Architectural admiration (1)

I freely admit that I know almost nothing about Architecture. I have never designed so much as an extension, let alone a massive building or structure. I just know the sort of thing I like, so have carried out a little research in those areas. As I have mentioned before, I have a great admiration for the styles of Art Deco and Modernism. I also cannot disguise a fondness for the 1960s buildings, often described as ‘Brutalist’, along with some housing developments derided as ‘concrete canyons’. Of course, I don’t have to live in them, just admire them from outside.

As a diversion from the usual subjects featured here, I thought that I would discuss some buildings and houses, and attempt to explain why I like them so much. There will not be much Victorian Gothic featured, and you may notice a distinct absence of Edwardian Villas too. I will give some examples though, and if it is well-received, I may well post a follow-up, another time. I will try to only comment on those that I have actually seen, though the Internet, and the availability of images, make it possible to feature almost anything anywhere, I feel that the experience of looking at them can add something to the telling of the tale. They will mostly be in England, with some exceptions that I have admired in other countries too. I will also not restrict myself by sticking to dates or periods, and I will not feature them in any chronological order. The list will appear as it did in my head.

In the tradition of this blog, no photographs will appear. (Except for the Oyster Bungalow, that just popped up!) This will require the small task by the interested reader, of clicking on a link that will appear at the end of each section.

Senate House. (University of London)
Long before I had any idea what this building was, I was taken by its sheer presence, and the way it dominated the surrounding area in Bloomsbury. Completed in 1937, the Art Deco structure was a true skyscraper at the time. It was the second tallest building in the whole of London, overlooked only by the uppermost level of St Paul’s Cathedral. It reminded me of a medieval castle, the symmetrical rows of windows reminiscent of loopholes in an ancient fortification. Even today, it is still visible from most high points around the city, and its imposing stance has made it popular for use in many television and film productions.

Rowley Way, North London.
An experiment in communal living, The Alexandra Road Estate was opened by Camden Council, in 1978. Now commonly known as Rowley Way, this provided over 500 homes, a school, community centre, youth club, and even boasted its own heating system. Built in the style of a stepped pyramid (Ziggurat), the central area is pedestrianised for its entire length, as car parking is incorporated below the apartments. Despite backing on to a busy railway line, the main thoroughfare appears peaceful, and lots of planting gave it a garden feel. Opinion about the use of untreated concrete is still divided. This did not weather too well, and can make parts of the complex appear neglected. Social problems with some tenants also gave the estate a poor reputation, and many did not want to take up the offer of homes there. A stone’s throw from multi-million pound dwellings in St John’s Wood, one of the most desirable parts of London, the change in the law that allowed tenants to buy at a discount has changed the face of this development. To buy a three-bedroom apartment there today would cost a cool £500,000.

Oyster Bungalows.
The quieter seaside towns in southern England were often developed and expanded during the years between the wars. Pevensey Bay is probably best known for being the site where William the Conqueror landed in this country, before the decisive battle near Hastings, in 1066. The area is overshadowed by its proximity to the larger and more popular town of Eastbourne, so it never really expanded as a resort; though Pevensey Castle still attracts visitors. Built in the 1930s, hoping to capitalise on the popularity of seaside holidays, the Beachlands Estate is home to a collection of Modernist and Art Deco homes, all on a small scale. Included in this development are the famous Oyster Bungalows. I have never seen their like anywhere else. Small two-bedroom bungalows on tiny plots, each built in the shape of an oyster. The living area bulges outward, narrowing towards the back. They might actually be better described as Scallop Bungalows, as their shape more obviously resembles the shell of this animal. However, whether by accident, or design, they were called Oyster Bungalows, and they are delightful.
An "oyster" bungalow, Beachlands

The Royal Crescent, Bath.
Just to show that I don’t only like 20th century architecture, feast your eyes on this 18th century marvel. Bath is a city that is so full of interesting buildings, it demands a visit. From the ancient Roman Baths, The Pump Room (made famous by Jane Austen), and the wonderful Pulteney bridge, with the shops built into it, the whole place is a touristic delight. The Royal Crescent, dating from 1775, is a sweeping terrace of houses in the Georgian style. These days, there is a museum at Number One, as well as a luxury hotel at Number 16. The whole row of houses is listed of course, and beautifully preserved. Essentially unchanged since the time it was built, this is a true look at architectural history that is still living and breathing today.

Bodiam Castle, Sussex.
Back even further in time, to the 14th century, we find the exquisite moated castle of Bodiam. This is the embodiment of every castle I ever wanted to visit, or to live in. In a near-perfect setting, well-preserved in part, and also sympathetically restored, it is now owned and run by the National Trust. The imposing battlements have witnessed so many upheavals in our history, from the Wars of The Roses, to the English Civil War. On the losing side in that war, much of the castle was demolished, until later rebuilt to its original plan, in 1829. Despite its military appearance, the castle is not well-designed for war, and is more of a stylised ideal, than a practical fortress. Nonetheless, it is simply sublime.

St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow.
Many churches of the Orthodox religion feature the distinctive ‘Onion’ dome in their design. However, there are few churches, or any buildings for that matter, as unusual and as easily recognised as St Basil’s in Red Square. Built during the 16th century, to commemorate the victories of Ivan the Terrible, it has nine domes, and two spires. The domes are coloured and patterned, with the effect that the whole building appears to be about to float into the sky, attached to a series of balloons. Since 1928, it has been a museum, owned by the Russian state. Illuminated at night, this iconic building is simply breathtaking, and remains as the instant connection with the city of Moscow, known the world over. (Click small icon to see a photo)

The De La Warr Pavilion.
For the last entry in this first post about architecture, it is back to England, and the 1930s. If I could choose to live anywhere, it would certainly be to own and live in this marvellous Modernist building in Bexhill, on the south coast of England. Inside as well as out, it typifies everything I adore and admire about this style and design. I could write a post about the staircase alone. The interior light, the feel of space, the flat roof terrace and outside balcony, all are just divine. Unfortunately it is not a house, and it is not for sale. It was built in 1935, to serve as an entertainment centre for this sedate seaside town. It houses a theatre, a gallery, and a popular restaurant, as well as exhibition rooms, and a gift shop. Since 1986, it has been listed as a Grade 1 building, so can never be altered. It will remain as it is, for as long as it stands. It is one of my favourite places, anywhere in the world.

So, there you have my first seven choices. I don’t for a moment expect everyone to agree with them. But please have a look at the links, if you don’t already know these places, and see what you think. Feel free to suggest your own preferences, and I will happily investigate them. I have plenty more for consideration, but seven is enough to be getting on with. If you like this idea for a series of posts, let me know. I will be happy to write more.

25 thoughts on “Architectural admiration (1)

  1. Pete, the Alexandra Road Estate was an interesting journey to follow you on your tour for us. I think there is a story brewing there, after visiting the link you posted and your own commentary, of course. This has sparked the creative writing bug for me, so watch out in the future as there might just be a story I’ve posted using this as a feature. Thank you so very much for all 5 tour installments of your travels and places of interest to you. I’ve been truly enlightened by each and every one.

    Take care and happy blogging to ya, from Laura ~


    1. I would be more than happy to have inspired fiction from a post about Rowley Way Laura. There is something about the place, both futuristic, and sinister, that gets it used in lots of TV dramas here.
      Regards as always, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually am jotting down notes about a future storyline about Rowley Way as I eat my lunch here an hour late. There are so many possibilities (very excited )

        Is your picture on here of Ollie ?


  2. Pete, I definitely encourage you to pursue these types of posts, as architecture is a vast artistic realm that can be explored on many levels (engineering, environment, functionality, aesthetic, symbolism, etc.). I could cite many examples of architecture whose visual or emotional impact on me has been significant. Near the top of the list,would be the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família*, which I toured just prior to the start of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

    Sometimes it’s not so much the building itself that impresses me as it is the setting. An example would be the enchanting Château de la Reine Blanche in Coye-la-Forêt, France, which is located on the shore of a small lake surrounded by forest. It’s truly a fairy tale setting.

    Another example, similar in that it involves a lake, would be the Château du Courbat, which serves as the city hall of Le Pêchereau, a town in the Département de l’Indre.

    For a totally different setting, I would cite Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe, which dominates Le Puy-en-Velay, France. The chapel is built on a volcanic monolith that stands 279 feet (85 m) high.

    it goes without saying that most of the buildings I’d list based on architecture alone would be found in France, starting with obvious choices like the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur* in Paris and ending with little known gems in the provinces, but there are buildings in other European countries I’ve visited that would also make my list, such as the Torre de Belém* in Lisbon, Portugal or the Teatre-Museu Dalí* in Figueres, Spain. As for ancient architecture, I’d have to cite the Parthenon* (or Παρθενώνας) in Athens, Greece. Finally, there are sites that feature contrasting architectures, such as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche) in Berlin,Germany:

    Of course, I’ve seen some interesting architecture here in the United States (mostly in Washington, D.C.). Here in Las Vegas, there is a wide range of architecture, including art deco (the Smith Center for the Performing Arts*). Aside from the common casino resort pastiche, there are a handful of unique buildings here, some of which catch the eye, even if they don’t necessarily please it (case in point: the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health*).

    Of course, there are many magnificent and charming examples of architecture around the world which I have not personally viewed but which would appear on a bucket list of places to visit.

    Pete, since you listed St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, have a look at a modest cousin, the Russian Orthodox Church in Nice France:

    Finally, the subject of architecture immediately calls to mind various types of buildings. But one could also consider monuments that are neither buildings nor statues. For example, the most famous monument in my home state of Missouri is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial* (more commonly known as the Gateway Arch). Perhaps there are other types of structures, like parks (Château de Villandry), light canopies (Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas), and even amusement rides (polercoasters, observation wheels, etc.), to which the term “architecture” could apply.

    *Structures for which I haven’t provided links are easily found by way of Google.


    1. David, thanks as always for a detailed and considered reply. All of your recommended examples are excellent, and I would urge all my readers to examine them. I am very pleased that you liked this post, as there is another in the pipeline, as I write.
      My very best wishes as always, Pete.


  3. This was a great post, Pete. I agree with your judgements on the buildings I’ve seen myself — Senate House (I use the library on the 5th and 6th floors — hardly the best location for that function but a great library), Bath, and the De La Warr Pavilion.

    Let’s have more on the topic! Is there anything in Norfolk?



  4. This was a great tour, Pete. We definitely want to see more. And more than that.
    You take us there! 🙂

    If I should ever be in the near, I’d want to see them all. Each and every one!
    First of all The Senate House: it looks terrific, majestic and iconic. What an Art Deco gem! This is a building I’d love to see from the inside as well. Four floors with the library …
    I can well imagine why this place is on the Top 5 London film locations. So glad you introduced this to us, Pete.

    I can well imagine going (driving) on guided tours to your highlights. We’d close the first day with an Afternoon tea in Bath, it looks so grand …

    What a pity that Bodiam castle is so far away from North Norfolk! Sigh. It’s on my list. On the other hand, it’s close to Bexhill and De La Warr Pavillion, so I am awaiting your tour list … You can sign up all four of us, Pete.

    Wishing you a cozy Sunday!
    Dina, Klausbernd, Siri & Selma xo


    1. You have a good idea about a tour Dina. Some of the locations would be easy enough to make into a short holiday trip. (Bath excluded, as it is on the other side of the UK)) I will be doing another post soon, which will hopefully provide more inspiration for you.
      Love from Beetley, Pete and Ollie. X

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, this looks very interesting, Pete. I look forward to studying them all after I have done my shopping for the weekend. They are new to me except The De La Warr Pavilion, which you kindly introduced to us earlier. I know next to nothing about architecture, but still I love it! 🙂
    Wishing you a cozy weekend, lots of pats for Ollie xo
    from the Four of us, Dina


  6. My younger brother studied Architecture so I know a little of contemporary style in houses. He has so many Architectural Digest and Interiors mags that I borrow from time to time. Thanks for the features, I love them all.


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