GPO Tower – London

Well of course we’ve all been here before, haven’t we?

Well I have – I even wrote all about it right here.

The tower was designed by the architects of the Ministry of Public Building and Works: the chief architects were Eric Bedford and G. R. Yeats. Typical for its time, the building is concrete clad in glass. The narrow cylindrical shape was chosen because of the requirements of the communications aerials: the building will shift no more than 25 centimetres in wind speeds of up to 95 mph. Initially, the first 16 floors were for technical equipment and power. Above that was a 35-metre section for the microwave aerials, and above that were six floors of suites, kitchens, technical equipment and finally a cantilevered steel lattice tower. To prevent heat build-up, the glass cladding was of a special tint. The construction cost was £2.5 million.

The tower was topped out on 15 July 1964, and officially opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 8 October 1965. The main contractor was Peter Lind & Co Ltd.

Wikipedia

I’ve always wished to be granted entry, walk its corridors and ante rooms, sit in the revolving restaurant – take in the views.

Alas so far – no!

So I simply walk around and around, looking up – hoping.

Golden Lane Estate – London

Something of an iconic, totemic, pin-up poster boy/girl for the Modernists, I bumped into you one rainy day, on the way from here to there. Initially attracted by an unexpectedly bright slab of primrose yellow and white.

Golden Lane was developed in the early 1950s to create local housing for essential workers in the City of London, following the devastation of the Blitz. At the time only around 500 people actually lived in the City of London so the estate was deliberately designed with small units to house single people and couples comprised of the broad social and professional mix needed to support the local community. 554 units were built of which 359 were studios and one bedroomed flats; the remainder were maisonettes and early tenants included caretakers, clergymen, doctors, police offices, cleaners and secretaries. Today there are approximately 1,500 people living on the estate in 559 flats and maisonettes. 

Golden Lane was commissioned from architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon by the City of London Corporation (which still manages it) and built on bombed sites previously occupied by small businesses and industries. Some of the basement areas of the former buildings were retained as sunken areas of landscaping. Building took place over a 10-year period between 1952 and 1962 when Crescent House on Goswell Road was completed. Golden Lane was listed Grade II in 1997 (Crescent House is Grade II*). When built, Great Arthur House was the tallest residential building in London and its Le Corbusier inspired design included a resident’s roof garden. The estate also included a leisure centre with a swimming pool and tennis courts. It is now run by a private operator and is open to both residents and the general public.

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I stuck around too take a look, struck by the variety of scale, detail and space within a relatively tight integrated development. Mature greenery abounds along with a delightful water feature.

It would appear that following the 70s right to buy the estate is a 50/50 mix of social and private ownership, relatively trouble free and well maintained, something of an anomaly in our go-ahead, left behind land.

Go take a look for yourself see what you think.

Dorothy Annan Mural – The Barbican

I’ve been to the Barbican before, wandering the walkways without purpose.

This is a whole new box of tiles, the search for a re-sited mural, a first time meeting with what would seem at once like an old and well-loved friend.

Dorothy Annan 20 January 1900 – 28 June 1983

Was an English painter, potter and muralist, married to the painter and sculptor Trevor Tennant. She was born in Brazil to British parents and was educated in France and Germany.

Christmas 1944 – Manchester Art Gallery

Annan’s paintings are in many national collections, she is also known for her tile murals, many of which have been destroyed in recent decades. Only three of her major public murals are believed to survive, the largest single example, the Expanding Universe at the Bank of England, was destroyed in 1997.

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I was looking for her mural which illustrates the telecommunications industry – formerly of the Fleet Building Telephone Exchange Farringdon Road.

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The murals were commissioned at a cost of £300 per panel in 1960. Annan visited the Hathernware Pottery in Loughborough and hand-scored her designs onto each wet clay tile, her brush marks can also be seen in the fired panels.

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The building was owned by Goldman Sachs, who wished to redevelop the site and opposed the listing of the murals.

In January 2013, the City of London Corporation agreed to take ownership of the murals, and in September 2013 these were moved to a permanent location in publicly accessible part of the Barbican Estate. They are displayed in their original sequence within an enclosed section of the Barbican High Walk between Speed House and the Barbican Centre.

Commemorative Bowl

So following a discursive and somewhat undirected circumnavigation of the Center we were finally united – it only seemed polite to linger a while and take some snaps – here they are.

The Barbican Estate – London

Bouncing betwixt and between Bonnard and Bill Viola from Tate Modern to the Royal Academy I took a detour to The Barbican – in search of the Dorothy Annan tiled mural.

Having failed conspicuously to find it, following an extensive and discursive wander, I did the wise thing and asked.

My thanks to the helpful resident and his young son.

Redirected and on course for our deferred engagement, Dorothy and I met at last on an underpass.

I also recently discovered a Barbican Manchester mash up – Gerrards of Swinton fulfilled their largest ever single order for the site – my thanks to David Roughley for the information and illustration.

Here are the snaps that I took along the way.

Lillington Gardens Estate – Pimlico

Formerly an area of high density terraced housing.

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Lillington Gardens is an estate in the Pimlico area of the City of Westminster, London, constructed in phases between 1961 and 1980 to a plan by Darbourne & Darke. The estate is now owned and managed by City West Homes.

The estate was among the last of the high-density public housing schemes built in London during the postwar period, and is referred to as one of the most distinguished. Notably, seven years before the Ronan Point disaster ended the dominance of the tower block, Lillington Gardens looked ahead to a new standard that achieved high housing density within a medium rather than high-rise structure. It emphasised individuality in the grouping of dwellings, and provided for private gardens at ground and roof levels.

The estate’s high build quality, and particularly the planted gardens of its wide roof street, blend sympathetically with the surrounding Victorian terraces.

The estate’s high quality design was acknowledged by a Housing Design Award 1961, Ministry of Housing and Local Government Award for Good Design 1970, RIBA Award 1970 and RIBA Commendation 1973. Nikolaus Pevsner described it in 1973 as “the most interesting recent housing scheme in London”.

The site surrounds the Grade I listed Church of St James the Less, built in 1859–61. The entire estate, including the church, was designated a conservation area in 1990.

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Lillington and Longmoore Gardens Conservation Area Audit

On the day of my visit, London in the grip of a July heatwave, the open areas, narrow alleys, byways, steps, stairs and roof gardens and play area were largely empty, citizens preferring the cooler interior environment of their homes.

The materials, warm brown brick and sheet-metal cladding, form complex interlocking shapes and volumes, creating a variety of heights and spaces. This makes exploration and navigation of the estate quite an adventure, disorienting at first, until one grasps an overall sense of the development’s structure.

Lillington Gardens provides homes, community, green space and an exciting range of vistas, a prime example of social housing on a human scale. Leafy glades, light and shade, grassy knolls abound.

Municipal Dreams for further reading.

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Pleasure Gardens – Battersea

So suddenly the war ended and all of a sudden the fun began, followed with indecent haste by a wholesale national lack of fun, no fun anywhere no how.

Well why not have a festival, a Festival of Britain!

The south bank of the Thames had once been home to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

Why not put it there or thereabouts.

‘This was always a raucous place, but a temple of the muses too. Under the management of its gifted, quixotic master of ceremonies, Jonathan Tyers, it was perhaps the first public art gallery, hung with paintings by Hogarth and Hayman. The buildings – first Palladian then Gothic and exotic – were splendid and the music inspired. The Vauxhall season was unmissable. Royalty came regularly. Canaletto painted it, Casanova loitered under the trees, Leopold Mozart was astonished by the dazzling lights. The poor could manage an occasional treat. For everyone it was a fantasyland of wonder and pride.’

It was decided there and then, the government would enforce state funded fun!

Programmes were printed and works undertaken.

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Posters were pasted, let the fun begin in Battersea – and all the rest is history.

16 Poster for the Festival Pleasure Gardens in Battersea Park

Then just as suddenly the fun was all but blown away, by the chill wind of the incoming Tory Government.

Much to my surprise there are still remnants and  reminders to be found on the site, planting, fountains furniture and sculptural structures abound, restored in 2011 by Wandsworth Council – a timely reminder of a time when we were encouraged to have fun on the rates.

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Lansbury Tower – London

Neither wrought from purest ivory, nor containing some woe begotten, long gone, misplaced Rapunzel, but conceived as a democratic symbol of a new age of concrete, brick and steel.

Frederick Gibberd’s almost triumphal tower interlocks zig-zag diamonds of cast concrete upwards towards a silently clicking clock, at the head of the Chrisp Street Market.

Lewis Mumford wrote of the adjoining Lansbury Estate:  

Its design has been based not solely on abstract aesthetic principles, or on the economics of commercial construction, or on the techniques of mass production, but on the social constitution of the community itself, with its diversity of human interests and human needs.

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I was privileged to ascend the internal staircase, once open to the public – now reserved for high days, holidays and nosey northern interlopers. Having mildly vertiginous inclinations when so inclined, I gingerly went up in the world and leaned out to take the air and the view.

And this is what I saw.

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Lansbury Estate – London

The Lansbury Estate, to the north of East India Dock Road, is the most important, largest and best-known council estate in Poplar. It demonstrates the different trends in post-war council house design and layout. The interest of the estate lies as much, if not more, in the story of its planning and construction, as in what was actually built. This is especially true of its first phase, which formed the basis of the Live Architecture Exhibition in the 1951 Festival of Britain.

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Originally outlined in the 1943 plan for London, replacing the bomb damaged homes of displaced dockers, the estate has weathered well enough, though changes in demographics, the ever greater engulfing tide of gentrification and the containerisation of all ports, brings a fresh set of challenges and changes.

Go east – I visited the V&A Micro Museum, which has become a focus for residents’ and visitors’  memories and projections of a certain uncertain past and future. Arriving by the Docklands Light Railway, I was immediately drawn towards my destination, by the prominent Lansbury Tower, its clock patiently ticking away the time to and from 1951. Welcomed by staff and fellow travellers at the Chrisp Street Market site we began our tour at the heart of the Festival area – further details of which can be found here at Municipal Dreams.

A mix of market, shops, Festival pub, warm cream London brick terraces and low rise, later tower blocks, schools, churches and open grassed communal areas. On a cold and getting colder late winter’s day, a smattering of residents went purposefully about their business.

Life goes on.

Next time everything’s going to be different.

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Balfron Tower London

The Balfron Tower Conservation Area was designated in October 1998 around the two residential blocks designed by Ernö Goldfinger for the London County Council in the 1960s. The Conservation Area boundary protects the listed Balfron Tower and Carradale House, and other buildings in the ‘Brownfield Estate’, including Glenkerry House, a community centre, shops and associated low-rise housing development.

The 27-storey Balfron Tower is Goldfinger’s first public housing project, and a precursor to his better known Trellick Tower in North Kensington. The neighbouring Carradale House and Glenkerry House sit within the landscaped areas developed at the same time. The Brownfield Estate, also known as the East India Estate, is now recognised as a fine example of planned 1960s social housing. Considered to be exemplary examples of the post-war housing schemes, Balfron Tower and Carradale House were listed in 1998 for their cultural & architectural merit.

This was my first visit, to a key building in the short history of modernist post war housing, currently something of a sleeping giant, awaiting Prince Charming’s kiss.

What will it awake to?

Tower Hamlets are mid consultation, as evidenced in this here document.

On an overcast and ever darkening afternoon, the rain cutting in on a chill wind, set against a slate grey sky, its surfaces and volumes were ever so slightly forlorn.

There is much to be done by way of regeneration, with the attendant issues of heritage, funding, gentrification and inevitably who lives where and why?

Everything you may care to almost know is here.

I walked around the area and took these pictures.

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Adolfine Ryland

Adolfine Ryland worked as a printmaker, sculptor, painter and designer. Her practice across these different media was united by her keen-edged, modern style and inventive graphics. She had studied at Heatherley’s and at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art under printmaker Claude Flight. 

Ryland’s main exhibiting venue was the Women’s International Art Club, where she showed from 1927 onwards, becoming a member from 1936 to 1954. She also undertook public commissions, and worked for London County Council designing low reliefs for a number of buildings, among them the School of Butchers and St Martin’s School of Art. Her reliefs for the art school, which still decorate the entrance, show students at work. But Ryland’s work is not always easy to identify as she sometimes signed herself ‘Koncelik’, her mother’s maiden name.

In 1987 the Michael Parkin Gallery in London held an exhibition Printmakers of the 20s and 30s and Adolfine Ryland. On show were Ryland’s paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and designs for book jackets and posters. Amongst them were two designs advertising London Underground, which speak of an optimistic age of efficient, modern public transport to the new suburbs.

It says so here

I was sauntering down Charing Cross Road on Saturday last, minding my own and everyone else’s business, then perchance I chanced upon a series of low reliefs, tucked neatly away in a nearby portal.

The London County College for the Distributive Trades – rightfully adorned with appropriate public art depicting the lasses and lads, going about their very practical business.

These are the work of Adolfine Ryland.

The building is currently in use as Foyles Bookshop.

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Returning home, I did a little online research, turning these examples of her work. As is often the case with those figures considered to be on the margins of the big bad Art World, time and the subsequent neglect, conspire to leave little by way of evidence of their invaluable efforts.

This is our loss.

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Haymans and Coverley Point – Vauxhall

Vauxhall a London borough south of the river, a drained marsh.

– A home to earlier market gardens.

Vauxhall former site of the renowned Pleasure Gardens.

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Vauxhall post war housing development, including two adjacent tower blocks Haymans and Coverley Point. labelled as a concrete jungle home to mainly manual workers, forty percent non-white, amid a mix of Eastern European and Portuguese emigres.

Vauxhall playground of the free-runners, film location and thrill seekers:

Haymans Point is an imposing, concrete, council estate tower block in the north of Lambeth, part of the Vauxhall Gardens Estate, which has an active residents and tenants association. The rooftop is fairly restricted in terms of outlook due to its high walls, but some interesting features are available including atmospheric interior corridors, outdoor walkways and underpasses over public spaces.

They are currently undergoing a transformation from problem area to greener pastures, through a collaborative community regeneration project.

– It’s also giving young Lambeth citizens work experience in the construction industry.

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Vincenzo  got his interest in construction from his Mum, who was a Brixton-based painter and decorator, and his original work experience with London charity Build-it was decorating Lambeth Council blocks in Blenheim Gardens. “I’m fanatical about learning things. I like moving about and in building you’re always somewhere different. Nadine from Build-it said this job would be hard work, so I was right on it”

Two blocks without a chip on their respective shoulders, set in a green sea of history.

Go take a walk in the garden, go take a look.

Mayfield House – Bethnal Green

Building Conditions in Bethnal Green – Post 1945

“The immediate problem after the war was to house those whose homes had been bombed. Longer-term objectives were to complete and extend earlier clearance programmes in order to reduce the population density and separate industry from residential areas, as reaffirmed in the County of London Plan of 1943. Some 5,000 people lived in temporary housing, including requisitioned properties and hutments or mobile homes, prefabs, of which the L.C.C.’s first in East London were in Florida and Squirries streets. All but 15 of its 190 ‘prefabs’ were in use in 1955, together with 309 requisitioned properties; at least 48 mobile homes were still in use in 1966.  War damage had been repaired by 1953 and attention shifted to slum clearance; flats were to be allotted to those in cleared areas rather than by a waiting list. The L.C.C. and M.B. co-operated in drawing up five-year plans:  by 1954 there were 16,852 permanent homes of which 2,434 were unfit, 1,711 in the L.C.C.’s clearance areas and 675 in the M.B.’s, together with 48 individual houses. The L.C.C. demolished 510 and the M.B. 550 between 1956 and 1960 and the M.B. demolished another 151 unfit and 46 other houses in 1961-2. Most were replaced by municipal estates, although both councils also acquired sites scheduled for industry, business, or open space. It was estimated that to find a site and build an estate took six years.” 

Thanks to http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol11/pp135-147

The six-storeyed Mayfield House opened with 54 flats in 1964 on the east side of Cambridge Heath Road, south of the town hall.

Exploring London in an accidental and often tangential manner, often offers many surprises. Ostensibly in search of the V&A Museum of Childhood I tumbled into Mayfield House. The whole area, as can be seen in the above link, is home to several estates and homes, designed by the eminent architects du jour, Mayfield receives no such attribution, possibly the work of the borough office.

None the worse for that a building of some note, famously housing one of London’s first coin operated laundries, as seen in the promo video for The Streets – Dry your eyes.

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The flats also contain a Somalian Centre, Bethnal Green having been home, for many years to Somali seamen – the subject of a recent photographic exhibition by Sarah Ainslie

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Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

Ali Mohammed Adan – Seaman

“I first came to London by ship in March 1958. I stayed in Aldgate for a night and went to Newport where my cousin had a house. There are many Somalis there. From that day until I retired in 1990, I was in the Merchant Navy, and I brought my family over from Somaliland. In 1970, I moved back to London to Bethnal Green but my wife and daughters chose to stay in Newport.

In Somaliland, I owned over a hundred camels and sheep. Nobody keeps camels anymore, everyone sold them and moved to the city. They say, ‘It’s too much work.’ But keeping camels and sheep and living on a farm, it’s a good life because you eat every day. Everybody wants to do it again now.”

 

An intriguing structure with a dominant grid on the front elevation, sharp signage, extravagant exterior rear stairs, modular concrete screened, low-level car parking and a recently enclosed glassed gallery.

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London – city of surprising surprises.

 

Milbank Tower – London

Millbank Tower is a 118 metre or 387 feet high skyscraper in the City of Westminster at Millbank, on the banks of the River Thames in London.

The Tower was constructed in 1963 for Vickers and was originally known as Vickers Tower. It was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners and built by John Mowlem & Co. It is a landmark on the London skyline, sitting beside the River Thames, half a mile upstream from the Palace of Westminster. The tower has been owned by David and Simon Reuben since 2002, while still being managed by its former owner Tishman Speyer Properties.

It is a Grade II listed building.

From 1995 the Labour Party rented two floors in the base at the south of the site for use as a general election campaign centre, including the ground floor, which had a lecture theatre, and also a meeting space that was used for press conferences. Labour ran its 1997 General Election campaign from these offices; after the election, the party vacated its headquarters at John Smith House, Walworth Road SE17, to move to Millbank. Just five years later, however, the £1 million per annum rent forced the party to vacate the tower and relocate to 16 Old Queen Street.

The United Nations also had offices in Millbank Tower, but moved out in June 2003, also citing high rents. Other public bodies have continued to occupy the building, including the Central Statistical Office, the predecessor of the Office for National Statistics, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman, the UK India Business Council and the Records Management Service.

Since 2006, the Conservative Party have based their campaign headquarters at 30 Millbank, in the same complex as Millbank Tower.

Other floors in the tower are occupied by various organisations and commercial companies, including Environment Agency, the World Bank, Altitude 360 London, foreign exchange specialists World First; the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, the UK India Business Council, the Audit Commission, event caterers Salt and Pepper, Private Food Design, the firm Lewis PR, the London office of the Open Society Foundations, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and XLN Telecom.

I know because a computer told me so.

It feels like a hub of power, its location, scale and sheer physical presence speak of it.

Say it loud – I’m block and I’m proud!

So I wandered around one cold bright sunny Sunday afternoon, unchallenged.

Exploring your ramps, car parks, piazzas and intimate spaces.

Fight or feel the power.

Space Tower – London

Richard Seifert’s Space Tower what a pleasant surprise, as you veer slightly from Kingsway and collide happily with One Kemble Street, first meeting the smaller slab of  Aviation House, then the conjoined concrete cylinder – the perfect none identical twin.

Part Marineville, part Seifert’s modular concrete, and Y shaped supports, a building Derek Meddings would be proud of, anything can happen in the next half hour.

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Predating the current rash of Brutalist models, the child of the 60s never had it better.

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Seifert designed 1 Kemble Street, then called Space House, in a drum shape to reduce the lateral forces that can stress a slab-like block thus reducing the engineering requirements and cutting the cost of construction. 

He originally designed the building to be a proper tower almost twice as high that would have served as a luxury hotel, but objections from Camden Council saw it reduced in height to what has been built today.

Defining the look of 1 Kemble Street are the pre-cast concrete panels that clad the building, much in the same way as Seifert and Oldham Estate approached Centre Point.

Seifert’s signature Y-beams are also highly visible around the base of the building. Each of the modelled concrete cruciform units has a dimension of exactly ten feet in width and height and three feet in depth. Looking closely at the facade clearly reveals the grid of the building.

Skyscraper News

Take a walk, have a look around and around, full of surprises, accidental gentle collisions.

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Post Office Tower

The man from BT he says “No!”

I only asked.

Everyone’s life is towered over by one obsessive dream or other.

So why not have an overpowering, towering dream of a Tower?

I asked to come in, he said no.

What was once ours, opened in 1965 by PM Harold Wilson at the behest of Tony Benn, was sold by PM Margaret Thatcher.

– “It’s good to talk.”

It’s bad to gift ownership of other peoples’ towers to other people, in the name of “popular capitalism.”

So I dry my eyes, pick myself up and engage in an immersive therapy, absorbing the visual culture of the seemingly unobtainable Tower – like an eternally embittered Rapunzel in reverse.