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.

Ambulance stories (23)

Urban parachuting

Trellick Tower, in West London, is one of the tallest residential housing blocks in the UK. It is 31 stories high, and has 217 flats, some on two levels. It is a local landmark, a listed building, and is visible from great distances across London. Love it or hate it, this concrete monolith cannot fail to inspire opinion, one way, or another. As it was at the end of a local street market, less than a mile from the ambulance station where I was based, it was a regular venue for us to attend, and the large number of residents generated many calls to the emergency services. However, on this particular occasion, it was not a resident that we were called to.

Almost 30 years ago, I had never heard of ‘base jumping’, and I was not alone. Security in housing developments was almost unknown as well, and the entry buzzers and concierges of modern day Trellick Tower were not present then. So, it had proved relatively simple for two determined men to gain access to this high block of flats, and to get from the top floor out onto the roof. The lift shaft is separated from the building, and joined to it by a series of bridges, leading across the gap, to the flats in the main building; this leaves a substantial distance between the two parts of the structure.

The first call for an ambulance referred to a ‘male fallen’, with the address given as ‘outside Trellick Tower’. When you get this report, it is easy to imagine that someone may have fallen from the building, whether intentionally, or otherwise. This is rarely the case, as most fallers outside the location will turn out to be elderly people, or drunks. On arrival, we saw a small crowd, indicating that we should go onto the grassed area to one side of the building; the Police also arrived, and we went across to the area pointed out to us.

On first sight, it seemed that a parachute was billowing on the ground. As we had all seen parachutes on TV,  it was immediately obvious what it was. Once we got closer, it was apparent that there was someone underneath the slowly collapsing canopy of silk, and I went with my colleague to investigate. There was the body of an adult male, dressed in a one-piece suit, and wearing a stylised crash helmet. His limbs were arranged in an unorthodox fashion, one leg pointing upwards, alongside his body; both arms, broken and dislocated, were tight behind his back. The other leg was at right angles to his hip, and his face was almost pointing backwards, indicative of a broken neck.

There was nothing to be done for him. Bystanders reported seeing him jump from the edge of the roof, and all stated that he was accompanied by another male, in similar garb. The parachute had left the backpack and unfurled behind him, but had failed to deploy properly, leaving him to fall more than 300 feet onto the grass below. As we began to arrange the body, prior to removal to the ambulance, and eventual trip to the mortuary after death was pronounced at the local hospital, it was obvious that almost every bone in his body was either broken or dislocated, or both. It was a similar experience to picking up a canvas bag full of tools, and feeling them move around in your arms.

His attempt to parachute from this iconic building had failed, as he had jumped into the space between the two parts, and the air currents there had collapsed the parachute, making it fail to open fully. I never found out what happened to his co-jumper, and can only presume that he landed properly, and made off.

At the time, I thought it was a really unusual call, and the first time that I had ever known of anyone to try this from a building in Central London. It goes on all the time now, and they call it Base Jumping. He didn’t live to see it.