Art Deco Bloomsbury

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It may not be particularly fashionable in architectural circles, but I’ve long had a rather large soft spot for Art Deco buildings. So when I heard that Yannick Pucci (aka @ypldn) was running the first of his new Art Deco walking tours as part of the annual Bloomsbury Festival it went straight into the diary. I don’t want to give away all of Yannick’s secrets here, so this will be more of a pictorial post. And the buildings shown here are by no means all of the ones included on the walk – yet more deco delights await you in Bloomsbury.

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Having said that, I do want to write just a little about my favourite stop on the walk: 7-11 Herbrand Street. This stunning white, black and green example of Art Deco started life as a Daimler car hire garage and also did time as a car park – the circular section on the right was the ramp for cars. Built in 1931 by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners (who were also the architects behind Perivale’s Hoover Building and the Victoria Coach Station), this structure has a little bit of everything for the art deco fan (zigzags! tiles! patterns! circular motifs!) and really is worthy of its own blog post. Today it is home to advertising giant McCann London.

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UCL School of Pharmacy (detail), Brunswick Square – (Herbert Rowse, 1937-60, delay due to war):

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Clare Court, Judd Street (TP Bennett & Son, 1920s):

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Tavistock Court (detail), Tavistock Square (circa 1934-5):

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Gower Mews (1930s) – the first Art Deco mews street I have seen – the other side is Victorian, which makes for quite a contrast:

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And last but most certainly not least, the magnificent Senate House, University of London. Designed by Charles Holden (the architect of over 50 tube stations, and much more besides), this 19-storey mammoth was indeed London’s first skyscraper. It was taken over by the Ministry of Information during World War II and famously inspired George Orwell’s vision of the Ministry of Truth in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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The good news is that Yannick will be running more Art Deco treks around Bloomsbury in the future. He has just added new dates in November (the 2nd and the 30th); also keep an eye on the Art Deco walk page on his blog. This fabulous tour also covers other significant architectural sites in Bloomsbury in passing, so is highly recommended for all lovers of London’s architecture.

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Superposition, Canal Museum

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I must admit that a big part of the attraction for me of the art installation currently being hosted by the London Canal Museum was the opportunity to climb down into the underground ice wells and take some pretty photographs. But like many such things, it turned out to be about so much more than that, and I found myself exploring a fascinating interplay between art and science – with a little bit of London history thrown in for good measure…IMG_3898 This installation was created by artist Lyndall Phelps in collaboration with physicist Dr Ben Still, who have been working together since 2012 exploring particle physics. You can read more about their work on their blog. This piece, Covariance, is actually the first instalment of the Institute of Physics’ Superposition series, which brings together artists and physicists to create new works of art. IMG_3943 And yes, you do get to climb down some ladders into the usually fenced-off ice wells that sit beneath the museum building. Built in around 1863, it was originally a warehouse for Carlo Gatti, who as well as being a restaurateur was also an ice importer and ice cream maker. At the time, ice was imported in blocks from Norway, then driven along the canal from what is now Limehouse Basin. The smaller pieces in the first well represent this history, with light boxes that mirror the shape of these ice blocks. IMG_3884 But the main work is in the second well, underneath the front of the building. This dark, circular space is now home to the striking work shown here in these photographs. These colourful disks were inspired by various ways in which data from particle detectors is visualised. I’m no scientist – but fortunately the knowledgable guides can explain more, and show you photographs (also contained in the exhibition guide) of the various inspirations, such as Ben’s own coloured dot diagrams, the women who used to process data from the early detectors, and Japan’s Super-Kamiokande particle detector. IMG_3922 The work is created from everyday materials, including over one kilometre of brass rods (representing the history of science), and beads and diamantes (representing women’s contributions to physics). The space itself also informed the work’s design – and its dark, silent and rather cold environment is well-suited to it. This is one of those works that you really need to see for yourself, but suffice it to say that I could have spent another twenty minutes down there quite happily! IMG_3919 Superposition runs until 20 October at the London Canal Museum (closest tube: King’s Cross). Tours should ideally be booked in advance here, run on Thursday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays, and cost £4, which covers entry to the museum. There will be a free conversation event with Lyndall Phelps and Ben Still on the evening of Thursday October 17th. IMG_3894 IMG_3899