Art Deco And Modernist London In Photographs

Regular readers may remember that my favourite style of achitecture is Art Deco, and the Modernist designs that formed part of it. I have posted photos of Art Deco buildings on here previously, but I was lucky to find some more online today. I appreciate that it tends to divide people, and that they either love it, or hate it.

I love it.

The White House, Hendon. I would not particularly want to live in Hendon, but I would love to live in a house like this.

East Finchley Tube Station. Many London Underground stations were built in this style.

The John Keeble Church, Millhill.

Kingsley Court apartments, Willesden.

The Empire Pool and Arena, Wembley.

The State Cinema, Kilburn. I have seen films in there on many occasions.

Residential Houses in Arnos Grove.

Randall’s Department Store, Uxbridge.

A Modernist house in Twickenham, close to the River Thames.

The former Coty Cosmetics factory, Brentford.

The Roaring 20s: Wedding Day Photos

I think I missed my time in history. I have always wanted to live during the Jazz Age of the 1920s. Fabulous music, Art Deco architecture, and fashions to die for.

Here are some wedding photos from the period, when people knew how to dress! They were all taken in England, from 1920-1929.

Some happy-looking Bridesmaids.
And an uncomfortably awkward Page Boy. 🙂

Nice flowers, and suitable cloche hats.

A fashionable large hat for the occasion.

Marrying a sailor. He wore his uniform of course.

The bigger the bouquet, the better!

This might have been taken twenty years earlier. If not for the hemline, and the white silk stockings.

Photo-bombed by a grumpy schoolboy. 🙂 Spot the tiara!

It didn’t matter if you were not that attractive, as long as you looked smart.

Strange how wedding photography has not changed that much, in almost 100 years. But the dresses have certainly changed, with many brides choosing to reveal far too much of their chests, and sleeveless and backless bridal wear to showcase the now-common tattoos.

But one day soon, those 1920s fashions will be back in vogue. Mark my words!

Art Deco London In Photos

Regular readers might recall that the architectural style of Art Deco is my personal favourite. To save me typing out a lot of stuff, here is an idea of what Art Deco means.

When I still lived in London, spotting buildings in this architectural style was always a passion of mine. So I thought I would share some with you.

The Black Cat Building, Camden, NW1.
This former cigarette factory has been lovingly restored. It now houses small businesses, conference rooms, and a popular gym.
From 2000 until 2012, I lived in the street just behind it, and walked past it all the time.

West End Central Police Station, Savile Row, W1.
I worked in this police station from 2001-2004. It made going in to work a pleasure.

Senate House, University of London, WC1.
I used to often walk past this building on my way down to Soho. I always stopped to look at it.

The offices of McCann-Erickson, Bloomsbury, WC1.
Another beautifully-restored office building on my walking route into work.

Arnos Grove Station, N14.
Many of London’s Underground (Subway) Stations are Art Deco delights.
This is Arnos Grove, north of the centre.

Florin House, EC1.
Luxury apartments in Charterhouse Square, EC1.
If this looks familiar, it was the on-screen home of ‘Poirot’, as played by David Suchet in the long-running TV series.

Kensal House, W10.
At the other end of the housing market, Kensal House. Social housing in the Art Deco style in Ladbroke Grove, W10.

The Hoover Building, West London.
The former vacuum-cleaner factory of Hoover, in Perivale, west London.
With the facade preserved by law, and beautifully renovated, it once housed a large supermarket.
I understand that it has now been converted into very desirable apartments.

Just a glimpse of a few of the Art Deco wonders still standing in London.

Beachlands, Pevensey Bay

As I mentioned last week, it has long been my habit to visit the seaside on my birthday. Six years ago, in 2010, Julie and I drove from the flat in Camden, down to the Sussex coast. It was my intention to visit the architecturally famous Beachlands Estate, and I took my camera along, to record the trip. As usual, these are large files, and can be clicked on for detail.

Built during the mid-1930s, this estate was conceived as a beachfront private project, designed to offer small but convenient accommodation, close to the sea. The style of the bungalows was right up to date at the time, with themes from both the Modernist and Art Deco schools of design. These included the famous Oyster bungalows, built in the shape of an oyster shell. I have never seen the like anywhere else. Originally, the estate was planned as a complete community, and was to include shops, a cinema, and other amenities, as Pevensey is only a small holiday place, and has limited facilities. When the Second World War came along, further development stopped, but left us with this unusual gem of British seaside architecture.

The classic Oyster Bungalow, with its semi-circular frontage.

The properties are still all lived in today, and cherished by their owners.

This Modernist-style house was for sale, and I would have been tempted if it hadn’t been so far to get to work. I would have had to do something with the windows and door though…

Around the corner, this house showed the Modernist style, with Art Deco motifs in the rendering.

Pevensey Bay has a claim to fame in British history as the landing site of the Norman army of William The Conqueror. As it lies between Bexhill and Eastbourne, William would have to turn east, and head to Hastings, to complete his destiny, and change the face of England forever. This is the bay, with the flat shingle beach. It must have been ideal for his ships to land there.

If this prompts you to consider visiting the area, Pevensey also has an interesting ruined castle to explore. It dates from the 4th century, and is managed by English Heritage. Here’s a link.

Architectural admiration (8)

There hasn’t been a post in this series since February. I made a lot of notes for some more, but decided that they were all too familiar. Yes I had seen and admired them, but so have so many others. I needed to find some of the more unusual ones again, and that was proving to be more challenging. These posts are very time-consuming, involving lots of research, to ensure accuracy. This one alone has taken most of a day. On this occasion, I have included three mammoth architectural icons that I have never seen. This diversion from my usual discipline is inspired by the thought that I almost certainly never will see them, but some of you may well get the chance. I have separated them at the end of the post, for clarity.

Jardin Majorelle, Marrakesh, Morocco.

Very rarely, you visit a place where you would actually like to live. Perhaps not always in the country where you find it, but certainly in the actual place itself. Being able to own it, then move it to the perfect location, is a rewarding fantasy. French artist Jaques Majorelle created just such a place, in Marrakesh, Morocco, in the years between the two world wars. The modernist house and buildings are surrounded by acres of lush gardens, courtyards and fountains, and fine examples of cactus, and other exotic plants. His paintings are displayed inside, and much of the area is painted with the most vibrant shade of cobalt blue, of his own concoction. So distinctive, it has become known as ‘Majorelle Blue.’ Tiles and mosaics are used extensively, and the design is cleverly intended to make the best use of angles of sight, and to allow light to fall just where it is needed.

The house was bought by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, and when he died in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the gardens. I can understand why he would have wanted that. There is also a museum of Berber art and textiles founded by Saint Laurent, and like the gardens, open to the public. If you ever visit that city, be sure not to miss this treat for the senses.

Eltham Palace, South London, UK.

Eltham is a sprawling suburb of south-east London, on the border with the county of Kent. Driving along its High Street, with the usual mix of estate agents, ‘phone shops, and chain stores, you would hardly be aware of the treasure that lies just behind it. This is definitely a house that I would love to live in, for so many reasons. Built as a moated manor house in 1296 for the Bishop of Durham, it was given over to the crown as a gift to Edward II, in 1305.

This house has such a connection with the history of the British Royal Family, and that of our country too, I am at a loss to understand why it is almost unknown to so many of us. It was one of the primary Royal residences for over two hundred years, and is the place where Henry VIII grew into manhood. However, life in Tudor England was all about being close to the River Thames, the main artery of travel, and because of this, Eltham fell out of use, with the palace at Greenwich coming into favour, due to its riverside location. After the English Civil War, and the restoration of Charles II, it was little more than a ruin, and was bequeathed by the King to John Shaw. All that remained was the Great Hall, and some of the original walls, and Shaw’s family held on to the property in this condition, until the end of the 19th Century.

In 1933, Stephen Courtauld bought the house. He was part of the rich industrial family that were famous art collectors, and founders of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He built the current house, incorporating the restored Great Hall. The interior is an Art Deco wonderland, of untouched stylistic features and furniture from the mid-1930s, with a circular entrance hall/reception room that has an amazing ceiling, and beautiful wood-panelled walls. The gardens are delightful too, and since the building was taken over by English Heritage in 1992, it has been open to the public. This is a real gem, tucked away just a short train ride from Central London to Eltham Station, or easily accessible by car, using the main A2 or A20 roads from London to the coast. I urge you to make the effort.

The Gherkin, St Mary Axe, London, UK.

During the IRA bombing campaign against London, a huge bomb devastated the area in the City around the Baltic Exchange building, in 1992. Despite demands to retain the facade of the damaged building, it was declared unsafe, and soon demolished. There were many ideas put forward to replace it, with Sir Norman Foster, the distinguished British architect, gaining acceptance for his design, which was built from 2001, and officially opened in 2004.

The end result divided opinion, and it was soon nicknamed The Gherkin, relating to the shape of the small pickled cucumber. I always thought that it looked more like a bullet, and the retro-futuristic style appealed to me a great deal, like a rocket from the 1960s. Despite the circular appearance, all the glass is flat, and designed to create a pattern on the building. It is home to the Swiss Re insurance company, and a dozen or more other international companies. It also has restaurants, and a very impressive entrance lobby. On the top floor, which is the fortieth, there is a private dining room and bar for tenant’s use only, with impressive views. This building manages to appear smaller than it actually is, within the confines of that area in the congested city. But it is imposing, and can be seen from over twenty miles away.

Like my previous choice, Eltham Palace, it has attracted the attention of many film-makers, so you may well have seen it on screen.

Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent, UK.

Built in the 11th Century, this imposing castle dominated the River Medway, and the main road from London. Despite the ravages of time, the imposing keep remains, and still looks formidable to this day. During its heyday, it was fought over many times, but saw little action after 1381, when it was all but destroyed during the famous Peasants’ Revolt.

During the late Victorian Age, it was opened as a park around the ruins, and it was not until relatively modern times that it was restored to its former glory by English Heritage, who now own the site. It is open to the public as an attraction, and continues to be well attended, and admired. Listed as a Grade 1 building of historical importance, it may be better known to anyone who has seen the film ‘Ironclad’ (2011), which was filmed in and around the castle.

These next examples are those that I have never seen, and for different reasons, probably never will. My admiration for them is no less diminished by this fact.

Ghengis Khan Equestrian Statue, Mongolia.

I have not seen this of course. It was built in 2008, funded by a Mongolian businessman who had made his fortune after the country’s independence. Determined to keep the name of his famous ancestor alive, he paid to have this statue erected, overlooking the steppes from where Ghengis began his conquest of the known world.

I saw it on TV recently, when Joanna Lumley visited it, on her Trans-Siberian tour. It may seem garish on first glance, but you have to consider how important a figure that Genghis Khan was to modern day inhabitants of Mongolia. His conquests exceeded those of Alexander The Great, and anything that the Roman Empire achieved.

During the Soviet years, he was all but erased from history, so it is fitting that such an edifice be erected to his memory. Some sixty miles from the large city of Ulan Bhator, this magnificent statue stands looking over the boundless plains of Mongolia. Visitors can access the viewing platform, on the top of the horse’s head, and gaze over plains unchanged since Ghengis rode across them. Simply marvellous.

The Motherland Calls, Volgograd, Russia.

When this amazing memorial to the battle of Stalingrad was opened in 1967, it was claimed to be the largest statue in the world. Volgograd is the modern name for Stalingrad, but the city is the same one that saw the terrible battle during the Second World war. A battle where the Germans were defeated, and indisputably changed the whole tide of the war, in favour of the allies.

The statue symbolises ‘Mother Russia’, sword in her hand, defending her nation from the invader. Despite numerous trips to the Soviet Union, I never got to see this, to my great regret.

Krak Des Chavaliers, , near Homs, Syria.

The recent tragic war in Syria has put the fate of this once magnificent castle in doubt. Perhaps the best preserved Medieval castle in the entire world, the Krak was originally developed by the order of the Knights Hospitaller in 1142, during the Crusades. They held it until it fell to the Saracens, in 1271. The huge castle complex is located in a dry desert area, and this helped to preserve the wonderful architecture over the centuries. At one time, it contained a garrison of over 2,000 knights, who used it to control a vast area of the country.

Until Syrian independence, the castle was controlled by the French in modern times, and they restored the castle to its former glory. Since 2011, the castle has been fought over by the Syrian rebels and government, suffering air attacks, and shelling. More recently, it has also been the site of fighting against Islamic State. So, it’s future is in doubt, and even if my circumstances changed, it is unlikely that I will ever see it.

So that’s my latest selection, including a few I have never seen. It may well be my last, as I have no wish to go over many other buildings and sites that so many others have seen. I hope that you can visit some, and find others to admire.

Architectural admiration (6)

For this part of the series, I will concentrate on places and structures found in Great Britain. This country has a lot of wonderful sights to see, and those that follow are just a few of them.

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle, England.

Some cities are defined by a single structure. You only have to see a picture of a building, or famous statue, and you immediately recognise the location, even if you have never been there. One of these is Newcastle, where the distinctive Tyne Bridge is identifiable to almost anyone in the UK. There is a good reason for this too. The bridge connects the city with nearby Gateshead, and this industrial centre of the North-East of England has associations with ship-building, trade, docks, and mining. The imposing through arch bridge straddling the River Tyne is itself industrial in appearance, strong and purposeful, very much like the city that it is a part of. It is not the only bridge crossing the river, but was opened in 1928, to assist with increasing traffic, and to avoid tolls on other bridges. If you think it looks a bit like a smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you would be correct. It was designed and built by the same company.

Southgate Underground Station, London, England.

With the large expansion of the underground railway network in London during the 1920s, many stations on the outer edges of London at the time were constructed in unusual modernist styles. By far one of the best remaining examples is the station at Southgate, an area mostly now part of the London Borough of Barnet, close to the northern limits of the city. This amazing building resembles a spacecraft. The circular design, appearing to be supported by a row of windows, is topped with an unusual ‘spike’, with a ball on the end. This is surrounded by circular lights, giving a futuristic look to the whole structure. Best seen illuminated at night, it looks for all the world like a flying saucer, just about to take off.

Neasden Hindu Temple, London, England.

Sandwiched between the busy North Circular Road, and the undesirable dwellings of the sprawling Stonebridge Park Estate, the once-leafy suburb of Neasden is no longer the place it once was. Factories, industrial complexes, and high-rise homes make it an unlikely place to find something as wonderful as this bewitching temple. But it is worth the effort to visit this least-likely tourist destination in north-west London, to be enthralled by what you will see there. The very fact that it is so alarmingly out of context in this otherwise depressing area, just adds to the effect. Built and funded entirely by volunteers from the community, this temple really does take your breath away. Opened in 1995, it was then the largest Hindu temple outside India. Standing before it, you have to look around, finding it hard to believe that you are still in London. From the gleaming white exterior, to the intricate carvings inside, it is a complete feast for the eyes. Non-Hindus are made very welcome too, and someone will happily show you around. It really is one of the most amazing things to see in London, and outside of the local community, one of the least known modern wonders of that city.

The Town Walls, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England.

As one of the main border towns between England and Scotland, Berwick has had a violent past, and a history of conflict. Constantly fought over by the English and Scots, it has been part of England since 1482. Due to its strategic position straddling the River Tweed, less than three miles from the Scottish border, it is a place that has always been heavily defended. It still boasts a fine example of an 18th century barracks, but its Elizabethan Town Walls and fortified ramparts remain as one of the best examples in Britain today. They are a fascinating look into the warlike past of these islands, and remarkably well-preserved. They are still free to walk around, and you can do it in less than an hour. The views are spectacular, and there is much else to see in this interesting market town.

The National Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland.

Unfortunately, the film ‘Braveheart’ has created and perpetuated many inaccuracies concerning the Scottish noble and warrior, Sir William Wallace. During the 13th century, he rebelled along with other Scottish nobles and landowners, against the English rule of their country. In 1297, he led the Scots to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, near to where his memorial is sited today. Despite defeating a much larger English army, the Scots failed to secure independence, later losing a major battle at Falkirk. Wallace was captured in 1305, and executed by the English, for the crime of Treason.
In 1869, a memorial to Wallace was opened, at the top of Abbey Craig, offering dramatic views from the top. Although perhaps intended to resemble a castle tower, it is somewhat Victorian Gothic in style, described as being ‘Scottish Baronial.’ The memorial serves well as a viewing platform, if you can manage all the steps to the top, (246) as well as a fair ascent from the car park. Each floor also has relevant exhibits, including Wallace’s sword, so it is entertaining for all ages.

The Hoover Building, Perivale, Middlesex.

This magnificent building is one of the best preserved Art Deco constructions from the 1930s. It is situated on one of London’s busiest roads, The Westway, and provides a welcome sight in an otherwise uninspiring landscape. Built in 1933 to house the UK factory for Hoover vacuum cleaners, its colourful designs and unashamedly ornate features divided opinion at the time. After it closed down in 1982, there were fears that it would be demolished, and a local campaign to save it had some success. It was bought by the huge supermarket chain, Tesco, and after ten years of neglect, it was fully refurbished, and opened as a supermarket. Fortunately, the exterior had been listed, so was retained by the new owners, who built a conventional shop inside the walls. It is a true wonder in West London, and delightful when illuminated at night. There is a song about it on this link that you may not like, but watch the video, for the different views.

Tilbury Fort, Essex, England.

Where the River Thames widens, to the east of London, you will find the Port of Tilbury. For many years now, this has been an important container terminal, and landing-place for many of the imports that arrive from overseas. It is an industrial area, and even the most ardent lover of the place would be hard pressed to find it attractive. During the many wars involving England throughout its history, the strategic importance of this area was always apparent. The first fort was built here by Henry VIII, and was later reinforced and improved, until appearing in the star-shaped form we can still admire today. It was here in 1588, at the height of the war with Spain, and under threat from the Armada, that Elizabeth I gave her famous rallying speech to the assembled troops. This fort holds a special place in the history of England, and as a result, is now owned and maintained by English Heritage, as a museum in perpetuity.

I hope that you enjoy this selection. Next time, I will be including some more from further afield.

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.

Architectural admiration (2)

As I received enough positive feedback for the first post in this series, I have decided to compile some more, starting now. They will still be, for the moment, things I have actually seen, and stood before. The selections will continue to be varied, both chronologically, and architecturally, so please bear with me.

Fort La latte, Brittany, France.
This Breton castle is an absolute delight. Built in the 13th Century to defend the coast of Brittany from attack by the English, it is remarkably well preserved. The coastal location also provides amazing views over the sea, and it is small enough to enable the visitor to get a real feel of life for the defenders. If anyone has ever seen the 1958 film ‘The Vikings’, with Kirk Douglas (and who hasn’t?) it will be immediately familiar, as the scene of the climactic battle. I first visited this castle in the early 1980s. when staying in a gite nearby. I was entranced by it then, and I still am today.

Frinton Park Estate, Essex.
Back in the 1930s, and Art Deco houses, with no apologies. The Frinton Park Estate contains some of the best remaining Art Deco housing in England. Built in 1934, in the sedate seaside town of Frinton, on the Essex coast, this development is just breathtaking. A series of Art Deco and Modernist housing, all still occupied, and as pristine today as when they were built. I made a special trip to this sleepy town, just to enjoy and photograph these houses. I could happily live there, and if I ever win the lottery, I just might.

City Hall, London.
This building was created for the new Greater London Authority, in 2002, on land adjacent to Tower Bridge, called Potters Fields. It was designed by Norman Foster, one of Britain’s most famous architects, and though it does not have any connection with the City of London at all, it serves as the meeting place for the Greater London Assembly, and houses the office of the Mayor of London. (Though not the Lord Mayor, who is Mayor of The City). It is confusing for non-Londoners, I appreciate that!
The building stands alone, and is easily viewed from outside, or from the nearby vantage point afforded by Tower Bridge. It seems to be collapsing, as the various layers appear to be incapable of supporting its weight. This is part of the architectural genius behind the design, and serves to make it all the more appealing. (At least to me.),_London

Thiepval Memorial, The Somme, France.
Another Art Deco structure, but with a solemn difference. Opened in 1932, and designed by the marvellous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, this is a memorial to over 72,000 British and Colonial troops killed during WW1 who have no known graves. I cannot describe the feeling of the first viewing of this memorial, one foggy day in November. It loomed from the mist, like a cathedral to the fallen, and made me stop and stare. There was a lump in my throat as I approached it, and I found it hard to speak, as I walked beneath the central arch. I cannot say a lot more, in all honesty. Few structures have ever moved me with their magnificence, and their palpable sense of importance. This is one to experience, and perhaps to feel it as I did that day.

Trellick Tower, London.
Designed by the wonderfully named Erno Goldfinger, this 1960s ‘Brutalist’ tower block was finally opened for habitation in 1972. Dominating the surrounding area in the Ladbroke Grove district of west London, it remains as one of the largest and most iconic housing developments anywhere in Europe. Love it, or hate it, you cannot ignore it. Although nominally having 31 floors, the design of the flats, many having an upstairs section, makes it a lot higher. The lift tower is separated from the main block, meaning that access is provided by a walkway, affording amazing views over London. Originally designed as a community in the clouds, it once had laundry rooms, a community centre, and its own extensive car park. Though much of this is no longer used, the tower is still a very desirable place to live, and much sought after by local residents.

Hotel Ukraina, Moscow.
Since I first saw this imposing building in 1977, it has been much improved, and re-named. Now known as the Radisson Royal Hotel, it is a five-star luxury hotel, on a par with anything on offer in the West. On the banks of the River Moskva, this amazing Stalinist edifice, opened for business in 1957, after Stalin’s death, is enough to take your breath away, with its sheer size, and belated Art Deco architecture. Like many buildings in Russia, since the end of WW2, it is enormous in scale, and built with no expense spared. Until 1976, it was the tallest hotel in the world. I haven’t seen it inside, since the redevelopment, so I can only go by the pictures available, to admire its current opulence.

Tower Bridge, London.
I did say that there would not be any Victorian Gothic architecture included in these posts, but this is an exception. Often wrongly believed to be ‘London Bridge’ by outsiders, this iconic structure is immediately identifiable with London, and unique the world over. Not only does it span the Thames, it is the first bridge visible on arrival in the city, and it also opens in the centre, to allow tall ships to pass into the Pool of London. I was brought up a stone’s throw from the south side of this bridge, and it was a part of my life for sixty years, until I moved to Norfolk. I can honestly say that I love nothing more about London, than this wonderful bridge. It looms over the nearby Tower of London, and dominates the surrounding area, in an imposing fashion. For those interested in detail, it is a bascule suspension bridge, opened in 1894, near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. Since 1977, parts of it have been painted in red white and blue, to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. It houses a museum, and is one of the premier tourist destinations in the capital.
But forget all that. It is simply wonderful.

There you have seven more to consider. there will be more to come, another time. Please enjoy these, and do explore the links.

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.

Six For Dinner

One subject often discussed when personalities are interviewed, is who would make the perfect dinner guest. Which notable people, past or present, would make your ideal evening, around the convivial setting of a dining table. Of course, almost everyone will have a different guest list. Some may choose attractive stars, others inventive geniuses. Many might want to discuss things with the great thinkers and philosophers, or even the most reviled characters from history, just to see what they were really like. You might decide to invite a famous chat-show host, a person who has interviewed everyone of note during your lifetime, or prefer to meet the famous names of antiquity, and discover their real story.

For my dinner party, I have imagined a table set for six people. As one of them will have to be me, I have thought long and hard about the five guests who will join me. It will be a long evening, with many courses, appropriate wines and liqueurs, and will hopefully generate an insight into these people, and give me a chance to be entertained, and possibly amazed, by their wit, their motives, or their experiences. I have chosen from the worlds of Art, literature, the film industry, a politician, and an historical character of great personal interest to me. I did consider some others, such as Josef Stalin, but decided that I had to stick with those who could speak English, as translators would have made proceedings too cumbersome.

So, here is my guest list, I hope that it proves to be a successful evening.

Samuel Pepys. From 1660, for almost ten years, Pepys kept a diary, detailing his life in the centre of the City of London. He lived through fascinating and dramatic times. He was witness to a devastating outbreak of Plague, as well as the near destruction of the city, by the Great Fire of 1666.  A man who was well-educated and of some influence, Pepys eventually became chief secretary to the Royal Navy, and served two monarchs, Charles ll, and James ll. As well as featuring the monumental events, Pepys diaries also discuss the everyday, and mundane issues that preoccupied a gentleman in the 17th Century. Arguments with his wife, medical complaints, and the quality of hair used in wigs, fashionable at the time. I am certain that his first-hand recollections of this period would make his contribution to the evening unforgettable.

Charles Dickens. I had considered Oscar Wilde for this seat, but Dickens won out, for his ability to relate his tales of working-class life and conditions in early Victorian London. Almost two hundred years after Pepys, London had grown in both area and population, and would have been largely unrecogniseable to the diarist. You may or may not be aware, but Dickens did not enjoy a privileged start in life. Not long after his family moved to London in 1822, his father was sent into the Debtors’ Prison, Marshalsea, in South London. The young Dickens had no option but to seek paid work, and found this in a boot-blacking warehouse near the river, where he pasted labels onto jars. The conditions were hard, and wages low. When his father was released, he was sent to school, where the teachers were unforgiving, and lessons long and arduous. He eventually became a reporter, later turning to writing books, novels, serials in magazines, and articles for leading journals. His experiences at work, at school, and seeing his father in prison, were all put to good use, as locations and characters in many of his most famous works. I am sure that he will be able to regale us, with stories of hardship in Victorian times.

Orson Welles.  In this blog, and others, I have made no secret of my love for film and cinema. One of my guests had to represent this field, and I can think of none better than Mr Welles. An accomplished raconteur and bon-viveur, married to  Rita Hayworth for a time, and also friend and confidante to many of the greatest stars of stage and screen. Not only did he write and direct some of my favourite films, he acted in them too. Whenever I have seen him interviewed, he always comes across as a likeable rogue, with a twinkle in his eye, belying the obvious genius that resides within. His was the first name on my guest list.

Tamara de Lempicka. The only woman at the table this evening, and there not only because she is my favourite artist, but also because of her interesting life story. A painter of portraits in the Art Deco style, her work has long captivated me, and I have some prints of her paintings. She began life in Poland in 1898, and her maiden name was Maria Gorska. At the age of 18, she married Tadeusz Lempicki in St Petersburg, and saw the Russian revolution at first hand, later fleeing to Paris, to settle in the community of Russian emigres there. By the mid 1920’s her work had achieved great popularity, and her unique style was established. She travelled extensively, and lived a flamboyantly independent lifestyle. She indulged in extra-marital affairs, with both men and women, and met many of the famous people of the era. In old age, she retired to live among fellow artists in Mexico, where she died in 1980. This lady could tell us a lot about life between the wars, and what Picasso was like as well. I have no doubt that she will be a guest with a lot to contribute.

Tony Benn. The last place is reserved for one of the great characters of British politics, and the only guest that I have actually met, and spoken to. His is the most recent departure around my table, as he only died this year. Serving in the House of Commons for almost fifty years, he even gave up the chance of being Viscount Stansgate, to remain an M.P. He came from a political family; his own father was an M.P., as were both his grandfathers, and his son carries on the traditon still. He had a varied career in politics, serving as a cabinet minister at times, and falling out of favour on occasion. Despite a relatively privileged upbringing, and a comfortable life, he was very much on the Left of the political spectrum, and was famous for espousing the causes of disgruntled workers, and supporting the trade unionists. When I met him, on several occasions, he was always easy to chat to, a real gentleman, and his passion for politics was always evident. I would like to hear more of his recollections, and his amusing stories of the political machinations during my lifetime. So, here he is, and he can even smoke his beloved pipe. I am sure that Orson will be smoking a cigar anyway.

There you have my ideal dinner party. Nobody who is still alive, you may have noticed. A giant of literature, a fascinating diarist, and the great auteur of film and cinema. An independent woman, with formidable artistic talent, and one of the nicest men to have served as a politician in this country. Looks as if it is going to be an unforgettable night.

Who would you choose to sit around your table? Let me know in the comments.