Architectural admiration (4)

For the fourth outing in this series, I am sticking with buildings or structures that I have actually seen, or been inside. Apologies for the bold type. Try as I might, I cannot get rid of it in edit. Grrr!

Bluebird Garage, Chelsea, London.

King’s Road in Chelsea, is now considered to be a very fashionable place; home of designer shops, smart boutiques, and stylish restaurants. During the Punk phase, it was frequented by many adherents of this style, who would visit the shops run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren. Decades earlier, in 1923, the Bluebird Garage was built at number 330, in the very latest Art Deco style of architecture. It had petrol pumps on the forecourt, and sold and serviced cars too, as a main agent for Chrysler. I had always liked this unusual building, painted white, with the obvious Deco references. When I first joined the London Ambulance Service, it had been taken over by the Greater London Council. They had put an Ambulance Station on the lower floor, and used the upper areas for the storage of the vehicles used to take children to school. On my first day after qualifying, I was told to report there, to meet the divisional officer in charge. I later worked out of there on many occasions, and we even used the petrol pumps to fill up our ambulances. When a modern Ambulance Station was later built in Fulham, the building was closed up. It was later acquired by Terence Conran, and extensively redeveloped into the Bluebird Cafe and Restaurant. This name was from the connection with Donald Campbell, who was one of the owners of the original garage. Luckily, the facade is listed, so it remains available to see in all it’s glory, to this day.

Church of St Joan of Arc, Rouen, Normandy, France.<

Rouen is a place full of history. Crammed with wonderful buildings, home to a huge cathedral, and enjoying a picturesque riverside location on the River Seine. It is a place that I would really recommend you visit, the next time you are in northern France. In the former ancient market place, is the site of the execution of Joan of Arc, later St Joan. This legendary young woman led French resistance against English occupation during the early part of the fifteenth century. She was later betrayed, and given over to her enemies. They tried her as a heretic, and burned her at the stake. A large cross marks the exact spot where she died. In 1979, a new church was opened in her name. It was a striking design of modern architecture, yet used the traditional feel of an upturned boat, one of the earliest styles of Christian churches. Inside, the nautical theme continues with the exposed wood, but there is also the delightful addition of original stained glass windows, from the 16th century. Kept safe during both wars, these windows were installed in this new building, and are a marvellous complement to the 20th century design.

A La Ronde, Exmouth, Devon.

Many years ago, I visited this house as a tourist, and it has always stuck in my memory. It is unusual, in that it has sixteen sides, giving a circular appearance, hence the name. Built in 1796, it was the home of two spinsters, and contained twenty rooms. They helped conceive the design, and worked with local architects to realise their dream. If you can imagine two children designing the perfect dolls house, and then living in at as adults, you will get the idea. They decorated the interior with souvenirs of their travels, including feathers and shells, creating a gallery entirely covered in shells in the process. They used the redundant triangular areas for storage, and even included diamond-shaped windows in the design. The house has been owned by The National Trust for many years, and has recently been extensively refurbished. It is due to open to visitors again this year.

Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

There are lots of castles in Wales. Most were erected by the Normans, and later English rulers, to help subdue the rebellious Welsh. Many of them are more impressive than Manorbier, and lots more are better restored, and often suitably imposing too. But this small castle has something great going for it. it is on the beach, almost literally, as the sand is a stone’s throw from the walls. It is privately owned, and inside, there is still private accommodation for the owner. But it is open to the public, and well-worth a look. Despite being damaged after the English Civil War, the battlements, towers, and main gate are all still impressive. When I went there in the late 1980s, visitors could walk anywhere they pleased too, a nice bonus. It is one of those few places where I would love to live. I would close it to the public though, and just be my own version of the Lord of the Castle, wandering around the fortifications, and making the most of the coastal outlook. What a place!

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, London.

A popular expression in many crafts and trades, is ‘Less is More.’ This simple memorial, designed by Lutyens, and erected following the Great War, in 1920, is a good example of the wisdom of that saying. This monument only really gets the attention it deserves once a year, when it is featured as the centerpiece of the Remembrance Day Parade, on the closest Sunday to November 11th. It is on one of the busiest streets in London, but can be approached easily, and anyone can stand safely in front of it. The building material is Portland Stone, seen on many of London’s finest structures. This replaced the wooden structure that was there the year before. Simple carved wreaths, and the words ‘The Glorious Dead’, are the only decorations, though flags are also placed on it too. It is not very tall, and could even go unnoticed by someone passing in a car or bus. It is dignified though, understatement making the most powerful statement possible, about the tragic loss it reminds us of. It is just right.,_Whitehall

Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain.

High on one of the hills that surround the center of the Catalan city of Barcelona, you will find Parc Guell. It is hard to describe this public park; part fairy-land, part acid-trip, part childish fantasy, and I am still not close. It is none of these however, but an architectural oddity designed by the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. This man is synonymous with the city of Barcelona, also designing the famous Sagrada Familia Church, The Palau Guell, and the Casa Mila, as well as many other outstanding buildings. Any visitor to the city will soon be familiar with his unusual style, which is definitely unique, and also in the ‘love it, or hate it’ category. With the Parc Guell, built over fourteen years, and not officially opened until 1926, he let his fertile imagination run riot. I have honestly seen nothing else to compare with this unusual place, and I am struggling to describe it in a way to do it justice. There is a heady mix of religious symbolism, iconography, and surrealism, that just seems to all come together so well. Colourful mosaics, unusual features, and panoramic views all add to the experience. Have a look at the link, and then look at Google Images. If you have never been there, I am sure that you will be amazed. I was.

The Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, Russia.

When I visited this place, the city was still called Leningrad, and in my mind, it will always be that.
This was first created by Peter The Great, in 1703, as a bastion against attacks from Sweden, then a major player in international events. It was later rebuilt in stone, and has existed pretty much unchanged, since 1720. As well as its intended military purpose, the complex has also been used as a prison, and a garrison for the city militia. During the early days of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the fort was captured by the Bolsheviks, who imprisoned many Tsarist officers there. In the Second World War, the famous siege of the city by the German Army resulted in a lot of damage to the buildings, all of which was carefully restored after 1945. In the grounds is the marvellous cathedral, burial place of many former Tsars. It has a gold cupola, and a huge spire, visible from much of the city. Situated where the Riva Neva opens towards the gulf of Finland, this really is a striking and historically important building, and one well-worth your time to visit.

There you have seven more architectural recollections from my travels over the years. I hope that you find some of them, if not all, enjoyable to read about. Please click the links to see more. This has been quite a popular series, so I will be sure to add part five, in due course.

12 thoughts on “Architectural admiration (4)

  1. Pete, I am continuing to enjoy your installments, even if I began with part 5 and moving backwards. The 4th was truly breathtaking…A La Ronde ~ what an amazing place, I adored the Virtual Tour of the Shell Gallery…

    Gaudi’s Tiled Mosaics on the ceiling was a sight to behold, I was so mesmerized by the pictures I drank the entire cup of coffee without realizing the cup was empty as I gazed at the beauty. What a wonderful installment this was and it’s difficult to comment on just a few, because I don’t want to take up too much space here in the comment section.. But just know each and every one was truly special..

    Take care from Laura ~


    1. Thanks very much Laura. I am pleased that you enjoyed it so much, and hope that you continue with the rest of this series. There are still some more to come!
      Regards, Pete.


      1. Pete, I love seeing and reading about places I’ve never been. Your series sent me on an adventure and I feel like a better person for partaking on such a journey.

        Take care and I look forward to many more adventures to read about …

        ~Laura ~


  2. Pete, I very much enjoyed this newest architectural journey. One of my favorites is The Bluebird Cafe and Restaurant. I’m trying to imagine myself biting into a Bluebird burger! I’ve been to Rouen, but as a passenger in someone else’s car. Although I visited the square famous for the immolation of Jeanne d’Arc, I was unable to spend as much time there as I wanted. I found A la Ronde very interesting, and quite unusual considering when it was built. I always find Medieval castles intriguing, so I’d definitely enjoy a visit to Manorbier Castle. This entry reminds me of your mention of Fort-la-Latte, the French castle featured in “The Vikings.” Although I do think The Cenotaph is a noble understatement, I also like the more magnificent monuments to the Great War. In 1992, unexpectedly having a free afternoon to visit Barcelona due to missing a flight back to the States, I ascended one of the Sagrada Família towers, and also visited a nearby park featuring the art of Antoni Gaudí. I was unaware that the Parc Guell existed, though, and so I now regret that immensely. If I ever visited Russia, my destination of choice would be St. Peterburg. I would definitely want to visit the Peter and Paul Fortress as well as other sites of historical or cultural significance, but my first stop would be at the Hermitage Museum.


    1. The Bluebird is a very swanky and expensive place David, with booking advised. I have never eaten there. Manorbier is not unlike Fort la Latte, but it is larger, and on a beach, rather than a cliff. I have been to the Hermitage twice. It is almost too large though, and it’s impossible to completely see it all. I sought out the Faberge Eggs, the section on Catherine The Great, (enormous dresses, she must have been VERY big!) also the coaches used by the Tsars; opulent and intricately decorated.
      I am very pleased that you enjoyed this. There will be more…
      Regards as always, Pete.


    1. More Deco and castles in the earlier parts, don’t know if you have seen them. Cheers mate. Pete. (And I will try your ctrl tips, as highlighting in edit with the mouse didn’t seem to work. Might have been one of the famous glitches!)


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