Category Archives: architecture

The Development Plan for Greater London

lonsoc-london-plan-e1406632951632Before Abercrombie and Forshaw, with their 1943 and 1944 plans for modernising London , with new ring roads, ‘zoned’ areas and satellite new towns, there was the London Society‘s Development Plan.

Put together between 1914 and 1918 (the coincidence that both plans were the product of wartime is interesting), the Society’s plan grew out of a widespread feeling in the early part of the 20th Century that London had grown too much, too rapidly and without any overall supervision. At the RIBA Town Planning Conference in 1910, William Riley, architect of the London County Council, said that London was “one of the most costly examples of the evils resulting from the lack of proper [planning]”.

From the 1910 conference came the London Society,  its founder members including Riley, Sir Aston Webb (architect of the front of the V+A and the processional route along the Mall), Raymond Unwin (the architect-planner of Hampstead Garden Suburb and Letchworth Garden City) and a wide array of other architects and planners (including the splendidly named Arthur Beresford Pite)., politicians, newspaper moguls and businessmen.

Identifying transport infrastructure as key to the capital (plus ca change) the Society proposed that one body should be responsible for developing the arterial roads into and across the city, and its 1918 plan proposed a whole new network of main roads, by passes, the north and south circular and a new orbital road way that prefigures the M25 by several decades.

Allied to this were proposals for “new parks, parkways and waterside reservations”, connected by belts of green parkways, and the nationalisation of the railways to better control and coordinate the passenger and goods traffic coming into and through London.

The Plan was incredibly influential. In practical terms its concept of the ‘green belt’ was accepted and many of the roads it suggested were built, but more broadly, its idea that the growth of cities could be planned and managed with a view to making these developments better places to live and to work was widely embraced. Further plans and activity followed, and it’s fair to say that this work formed the foundation of Abercrombie’s vision.

You can buy a copy of the original plan, along with descriptive notes and context of the London plans at the London Society website.

The Lloyd’s Building

outside-columnIn 1978, the year after architect Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre opened in Paris, construction started on his first major London project, The Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street.

Built to house the London Insurance Market, this was the first “high tech” building in the UK and there is still nothing quite like it.

The building is “inside out”, with the service functions placed on the exterior. The pipework and air conditioning ducts wrapped around the outside, the glass lifts scooting up the outside walls, the corner staircases like corkscrew metal are all still a delight to behold. But the concept is not decorative per se: it allows for easy replacement and maintenance of the facilities, and it means the inside can be open and flexible, with uninterrupted activity on each level. Rogers has designed other buildings in London since Lloyd’s, but none provoke the same sense of looking at something otherworldly. Continue reading

The Monument

dsc_0100Climb the 311 stairs today to the top of the Monument and the view lays out the 21st century City. To the north the Walkie Talkie seems close enough to touch, and behind that are the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, Heron Tower and the other towers of skyscraper alley.

To the south the view is dominated by the Shard, but the Elephant and Castle developments are now starting to block that horizon; the east has the packed legoland towers of Canary Wharf.

The west gives some relief with a great view of St Paul’s and down the river to Westminster, but look down into the City and one can see the current building boom with cranes and construction sites all around. Continue reading

London in Miniature

IMG_0657They don’t make as big a deal of it as they should, but at the Building Centre in Store Street (off Tottenham Court Road, and just round the corner from the British Museum) there is the most fantastic architectural model of London.

You can see the capital stretch out in front of you, from Stratford in the east right across to Old Oak Common, and from Primrose Hill in the north down to Nine Elms.

There are the clusters of skyscrapers in the City and Canary Wharf, the new developments at Battersea and Paddington. You can take in the ordered streets and quiet squares; notice the Eye, the Orbit, the Post Office (Telecom) Tower and the way the river weaves along, and appreciate the extraordinary amount of green space with which London is blessed. Continue reading

April photos

Some snaps from the phone from walking around this month. Click on any image to see the whole galley

Book review: Up in Smoke by Peter Watts

IMG_2816I have a terrible confession to make, one that will see me shunned by London society, if not drummed out of the city altogether: I don’t actually like Battersea power station.

Giles Gilbert Scott’s brooding brick behemoth by Chelsea Bridge has always been too squat, too square for my tastes. His Bankside power station (now the home of the Tate Modern) is wonderfully proportioned, its single chimney in tasteful contrast to the bloated glass towers on the other side of the river.

And if it were not for its chimneys, would anyone give a stuff about Battersea? Their elegant flutes are (for me) the sole redeeming feature of Scott’s earlier building. Continue reading

Bricking It

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Step out of the back door of the Blue Fin Building (as I did this morning) and rising up in front of you is the new extension to Tate Modern – 167,699 bricks’ worth (according to their website).

It’s by the firm of Herzog & de Meuron (who did the work transforming Giles Gilbert Scott’s original Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern back in 2000) and “will present a striking combination of raw industrial spaces and refined 21st century architecture”.

Striking it certainly is, its angular form contrasting starkly with the clean lines of the power station. Its ten storeys tall, and built on the old oil storage tanks (Bankside was oil-fired, unlike Scott’s coal-fired Battersea power station, also currently being transformed). The Tate say that the new development will increase display space by 60%.

I’ve an ambivalent attitude to much contemporary art, finding it engaging on an intellectual rather than an emotional level, and although I love the Turbine Hall space at Tate Modern it’s not a gallery that I find myself drawn to. Let’s see what goes into the new extension when it opens on 17 June.

(Click on any of the images below to see the gallery of snaps)

 

A stroll along the South Bank

Some snaps from a walk past the National Theatre and RFH yesterday afternoon

One New Change

One New ChangeThe architect of One New Change, Jean Nouvel, described his building as a ‘stealth bomber’; it’s something very big – well over half a million square feet of shops, restaurants and offices spread over eight floors – designed to almost be unnoticed.

The main reason for this of course is its proximity to St Paul’s. Certain views of the cathedral are legally protected. These are generally the views from some major London parks – Richmond, Greenwich, Alexandra Palace, Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill – which aren’t allowed to be blocked by tall buildings. That’s why the really big skyscrapers in the City tend to cluster in the East and why there aren’t any in the area around the cathedral.

So One New Change hasn’t been allowed to impose on St Paul’s, but what it has done is to give us some great new views. Coming up the escalator with the dome appearing in front of you is a wonderful experience, as is riding in the glass lift; the panels in the central atrium reflect views of the Cathedral so that you’re aware of its presence whichever way you look; and on the sixth floor is a terrace that puts you on a level with the roof of St Paul’s – you feel like you can almost reach out and touch it. Continue reading

Wood Street Architecture

wood street city of london

From the left – Wren, Foster, Rogers

Stand with your back to the City of London police HQ in Wood Street and you can see the collision of old and new in the City’s architecture. The number of cranes that are visible and the noises of construction one hears as one walks around the square mile are testament to the sheer number of new buildings being built.

It was ever thus. In the years following the war concrete and glass square boxes dominated. They’ve now been largely replaced with glass and steel curves and other forms. This is a sign of the City’s strength – it has always been able to reinvent and rebuild itself. The new being constructed on and around the old. Continue reading