  So that is all, and I wish you all a very good night.