Highland Tower

IMG_5763Having previously written about residential church towers in the City, I decided to branch out a little in this post and feature this rather unique one in Gipsy Hill, South East London. Originally built by John Giles in 1862, Christ Church is now surely one of London’s more unusual homes.

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When arsonists burnt down Christ Church in the 1980s only the 125-foot tower remained. The church built a new premises behind it and, after it remained derelict for some time, eventually sold the tower off to one John Rubinow, who redeveloped it in the late 1990s as a hugely distinctive home. He built an extra section on one side (composed of two smaller, cream-coloured towers, that cling to the old tower like a carbuncle) to create more room. He added a lift and even restored the old clock.

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If you were wondering what it looks like on the inside you are in luck as it was on the rental market for some time (at £970 a week) and the pictures are still (at the time time of writing) available online, if a little greyed-out. There are also some interior photographs in this article from The Telegraph. There are quite a mix of styles on the inside, along with the most spectacular roof terrace and views down the hill across London. There is even a ‘Crypt Utility Room’. A spiral staircase leads up to the Clock Room/Library and, finally, the Belfry/Music Room, and its 36 foot windows.

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Having not had much luck selling the property, Rubinow even tried marketing it in America at one point. It seems to not be on the market currently having been recently let, but do let me know if you know otherwise!

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You can find Highland tower on Highland Road (on the corner of Gipsy Hill), SE19 1QG. Gipsy Hill station is just down the road, but the tower is also walking distance from Crystal Palace Station.

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Prefab Museum

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After the Second World War thousands of prefabricated houses sprung up around UK in an effort to deal with the extreme housing shortage. Over the years most of these have been demolished – they were only ever intended to be temporary structures. However, one community of prefabs in Catford, South East London, has clung on. With the estate now in its last days, a temporary exhibition currently offers the rare opportunity to see inside a prefab house.

IMG_5957The Excalibur Estate was built between 1945 and 1946 by German and Italian prisoners of war and is the largest surviving prefab community in the country.  The buildings were only intended to last for around ten years.

PM1The estate – whose streets are named after Arthurian characters – is destined for the bulldozer, to be replaced with 371 new homes by Lewisham Council. Part of it has already been demolished and fenced off. Only six buildings, which have been listed by English Heritage, are to be retained.

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The temporary exhibition features photographs (including some particularly stunning ones by Rob Pickard), memorabilia and films about life in the Excalibur Estate and other prefab communities in the UK – and your last chance to visit one of London’s more unusual communities.

PM5The Prefab Museum can be found at 17 Meliot Road, Catford, SE6 1RY. The exhibition has now been extended to run until the end of May, and is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays (10am – 4:30pm) and Saturdays (10am – 6pm). Entry is free. The closest station is Bellingham (National Rail).

Caroline’s Miscellany has also written a very thought-provoking piece on the Excalibur Estate.

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Pullens Yards and Buildings

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Pullens Yards are a series of artists’ studios nestled within cobblestoned streets behind Pullens Buildings, a fascinating but surprisingly little-known area that I visited for the first time last weekend.  The development by builder James Pullen of the Pullens Buildings – also known as Pullens Estate – began in 1886. The remaining 360 flats (of an original 684) represent one of the few surviving Victorian tenement buildings in London today.

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The Pullens Buildings are four-storey, yellow stock brick residences with flat roofs. Decorative terracotta arches are featured above each window and central entrance door, behind which you will find a common stairwell for each section of flats. Cast iron window guards are found on the front window sills on the upper floors, and are sometimes used to nice effect to create a window sill garden.

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After falling into disrepair by the 1970s, the estate was bought by Southwark Council and the southern blocks demolished. Luckily, further demolition was blocked by local residents and the zone is now protected by its Conservation Area status. The buildings have since featured in a number of films seeking historically realistic settings, including The King’s Speech.

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Pullens Yards were purpose-built for craftspeople, and three of the original four remain: Clements Yard, Peacock Yard and the large Iliffe Yard. These were originally designed as live/work spaces, with access through to one of the flats behind, though it’s believed these doors were generally bricked over and the studios separated from the housing early on in the buildings’ history.

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Today a wide range of artists and craftspeople work here, including ceramicists, painters, jewellers and photographers. Open studios events are held twice a year, generally once before Christmas and once in summer, when the normally private studio areas are open to the public.  I highly recommend visiting during this time as access is otherwise limited, although the Electric Elephant Café is open all year round.

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The next opportunity to visit this unique little slice of London life is the Pullens Yards Summer 2014 Open Studios, which will take place on 13-15th June.
Pullens Yards are located in SE17, between Kennington and Elephant and Castle tube stations.

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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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Summer Pavilion

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One of my favourite annual London events is the emergence of a brand new Summer Pavilion each year in the grounds of Kensington Garden’s Serpentine Gallery. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto provides the 13th iteration of this project, with his cloud-like grid of white steel poles arising from the green grass. But this a cloud you can sit in, with transparent steps creating seats and producing an interactive feel to his installation  – and also making visitors appear as if they are suspended in space.

IMG_2891Fujimoto has spoken of how his installation contrasts the natural environment of the park with a ‘constructed geometry’ – and there is a decidedly digital look to the grids of which it is composed.

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This is the fourth Summer Pavilion that I have visited and photographed – to celebrate, this post will also look back briefly to the last three designs in this unique series.

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The 2010 Summer Pavilion by French architect Jean Nouvel (shown above and in the following two images) holds a special place in my heart given that it is pictured across the top of The Londonphile’s website. Yes, that green and red image I use everywhere was taken looking through the bright red, transparent walls of the pavilion through to the gallery beyond. Like this year’s version, Nouvel’s design included a cafe inside the pavilion itself.

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The black, almost forbidding exterior of the 2011 pavilion (shown in the three images below) – designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor – belied the fact that it contained a very pretty surprise on the inside, in the form of a fully planted garden. The garden was surrounded by seats, so visitors could soak up the tranquility.

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The 2012 design (pictured in the following three images) also boasted some pretty unique qualities. Ai Wei Wei designed the pavilion in conjunction with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron via Skype whilst under house arrest in China. The design itself referenced all the previous pavilions by integrating their outlines and contours into the design of the floorplan, which was clad in cork. It also featured a rather lovely floating platform roof built across the structure.

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To return to the present day, the 2013 Summer Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto is open until 20th October. It can be found in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, and is free to visit.

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Florin Court

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Forgive me if this post seems at all self-indulgent, but Florin Court is one of my favourite London buildings and I’m yet to write about it. Is it the luscious art deco curves, or the fact that it was home to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot for much of the television series that draws me to these apartments? Probably a bit of both, to be honest…

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Built in 1936 by Guy Morgan and Partners, Florin Court (better known to Poirot fans as Whitehaven Mansions) is a delightfully modern(e) addition to the mish mash of architectural styles to be found in historic Charterhouse Square. With the Tudor buildings of old Charterhouse along the north of the square, and the Georgian beauties interspersed elsewhere, Florin Court more than holds its own on the eastern side.

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This ten-storey apartment block – composed of 120 flats – is also home to a roof garden, a basement swimming pool (pictured here), a gym and, intriguingly, a small library. Its original incarnation also included a diner and a cocktail bar. Florin Court’s interiors underwent a mostly sympathetic redesign in the 1980s by Hildebrand & Clicker architects. The foyer and staircases are more plain than I expected – though I’m a big fan of the cloud stair rail, a motif which is also seen on railings outside the building.

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The apartments themselves are said to be on the small side. Still, if it’s good enough for Poirot…And speaking of which, I was told while photographing Florin Court that Poirot (and a certain Ariadne Oliver) had recently returned to film some scenes in the entrance way and lobby – so Florin Court looks set for one final fling on the small screen.

Charterhouse Square, EC1M, straddles the divide between the City and Islington, and is located just north of Barbican tube station.

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The Shed

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“All theatres are, in a sense, temporary…The ones I particularly like are less impenetrable monuments, cathedrals of culture, than petri-dishes of ideas and emotions, swirling, expanding universes. They’re built to house performances that will, by their very nature, happen once and then change. No theatrical event is repeatable; that’s what makes live performance so exciting”
– Ben Power, Associate Director, National Theatre

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Anyone passing South Bank recently could hardly fail to notice its latest addition – a bright red, wooden fortress-like building. This is in fact the National Theatre’s latest innovation – a temporary theatre space known as The Shed. Designed by architecture firm Haworth Tompkins, this structure took just 18 weeks to erect and is built to last less than a year.

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Its vibrant red colour creates a strong contrast with the grey, brutalist concrete structure of the main National Theatre venue. With its four chimney stacks reaching into the skies along the river, The Shed immediately reminded me of Battersea Power Station, just up river from here. Its towers are actually an energy-saving mechanism, as the stacks avoid the need for mechanical ventilation by drawing air in naturally from under the seats.

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I’ve been waiting weeks for the unseasonal snow and rain to pass so that I could photograph The Shed in the bright sunlight and blue sky that would set it off to great effect. After keeping one eye on the forecast over the entire Easter weekend, I was finally rewarded with some decent weather around 3pm on the Monday. The clouds present enhanced the power station effect, appearing at times like plumes of smoke from the chimneys. When viewed from Waterloo Bridge, the structure’s almost cuboid shape really comes to the fore. Later, the fortress imagery reasserted itself when editing the photos, as they reminded me of ones of Stoke Newington Pumping Station, the design of which was based on a castle.

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The Shed will play host to a number of experimental theatre productions, priced at only £12 or £20 per ticket. Performances start on April 9th.

http://theshed.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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Wrapper

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Stand on the platform at Edgware Road tube station (the Circle Line branch that is, not the Bakerloo line), face south, and you can hardly fail to notice WrapperJacqueline Poncelet’s latest work, which literally wraps the building above in 1,500 square metres of vitreous enamel. There’s much to like about this striking work – one aspect I find particularly fascinating is the way in which Poncelet uses patterns and colours to tell a story, a device often found in her work.

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As regular Tube travellers will soon guess, the colours employed in Wrapper reflect those used for various lines on the Tube map, in a nice hat tip to the building’s use. Poncelet’s research into the local area led to the inclusion of numerous references to local history, places, architecture, transport, waterways and people in the work’s patterns. Closer inspection reveals the leaves of Regents Park, water patterns that suggest the Tyburn stream flowing underground and Moorish tiles reflecting nearby Edgware Road.

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Some of the best views of Wrapper are gained from outside the station in Chapel Street. Both the variety of Wrapper’s patterns and the differing contours it follows around the building means that different stories and different views of the work are revealed depending on where the viewer stands. In this way, Poncelet’s design reflects the way in which the building is generally viewed in parts rather than in its entirety.

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Poncelet started her artistic career as a ceramicist but has since branched out. Wrapper’s abstract patterns were actually screenprinted onto the enamel surface. To give some idea of the massive scale of the work, over 700 enamel panels were used across approximately 1,500 square metres, making Wrapper not only Poncelet’s largest work but Europe’s biggest vitreous enamel artwork.

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Thanks to Joanna Moncrieff, City of Westminster Tour Guide and Westminster Walking blogger, who tipped me off about Wrapper after seeing it on one of her walks.

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Stoke Newington Pumping Station

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When I visited Clissold House last year I was surprised to see a medieval-style castle looming over one end of the park. This architectural oddity is in fact the Stoke Newington Pumping Station – a Victorian era water pumping station built in the Scottish Baronial manner. Although it ceased to operate by 1942 – and is now home to a climbing centre – its turrets and battlements remain thrusting into the sky, a testament to the Victorian zeal for industry and development and a love of all things flamboyant.

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The 1852 Metropolis Water Act requiring drinking water to be filtered and covered prompted its construction by the New River Company between 1852 and 1856, at a cost of £81,500. Although the area was composed mostly of fields at this stage, it’s thought that residents were not keen on the idea of an industrial building in the neighbourhood – hence the magnificent castle design by engineer William Chadwell Mylne and architect Robert William Billings. Possibly based on Stirling Castle (Mylne was Scottish and Billings an expert on historic Scottish buildings) – it’s also been suggested that the design might have been inspired by that of nearby Holloway Prison.

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Its superb position is partly due to the fact that it was built on an artificial mound, to give the sense of a castle within a moat. Although its striking towers and turrets appear quite random, they were each designed with a specific practical function – one housing a chimney shaft, another a water tank – while the turret with the conical roof contains a spiral staircase leading to the roof. The three front buttresses are home to a section of the tower’s flywheels. In a nice touch, Mylne’s name and the date 1855 are spelt out on iron plaques on the side of the buildings (see image below).

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The building was saved from demolition in 1971 following an outcry by local residents, and was Grade II listed in 1974. Despite this, it found itself facing an uncertain future yet again by 1988 with the imminent privatisation of the water industries. In 1994, planning permission was approved for redevelopment by its current tenants – the Castle Climbing Centre – under the proviso that the general appearance and character of the building would be retained and any items removed stored safely for future use. I would highly recommend a peak inside – the day I visited (on a weekend) it looked deserted from the outside, but once through the doors you find yourself in another world of brightly coloured walls covered with enthusiastic climbers. The centre’s plans for further redevelopment of the interior are posted on one of the walls along the main staircase.

If you’d like to visit what must surely be one of London’s more unusual buildings, you can find it at 218 Green Lanes, N4 2HA. Manor House is the closest tube station.

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City views

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For the Londonphile’s Christmas special this year I will share with you some photos of our pretty city. These were the result of a super day out for bloggers organised by the good folks at the City of London. We lucky participants gained access to one of the turrets on Tower Bridge and down into its bascule chambers, and took a trip along the Thames at sunset in a London Port Authority Boat, amongst other treats.

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Tower Bridge’s turrets are located just above its walkways – and while the former are not accessible to the public the latter can be visited as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. We visited the northern turret, whose narrow ledges are accessed via a number of tiny doors on each side of the small room seen above. While the views are quite literally breathtaking, they are certainly not for the faint-hearted – the only barriers being the turret wall and an iron post in the crenel (the photo below gives you some idea of the set up). Given my former fear of heights these photos are nothing short of miraculous!

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While the views from Tower Bridge’s walkways are similar, I’d have to say that those from the turrets are superior, especially as they afford more side views from the bridge. However the good news is that your viewing pleasure will be vastly improved in 2014 with the addition of glass flooring in the walkways – something that IanVisits has written about in more detail here. This innovation will enable visitors to look down upon the bridge itself and to view the bridge lifts from above. Those less fond of heights will be relieved to hear that the entire floor will not be made of glass – there will be a narrow strip of glass flooring only, so that people can still walk across a non-transparent surface should they prefer.

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We were also taken down to visit Tower Bridge’s huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed – where the counterweights that balance the bridge swing down when the bascules are opened. I’ve written about these previously after taking one of the bridge’s excellent Engineering Tours. Tours for early next year are almost fully subscribed so you’ll need to be very quick to get on one of those – otherwise if you can get together a group of at least six people you can book a behind-the-scenes private tour of these subterranean areas for £29 per person.

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While there is no way for the public to organise outings on a London Port Authority Boat – from which the rest of these photographs were taken – I would highly recommend a trip on the Thames Clippers to those looking for a cheap and easy way to access London’s spectacular river views. The bridges are looking particularly special now at night with the coloured lighting. The clippers have an outside deck area from which you can take photographs, but you may want to avoid peak hour as people do use the service to commute.

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The Londonphile is on holiday until the second week of January – wishing you all a fabulous festive season!

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