Monday, 27 June 2011
The star of the show is the Shi Ling Bridge by small practice Tonkin Liu - an organic, flowing perforated structure spanning a rocky gorge. It is rightly given central position in the room: at a glance you can understand the scale and the structural logic, and appreciate how it would enhance a natural landscape. Similar clarity is in evidence in the Hairy House by London architects Shiro Studio. Following a long line of one-off Tokyo architect-designed townhouses, this one is a simple rectangular slab covered in white astroturf, with a car-size indentation for parking and gloopy amoeba shaped windows apparently made of white perspex. At the other end of the scale, an elaborate model of part of Battersea Power Station imagines the interior as a sort of biological mutation. It's intricately built using 3D printing technology, and rather pointless.
Studio East by Carmody Groarke is a pop-up restaurant that was on the Olympics site last summer, built out of stretched fabric on a scaffolding frame. It's shown as a moderately impressive aerial photograph, one of the few images of a completed project. It's also probably the only project on show that has since been taken down. There are a couple of other photographs of oval structures in sombre black and white. FAT are showing a cartoonish but slightly dull birds-eye view of a suburban district in County Durham populated with their trademark quirky buildings.
Two architectural fantasies stand out among all the boring elevations and half-baked deconstructivism. An atmospheric black and white print elaborately titled Embankment, The Alchemic Plant, Tempelhof, Berlin, sits below a similarly elaborate print, The Reforestation of the Thames Estuary, River Elevation. The Alchemical Plant is an adaptation of Hunters in the Snow by Jan Breughel the Elder, with the hunting party and their dogs making their way towards a strange spaceframe structure in the valley, and a modern city beyond. The Reforestation is more original, a grim quayside scene (yes, in architectural elevation) with huge piles of lumber and cranes, again the modern city beyond, and some of those little Thames estuary Noddy houses off to one side.
So some exceptions do stand out - and please note I'm just mentioning a selection.
More information at Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
Thursday, 23 June 2011
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
|A Brompton rider checks for oncoming traffic on London Bridge.|
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
According to the plaque it was 'Restored to the Square by Lady Gilbert in 1938', Lady Gilbert being the wife of W S Gilbert, of the famous Gilbert and Sullivan musical partnership, and perhaps it was she who decided it was time for the former sovereign to get a facelift.
Friday, 17 June 2011
The Elephant and Castle shopping centre is well known from the outside, sitting as it does at the centre of a massive traffic and rail complex where you enter central London from the south. The place is notorious: in an area bombed flat in WW2 and redeveloped in 1965, this was the biggest American-style indoor shopping mall in Europe when it was completed, and began to fail almost immediately when it became clear that it was far too big. From the beginning it was impossible to let all the retail spaces and the three-storey structure, topped by the glass-and-steel Hannibal Tower office block, has been a problem area ever since. Despite which - people clearly still do use the place, pass through, shop and work there.
Another survival from the past, with something to appreciate before it goes, but also a lot that will not be missed. Southwark Council have been negotiating a 15 year redevelopment programme with architects Make appointed to design the masterplan. In May they abandoned plans to demolish the shopping centre, in favour of a more pragmatic refurbishment strategy - which is bound to antagonise those who hoped to see the big shopping mall replaced by a more permeable new development.
To find out more:
Information about Elephant and Castle regeneration at Southwark Council website
Images of a refurbished shopping centre on the AJ website
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Sunday, 12 June 2011
In fact there are only eleven maps in this small show in the museum foyer, and you can see all of them at reasonable resolution on the Londonist website. There are some nice ideas and elegant drawings, but there are 45 maps on the website, which wouldn't be an excessive number for an exhibition. The ones on show are the most accomplished artistically. I was hoping for something less self-conscious, more spontaneous, maps drawn without the A-Z or Google to get the layout right, dense biroed mind-maps doodled in the lunch break, even some completely wrong ideas about how London is laid out. One or two are like that, but it might have been more interesting, more surprising to see the whole range, not just the most accomplished.
Fortunately there is an added incentive: the excellent London Street Photography show downstairs is well worth a visit.
Friday, 10 June 2011
Thursday, 9 June 2011
|The Orbit, a large-scale sculpture by Anish Kapoor|
The Olympic Stadium with its white zigzag steel frame is the first thing we see and it dominates the site. Designed by international sports-specialist architects Populous, the design was bland to begin with and more so now the outer skin has been value-engineered out, but at least the emphasis on engineering is unpretentious, and it's becoming instantly recognisable.
Next to the stadium, the viewing tower is going up. Every Olympic site has a tower, and the 2012 Olympics has the Orbit, a bizarre twisted, looping lattice structure designed by the sculptor Anish Kapoor. This will be a continuous loop rising to 115 metres, much higher than the stadium, with lifts and a suspended viewing platform near the top. Kapoor has designed some exceptionally successful public sculptures, especially the Cloud Gate in Chicago, but this seems like a complete departure from the purity of his usual sculptural shapes. Think of the Sky Mirror in Kensington Gardens, or the stretched funnel he installed in Tate Modern. This looks random and over-complicated. Probably it will be very popular though.
By way of contrast, the Velodome is beautifully simple, with its oval plan, suspended roof and sloping sides clad in timber to echo the timber track inside. It was designed by Michael Hopkins and won the AJ Building of the Year Award for 2011.
We got only a distant view of the Handball Arena, a substantial permanent building that will become a local sports centre for Hackney Wick. In the far distance, the Corten rusty steel Energy Centre is easier to see from the canal towpath. The Basketball Arena is spectacular, a massive rectangular building with a white PVC skin stretched over curved steel ribs. It is the only temporary arena on the site.
Last but not least should have been Zaha Hadid's Aquatics Centre, another flowing organic shape that is displayed in an architectural visualisation on a nearby billboard. There was a change of plan here though: massive temporary banks of seating have been added on both sides, almost completely hiding the building. The part that does show, lolls out of the gap between the temporary stands like a giant tongue. This will be an amazing building when the Olympics are over, with a clear span roof arching from one end to the other, but right now Zaha must be furious.
Altogether a mixed bag from an architectural point of view.
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
The New Diorama Theatre, as it's now named, is a brand new theatre and bar in a recently-completed block a hundred yards away. Triton Square also features a pair of cast-iron figures by Anthony Gormley, a serpentine sculpture-cum-bench by Langlands and Bell, and other artworks. Although the buildings are mainly bland, this wholly new environment is completely pedestrianised, bicycle friendly, and quite a pleasure to walk through. Look out for the Summer Festival, free outdoor concerts from 22 June.
Monday, 6 June 2011
The Kings Cross Lighthouse is at the apex of a wedge-shaped block where Pentonville Road and Gray’s Inn Road meet outside King's Cross station. The Lighthouse building is fairly ordinary, except that it narrows to only a single room wide at the rounded-off end, and of course it has that tower on top. It is not unusual to see Victorian corner buildings with a decorative feature like this, but the location and the maritime associations make this one special. The lighthouse may or may not have advertised an oyster bar in Victorian times, when oysters were cheap fast food. Although the shape is right for a lighthouse, there are only tiny porthole windows, a lost oppurtunity perhaps. There is one other lighthouse in London, on top of a Methodist church in Walthamstow, very similar in shape but with a proper glazed lantern - still lit up as a beacon for lost souls.
Almost the whole of the block is now empty, and rotting away while the site awaits development. The building is Grade 2 listed, though, so it is likely to be restored eventually. The question is how long before that gets under way, and how far will dereliction progress unchecked. The whole building is decaying: one report says there are rotten floors, dangerous stairs, leaking roofs and sagging walls. The tower is made of timber, with a zinc covering and decorative cast-iron railings around the balcony. Parts of the balcony railings have fallen off and a lot of the cornice around the top is missing. The timber structure inside must be thoroughly rotten by now.
There have been plans to redevelop the site for many years. A scheme by Richard Griffiths Architects proposed a 'Miesian' (steel and glass) replacement building behind a partly-retained facade. That is superseded by a design by Latitude Architects. Their scheme proposes a restored building with an extra floor added, and was granted planning permission in 2009 despite comments that it looked like a "hunchbacked armadillo". It does indeed have armadillo-like qualities, with a curved and stepped roof clad in zinc, and the zinc tower more or less the right shape. It actually looks quite good. You can see it here, but don't hold your breath waiting for it to be built.
Friday, 3 June 2011
The church is an impressive neoclassical building featuring a row of caryatids facing the Euston Road. The steps and entrance portico are used by a flower seller and rough sleepers, though not simultaneously. After the nearby Tavistock Square bus bombing in 2005, bunches of flowers were piled high on these steps.
Last week pianist Maria Razumovskaya performed Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. This was the original piano version, not the version orchestrated by Ravel. A grand piano on casters had been wheeled out in front of the altar for the occasion. Inside, the pews were maybe a quarter full, with space to spread out. Ms Razumovskaya is a recent graduate from the Royal Academy of Music in London, and she is evidently an accomplished performer. In contrast to her publicity photographs, she played with great seriousness, eyes half closed, not the slightest hint of a smile at any point. The drama built up along with the volume. She pounded that piano, making more noise than seemed possible. Pictures at an Exhibition has been criticised for clumsiness, even for ugliness, but she made it work. What could have been an uncomfortable half-hour on a hard wooden pew passed all too soon.