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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The Barbican Estate

A tower looms above Frobisher Crescent

A tower looms above Frobisher Crescent

If you like your architecture to come with a strong dose of brutalism and lashings of retro styling, then you’ll love the Barbican. The Londonphile is a big fan but I am aware that many are not – the design of both the residences and the Arts Centre that makes up the Barbican Estate has divided Londoners for decades now. Love it or loathe it, the design is a momentous one, and while its groundbreaking use of concrete and brutalist aesthetics makes it a landmark complex, what I find most fascinating are the clever historical and architectural references scattered across the site.

St Giles', London Wall remains, high and low-rise residences and pilotis.

St Giles', London Wall remains, high and low-rise residences and pilotis.

The Barbican Estate was designed to re-populate the City of London, which had a tiny live-in population of just over 5,000 people following World War Two. The area had been so badly damaged during the Blitz that it was little more than a bombed-out wasteland. St Giles’ Church, which can be found in the middle of the complex, was more or less a shell and had to be significantly re-built. So what was once a very old area of London became a very modern one, although this modernity sits side by side with structures like St Giles’ and fragments of the old London Wall.

Contrary to popular belief, the Barbican was not built as social housing – although its architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon also designed the nearby Golden Lane Estate. Now of course its residences are highly sought after – particularly those in the three triangular-shaped towers, which were the tallest residential towers in Europe when built. A series of highwalks connect the area to its surrounds while simultaneously demarcating it as a rare pedestrian oasis in the city – there are no roads within the Barbican. The name Barbican derives from the Latin word ‘barbecana’ meaning a bastion or fortified outpost and refers to the ancient barbecana once situated in this area. The architects have included a number of references to castles, including a crenellated wall, arrow slits and a small staircase tower that resembles a gatehouse along the western side of the complex.

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon also sought to emulate and give a modern twist to West End Squares and European formal gardens – there are eight acres of gardens and lakes across the site, but as many of the larger ones are for residents only they are often overlooked. Frobisher Crescent, meanwhile, is reminiscent of a spa town crescent. A semi-circular motif is repeated across the Estate, and even used in the Arts Centre’s branding, possibly referencing the semi-circular remains of the London Wall near St Giles’. The mediterranean use of barrel vaults (also semi-circular), as seen in Greek island church roofs, was another reference point. The biggest influence – as acknowledged by Powell – on the Barbican’s architects was Le Corbusier. The use of pilotis – the large circular columns holding up the apartments above the lakes being the most notable example of this – is textbook Corbusier. The rounded balconies used on the towers and elsewhere strongly recall the curved lines of his Notre Dame du Haut.

Rounded balconies and barrel vaulted roofs.

Rounded balconies and barrel vaulted roofs.

And if you’ve always wondered why the Arts Centre is mainly located underground, this is because it was a late inclusion in the design and it was hoped this lower postion would prevent noise spilling over into the already completed residential areas. Another concession to the residents was the creation of the conservatory to hide the Barbican Theatre’s very tall fly towers (where stage sets and the like are stored directly above the stage). The section of the tube that runs underneath the lake is the only part of the underground to be supported on rubber bearings – also aimed at noise reduction.

Although planning for the Barbican began in the 1950s, the residences weren’t completed until the early 1970s and the Arts Centre only opened in 1982 (it is celebrating its 30th this year) – giving us some idea of the massive scale of the project. Chamberlin died in 1978 before the Barbican was completed. If you’d like to learn more about the Barbican’s history and architecture I highly recommend taking one of the Arts Centre’s 90-minute Architecture Tours, or the Hidden Barbican Tours, 75-minute behind-the-scenes tours which will take you to backstage areas and up the fly tower. Tours cost £8/6; check the website for details as times vary across the year.

www.barbican.org.uk/tours

Modernist Hampstead

Hampstead has long attracted artists, writers and – yes – architects to its leafy environs. Although perhaps better known for the Hampstead Garden Suburb, and its good stock of Victorian architecture, Hampstead is also home to a number of London’s finest modernist houses. Possibly drawn by the splendid isolation of the hilly zone to the north of London (Hampstead was not integrated into the Borough of Camden until 1965), and undoubtedly by the prospect of Hampstead Heath, in the 1930s Hampstead also had the draw-card of offerring relatively cheap accommodation – as impossible as that is to believe today…

The following photographs were taken on a walking tour of Modernist Hampstead organised last year by the National Trust’s 2 Willow Road (see my earlier post about this property). This is by no means an exhaustive list of Hampstead’s modernist houses, but gives some idea of what is out there and what you could expect if you go on a similar tour (a number of these were run last summer and I expect will run again this year – I’ll keep an eye out for you!). A self-guided walking tour brochure containing most of these houses is also available at the property for a paltry sum. You may also like to visit David Anderson’s excellent site listing modern style housing in London, which has a more extensive listing for Hampstead: http://homepage.mac.com/doive/houses/london.html

Sun House, Frognal Way (1935). Designed by Maxwell Fry.

66 Frognal (1936-37). Designed by Connell, Ward & Lucas.

1-6 Frognal Close (part) (1937). Designed by Ernst Freud.

13b Arkwright Road/The New House (1939). Designed by Samuel & Harding.

49a Downshire Hill (1975). Designed by Michael & Patricia Hopkins as their own residence.

13 Downshire Hill (1936) - on the far left of the photo. Designed by Michael & Charlotte Bunney as their own residence.

1-3 Willow Road (1938). Designed by Erno Goldfinger, with number 2 as his own residence.

Left: 78 South Hill Park (1965), designed by Brian Housden. Right: 80-90 South Hill Park (1956), designed by Stanley Amis, Gillian & William Howell.

Lawn Road Flats/Isokon Flats (1929-32). Designed by Wells Coates.

Learn more about London

The Londonphile has discovered a few fascinating London-centric courses that will be held in 2012. Please note that many of these courses involve attendance over a number of weeks, some include homework, and are not exactly on the cheap side! However, they do look really interesting. I will update this post as I find out about new study opportunities for the coming year.

London: Life and Times
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wednesdays, 25 April–4 July 2012, 2-4.30pm, £322.50
Covers not only influential art and architecture, but people, themes and events that have shaped the capital.
http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/1252/london-life-and-times-2290/ 

Contemporary London Architecture and Interior Design
Chelsea College of Art & Design short course program 
To be held over 4 consecutive days in April 2012 or 4 consecutive Sundays from 26 May 2012, £365
Want to learn more about London’s contemporary built environment? This course will incorporate visits to a number of London’s more recent public spaces, buildings, squares and structures – even an entire neighbourhood.
http://www.chelsea.arts.ac.uk/shortcourses/contemprary-london-architecture/

Birkbeck University
Birkbeck offer a variety of courses including Interpreting the Tower, Discovering London’sSquares, Anglo-Norman London, Life in Medieval London, plus a fascinating course about historic houses in London – which is on the Londonphile’s wish-list for next year!
http://www.bbk.ac.uk/study/ce2011/londonstudies/courses/

Bishopsgate Institute
If you are looking for something shorter and more affordable, Bishopsgate Institute has just announced its new season of courses to kick off 2012. There is a walk and several talks on Charles Dickens and the city in the London in Fiction offerrings at £8 a pop, as well as three separate discussions with lovely London blogger Spitalfields Life which are free. Other £8 talks include Cosmopolitan Soho and A People’s History of London. In May and June a course focusing on Images of London from its earliest days right up to contemporary urban art will be held (£89).
http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/ 

A Room for London

Mark the 19th of January in your diaries now – that’s the date of the release of the second tranche of bookings (July to December) for London’s most amazing penthouse. The ship-like vessel that appeared on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on South Bank last week is actually a one-bed apartment with the best views in London.

Designed by David Kohn Architects in conjunction with the artist Fiona Banner, A Room for London is intended as an ideas factory for London, with dates set aside for 12 writers, 12 musicians and 12 thinkers to stay onboard and get creative – the results of which will be posted online. The design is based on the author Jospeh Conrad’s boat, the Roi des Belges, and features a library, viewing deck and a desk with river views.

 A Room for London will open on 1 January and run throughout 2012. What happens to it afterwards is still undecided – but it may well pop up elsewhere in London. If you’re interested in the dates for paying guests prices are said to be from £120, and get in quick as the first round of dates didn’t last long. Find out more at:

http://aroomforlondon.co.uk/

UPDATE: it appears that the price has now gone up to £300 per night (for up to two people) for the second round of bookings.