When what I think it is determines how ugly or beautiful I feel it to be

I am intrigued by how political opinions influence aesthetic feelings. Can you think that something is beautiful merely because it is the way that you think, in a political sort of way, that it ought to be? I say: yes.

I have been experiencing an illustration of this tendency recently. And the effect was thrown into sharp relief by the fact that I changed my idea of what the thing was, and that changed how I felt about it aesthetically. Although the thing itself hadn’t changed at all, I immediately found myself liking the look of it better. I had felt it to be ugly. Now, although I wouldn’t call this thing very beautiful, I don’t see it as ugly any more.

This is the thing that I had been regarding as ugly, It is to be seen across the road from Victoria Station:

The ugliness of it is in its non-symmetry, and in the utterly irrational and incoherent contrast between the rectangular block in the middle of it and the curvey bits on the top and at one end. Why would you make a thing looking like that?

The best way to see how ugly this thing is (or was), is to look at it from above. Here is the google satellite version:

But then what should have been obvious to me all along became obvious. The rectangular block wasn’t designed into the building we are looking at. It had been there all along. The curvey bits had merely been added to the rectangular block, at one end and on the top. This building wasn’t all one design. It was a doubling up of designs:

There you see a photo, which I took in 2009, of this thing while they were doing it. It doesn’t prove that it was done in two entirely distinct stages, of which this is merely the second stage, but it seems to suggest that. The new building activity seems to concern the curvey bits on the top. The scaffolding next to the rectangular bits looks much more like the kind of scaffolding you put up when you are merely revamping an already existing building. And that, I am almost sure, is what is happening there, to the rectangular bits.

What I now see when I look at this ungainly thing is that rather than it being a very ugly piece of one-off design, I now see it as a charmingly quaint urban agglomerative confluence of constrasting styles, such as London contains a hundred examples of, and hurrah for London. London itself, as a whole, is just such a multiple design confluence. Old meets new, and both live to tell the tale. Or in this case new meets newer. This weird-looking building is a two-off design, you might say. It is a two-off design, and it looks exactly the sort of way a two-off design ought to look.

If I am wrong about it being a two-off design and I learn that actually it was all designed at once, I’ll probably go back to thinking it ugly.

Here are some more pictures of it that I have taken since then, from various angles:

That picture, to my eye, makes it look downright beautiful. As does this next one, taken looking into the evening sun from the top of Westminster Cathedral, even more so:

But now, the plot thickens, or maybe that should be: the plot gets thinner, back to its original state.

My internet searching skills are very primitive. I have just had yet another go at finding out what this odd building is called, at any rate by those who own it or who are in the business of renting it out. And I have finally managed to learn that they call it “The Peak”. Heaven knows why. It doesn’t look like much of a peak.

Anyway, knowing this, I eventually found my way to this description of The Peak. And what do you know? (More precisely: What the hell do I know?) It would appear that this ungainly thing was what I had originally assumed it to be: a one-off design. The whole thing was built all in one go. So what had seemed obvious to me was not even true, let alone obvious.

The Sheppard Robson designed building adjoins the Apollo Theatre and replaces two existing structures. The Vauxhall Bridge Road and Wilton Road elevations incorporate robust Portland stone-clad columns and spandrels with intricately designed glass solar shading louvres between.

The louvres provide a dynamic visual effect to the building both during the day and at night. The prow of the building facing Victoria Street is curved, following the site boundary, and an arcade has been provided at street level to substantially increase the pavement width along one of the busiest pedestrian thoroughfares in central London.

So, what will I now feel about this building? Will I go back to feeling that it is ugly?

This will not be a decision. It will simply be a fact, which I will discover by introspection. How do I now feel? As of now: not sure. My mind may decide that, because it had, for a while, been deceived by this building, and dislike it more than ever before. But, I am starting to suspect that, having found beauty in this object, even though this finding was based on an error, my mind will be reluctant to surrender this happy feeling.

Incidentally, I have already posted here a photo of the roof of this building, and in particular of the crane that sprouts out of that roof to clean the windows. I’m talking about the last of the three photos in this posting.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Lea River footbridge

I like this footbridge, and I like this photo of this footbridge:

I took this photo on the same day I took this gasometer with towers photo, and these cat photos (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG).

We are looking down from the road bridge that takes Twelvetrees Crescent over the River Lea and Bow Creek. It’s a delightful spot, to be found at the top right end of the Limehouse Cut. On the right, we see the Limehouse Cut about to make its bee-line for the Limehouse Basin. And on the left, the River Lea is about to wend its very winding way down to the River. Where the Lea empties itself into the Thames is right near where I took these fish photos.

The reason I cross-reference all these photo-postings of mine is because the idea of these expeditions is not just to see amusing things in isolation, but in addition to that to build up the bigger picture in my mind of what that part of London, and in particular its waterways, is like. All these walks need to join up with each other, in reality and in my head. The latter I achieve by trawling back through my photo archives, by repeatedly meandering about in google maps, and by connecting up this blog posting with that one. And by going on more expeditions.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Limehouse Cut is boring to walk along …

Today I had what I suspect may prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I say that because it was so boring that I may never do it again. I walked the length of the Limehouse Cut:

The thing about the Limehouse Cut is that it is dead straight, as purely man-made things so often are. So, when you are walking along next to it, you find yourself staring forwards at an infinitely receding, dead straight, unchanging canal-side path. The Limehouse Cut is dead straight, and hence dead boring.

Click on that dreary little map of the Limehouse Cut, above, and you will get the context, which shows also how most waterways in London look. Not straight. And that makes them much more amusing to walk next to. Usually, when walking beside a London waterway, there are constant twists and turns. New things regularly come into view. The whole atmosphere of the journey keeps changing. But when things straighten out, like they did today, it can get very repetitious.

Here are some pictures that make that point:

I have long noticed something similar when it comes to walking along roads. Long straight boulevards are an ordeal. Twisty and turny walks, with lots of visual variety and with obstacles in the way so you can’t see miles ahead, are, I find, much more appealing.

The point is variety. Anything that just keeps repeating itself is dull. Even if it is something you might think picturesque, like a waterway with lots of boats on it. But that gets dull also.

I was actually not surprised by this. I was expecting it. But, I was hoping against hope that there might be a good view in the distance, like the Shard maybe. Or that it wouldn’t be boring. Well, it wasn’t entirely boring. There were things to see that were surprising. Plus there was a park that I was able to visit. But basically, it was boring.

But the thing was, what if the Limehouse Cut was really exciting? I had to make quite sure that this was not so. So, there was a meaningful mission today, and it was accomplished. And it didn’t take that long.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Fish in Orchard Place

I couldn’t decide which of these two fish photos was the best, so here are both of them. The photo on the right is better of the fish itself. The photo on the left shows more of the rather strange setting. Click on either, or both, or neither, to get the bigger pictures:

I encountered this fish in Orchard Place, last Sunday. Orchard Place is the road you need to walk along if you want to check out Container City, which is what I was doing at the time. To find Orchard Place on google maps, and to satisfy yourself that we are both talking about the same Place, got to Canning Town tube station and go south.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Window cleaning cranes in Victoria

I find myself becoming ever more entertained by those cranes at the top of buildings, for cleaning windows. The ones that look like this:

Is it a crane? Is it roof clutter? It’s both!

The above photo was taken in March. And then, in April, this month, I took this next photo, because, although not by itself very significant, it really adds to the story being told above:

I did a bit of cropping on both these, to make them more identical, in all but the essential difference they illustrate.

For you see (which you now do), this particular window cleaning crane has the trick of disappearing into the (very visible) roof of its building like it’s not even there.

One moment: roof clutter, of the most obtrusive sort. Next thing you know: roof clutter gone.

There is another such window cleaning crane, very near to the above window cleaning crane, in fact just across the road from it, on the big ugly building with the curved roof, from which a window cleaning crane with a curved bit of roof on it occasionally emerges. And in February, I chanced upon this window cleaning crane in action:

From form emerges function. Function functions. Then function disappears back into form, like nothing had happened.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog