Stockwell’s concrete cathedral for buses

stockwell bus garage interior

Fall asleep on a Go-Ahead bus and you might just be lucky enough to wake up in the depot – the soaring, concrete cathedral that is Stockwell Bus Garage. (It’s 100m or so from Stockwell station.)

Opened in 1952, at the time it had Europe’s largest unsupported roof span, the vast space inside (6,800 sq metres, or roughly ten football pitches) able to house 200 buses.

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The Chapel of St John the Evangelist

One of the loveliest and most peaceful spaces in London is literally in the centre of one of the busiest. The Tower of London gets some two million visitors a year, and in high season one can wait several hours to shuffle past the Crown Jewels, and the space in the White Tower around the armour of Henry VIII and Charles I is as jammed as Selfridges on the first day of the sale.

But walk up to the next level of the Tower and you go through an absolute architectural gem – the Chapel of St John the Evangelist – which manages to be utterly tranquil despite the hordes.

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The Ascent of W1: the Marble Arch Mound

I actually thought it might be a good idea. It was certainly an idea worth exploring, and perhaps wacky/left field enough to work; plant a hill in the centre of the city, with flowers and trees. Bring a spot of the old rus to the very urbe Oxford Street. Give Nash’s poor, lost, isolated Marble Arch a bit of company.

Mind you, I thought it was going to be an actual hill – several thousand tons of soil compacted into a new knoll/tor/hillock. I didn’t think it would be just a web of scaffolding covered in rolls of sedum and sparse saplings. Nor did I know that the budgeted cost was £2 million (with an actual cost of £6 million: Six. Million. Quid).

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A steam ship in the City of London

There are quite a number of ‘Holland Houses’ in the capital – the remains of a Jacobean country home in Holland Park, Kensington; a school in Edgware; a student hostel near Victoria – but it’s only outside Holland House in Bury Street in The City (a stone’s throw from the Gherkin), that they still fly the Dutch flag.

This Holland House dates from 1916 and is sometimes called the first modern office block in London. Designed by the Dutch modernist architect Henrik Petrus Berlage, it was the first steel-framed building in Europe, with walls of green glazed terracotta bricks (shipped in from Delft) rising from a black plinth. (It is also said to be the first office block in Britain to have an atrium.)

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The US Embassy, Nine Elms

Don’t call it a moat.

Let’s be clear about that from the start; it’s not a moat – it’s a lake. Well, that’s according to the US Embassy.

We’re talking about the stretch of water that separates the main embassy building (or, more properly, the ‘Chancery’ of the Embassy) from the road. There’s a patch of green space that one can walk through and a cascading fountain. It doesn’t surround the building, but its purpose is for security, a further level of protection from anyone driving a car or truck from the road towards the main structure. That makes it a moat in my book.

The effect is reinforced by the cuboid nature of the building, one which echoes the medieval keeps of castles – think of William the Conqueror’s White Tower – and one can even see aspects of Iron Age forts in the earthworks that hide protective concrete bollards.

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Farm Street Church, Mayfair – a gothic wonder

farm st church

The Victorians loved the medieval. The ‘gothic revival’ actually started earlier – in the late 1700s/early 1800s as a reaction to classicism – but it was mid-century that saw it flourish.

For many, this architectural style is far too ‘fussy’ – there is just too much detail, colour, decoration, too much of everything. But despite the best efforts of many architects, planners and developers in the mid-20th century, much of the Victorian Gothic survives. Think of the work of George Gilbert Scott – the Midland Hotel at St Pancras; St Mary Abbot’s, Kensington; the Albert Memorial – or Street’s Royal Courts of Justice, or the elaborate detailing outside and inside the House of Parliament.

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“One of the sights of London”

Miss the Tower of London, if you have to, but don’t miss this” wrote Ian Nairn in his 1966 guide, Nairn’s London. A Nash terrace? A Wren church? No – the inside of Buzz Bingo in Tooting.

Of course, Nairn din’t know it as a bingo hall, but as the Granada cinema, and it dates from 1931, a sumptuous expression of Art Deco design (interiors by the Russian-born director and designer Theodore Komisarjevsky) that now has Grade I listed status.

It was a monster auditorium that could seat 3,000 patrons, the owner of the Granada chain, Sidney Bernstein, reckoning that the transport connections of Tooting Broadway’s multiple bus routes, underground station and the nearby overground would pull in customers from across south west London and beyond (at that time the border of the county of London and Surrey was close by, and Surrey did not permit cinemas to be open on Sundays, while London did).

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Up on the Roof – the Walkie Talkie’s Sky Garden

I’ve tried hard to like the Walkie Talkie, Rafael Vinoly’s skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. The thing dominates the surrounding streets, blocking out the whole sky from the narrow cobbled alleyways that lead up to Eastcheap, and its solitary position away from the cluster of tall glass and steel buildings that form the new vertical City means it intrudes into views from Waterloo Bridge and along the south bank, as well as seeming to loom over the Tower of London.

It is blessed, though, with a wonderful, free viewing gallery – a couple of floors of space some 150m up – higher than the London Eye – and with a 360 degree view of the capital.

This is the Sky Garden. The architect’s plans (of course) were for a mini-Kew, a verdant ‘public park’ accessible to all; it hasn’t quite worked out like that (of course). The accessibility involves navigating a clunky website to book tickets (which are released every other Monday), queuing to get through ticket barriers, trudging through airport-style security, and then queuing for the lift.

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The Development Plan for Greater London

london society development plan

Before 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]”.

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The Lloyd’s Building

Rogers' Lloyd's Building reflected in Foster's Willis Building

In 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.

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