A few days ago, I walked beyond the top end of Victoria, beyond Victoria Station, at the top end of Grosvenor Gardens, and I saw this:
But it was getting dark when I first photoed the above scene, so this afternoon I went back, to see if I could do better. And I think I did. Roof clutter plus The Wheel. I love roof clutter, and I love to photo The Wheel in unobvious ways, that being a view of The Wheel that no longer exists. So The Wheel, only just visible above some roof clutter. Just the thing.
While searching out the exact best spot to photo photos like that one, I moved in the opposite direction of The Wheel, so as to see more of The Wheel. I found myself in a place. A place called Hobart Place. And looking back along Hobart Place, I not only got the above photo, but also discovered another view, which I had not been expecting:
Not so long ago you could see the Shard from just outside Victoria Station, looking down Victoria Street, but those days are now gone, with the new office blocks that have been built on the right side of Victoria Street looking down it, just past Strutton Ground. But it turns out that you can see the Shard from Hobart Place. For the time being, anyway.
The top of the Shard is a bit of a muddle, but it is a very recognisable muddle.
Here’s a photo I took which combines both the above views:
I should probably have another go at that one. But, you can just about make out those two Big Things, above all the stuff in the foreground. What that big grey building in the middle with the particularly excellent roof clutter, I do not know. Should be easy enough to find out, if I really want to.
In the second of the above photos, the one with the Shard in it, you can also see the rainbow flag featured in the first of these three photos, the one of the top of 55 Broadway. I promise nothing, but that’s a building that deserves a posting of its own.
This was not the very first photo I photoed with my new Panasonic Lumix FZ150. These were the first of those. But this was one of the earlier ones:
I have many times photoed those spikes on the Hungerford Footbridges, that join the South Bank to Embankment Tube, on each side of the railway into Charing Cross. This is one of my favourite such photos. It’s the addition of the cluster of aerials on the right that makes the difference, I think.
It wasn’t a big crowd, so plenty of social distancing even then.
Now that there’s a gap happening, between test match 2 (which ended Monday) and test match 3 (which kicks off Friday), between England and the Windies, I am now missing this cricket, the way I never did during full Lockdown, when there just wasn’t any.
And whoever Western Traditionalist is, he or she illustrates this opinion with the following photo, of a building and a sculpture:
This building is the Torre Velasca in Milan, and it would appear that Western Traditionalist found the above photo of it at Wikipedia, where you can learn more about what I think is a very handsome building.
As “brutalism” goes, I don’t believe that the Torre Velasca is especially brutal. I recall liking this building very much, when I was trying to become an architect myself, half a century ago.
But I want to assert an idea that is perhaps rather individual. I agree that “brutalism” was indeed an “attack on the soul”, in the sense that its purpose was, aesthetically speaking, to batter people into accepting it as desirable architecture, rather than in any way charm or please them. And, I now like a lot of the surviving relics of brutalism. Definitely including the not-very-brutalist tower in the photo above.
How come? Well, let me ask you something. Do you think that the castles built by the Norman monarchs of England are beautiful? Many do, now. Thousands visit them, and are charmed by them. But it is undeniable that these buildings, when first built, were “attacks on the soul”, the souls of the native English, whom the Normans were busy subjugating with great brutality. Great brutalism, you might say. Those Norman castles were exercises in military intimidation, not attempts to be the tourist traps that they now are.
Brutalism owes much of its inspiration to military constructions built by the Nazis during World War 2, in places like the northern coastline of France, prior to the Normandy landings. And for as long as brutalism was on the march, so to speak, and threatening the houses and neighbourhoods of the world with demolition, people hated brutalism, and with bloody good reason. People hate any architectural style that seems to be coming straight at them, while seeming not to give a damn what they think of it. Remember that “brutalism” wss the name given to the style by those who invented and preached it. This was not merely an insult label pinned on “brutalism” by enemies and then adopted ironically. The brutalists gloried in being brutal. They were attacking souls.
But so what? Now that brutalism has been stopped in its tracks, is now in retreat, and has become a deeply conservative – indeed downright antiquarian – exercise in conservation and preservation rather than the radical act of aesthetic bullying that it began as, there is no reason for us to be intimidated by it any longer. Brutalism is now picturesque, just like those Norman castles are. And I for one like its surviving structures for exactly the same sorts of reasons that I and millions of others also like Norman castles. Brutalist shapes are interesting rather than always drearily rectangular, their rugged bulk possessing the charm of a mountain range. And I know that me liking these edifices in this kind of way would annoy the annoying people who first unleashed this style, that being, for me, another feature rather than a bug. I hate the idea that anti-brutalists, in the grip of the sort of analysis I have supplied in my previous paragraphs, and egged on by people like Western Traditionalist, might one day destroy all these buildings.
One of South London’s biggest landmark brutalist buildings is to be replaced by blocks of flats which will tower above the South Bank and Tate Modern on the Thames.
IBM’s former offices at Sampson House, on Hopton Street, Southwark, is being demolished to make way for Bankside Yards, one of the capital’s largest regeneration projects – with 1.4 million sq ft of shops, hotels and flats.
Developers Native Land have today announced they have appointed four British architectural practices to develop designs for four buildings within Eastern Yards, part of the £1billion Bankside Yards.
That “landmark” brutalist building, Sampson House, was duly demolished soon after that was written. I know this, because it was one of the things I was looking for on a walkabout I did on May 30th. (Next on my list that day was some statues – later I chanced upon this.) By then, Sampson House was gone.
Sampson House is really rather splendid, if you like that sort of thing, which I do in moderation. It was built in the late seventies. I don’t recall any big public fight to preserve it, and if that’s right, I am rather surprised, what with the row that erupted not long ago in aid of another landmark brutalist building.
Ludgate House, on the other hand, is a somewhat more anonymous product of the late eighties. By then, concrete exteriors were out and the era of totally glass exteriors was upon us. I think it looks pretty good, but only in a way that lots of other similar buildings do. I’ll somewhat miss it.
I went looking for photos of these two ex-buildings in my photo-archives. After much searching, I finally came upon this, photoed in August 2016:
On the left, Sampson House, and on the right, Ludgate House. Top right, you can just see the spikey top of 240 Blackfriars.
But I don’t think that even that photo was me truly photoing Sampson House and Ludgate House. I was photoing Strata, the Thing with the holes in the top. At the time, Sampson House and Ludgate House merely happened to be making the gap through which Strata could be seen, in the distance.
Here is another photo I took of Sampson House and Ludgate House:
That shows where they both were very well. But again, what I was photoing there was a fake photo of One Blackfriars, on the edge of the site where they were going to build it. Sampson House and Ludgate House just happened to be present. But I didn’t care about them, which is why they are leaning over. One Blackfriars is vertical. That’s what I was photoing.
Here are some more Sampson House and Ludgate House photos I’ve photoed over the years, in each case showing me concentrating on something else:
Photo 1: a strange bus; 2: a sign about One Blackfriars; 3: 240 Blackfriars from the top of the Tate Modern Extension: 4: Random reflections in One Blackfriars; 5: 240 Blackfriars, as seen from the south end of Blackfriars railway station, the one on the bridge; 6: A very blurry view of, well, London, through a window at the top of the Walkie-Talkie; 7: One Blackfriars takes shape, viewed from the Tate Extension; 8: Tate Modern photoed with maximum zoom from the top of the Shard.
As you can tell from this list, I was obsessed with One Blackfriars and 240 Blackfriars as I was indifferent to Sampson House and Ludgate House.
But another thing that always distracted me, whenever I was in the vicinity of these two buidings, was this:
The way I see it, I can do an elaborate photo-expedition, which I did today. Or, I can do an elaborate description of some of the things I saw during my photo-expedition. But don’t ask me to do both on the same day. (See this category.)
So instead of an elaborate description of anything, here are two contrastingly lit and contrastingly backgrounded buildings, which I photoed at the very beginning of my wanderings, in the Stoke Newington area:
On the left, well, I don’t know what they call it, but I like it, because I like any building that is brightly lit, with a dark cloud background behind it, and lots of excellent roof clutter on top of it.
And on the left, the building that is now the Castle Climbing Centre. This time, the background is blue. The dark cloud was the bad weather of the morning and early afternoon, which was departing. The blue sky was the good weather that had just arrived, perfectly in time to illuminate my subsequent wanderings.
Which were fascinating, but exhausting. Sleep well, when the time comes for you to do that. I will, very soon.
A while back I was walking along by the River, just upstream from Lambeth Bridge, and photoed this photo (number 5 of these) of the China Works Tower (thank you commenter Alastair for identifying it):
Also a while ago now, I went back there, yes, to photo stuff like all the signs at the other end of that link, but basically to check out this China Works building from close-up:
In an earlier posting here about would-be applier of architectural decoration Adam Nathaniel Furman, I said:
Furman intends to apply ornament with colourful abandon.
But, not the old sort of ornament that the Victorians liked to do, and against whom the original Modernists reacted with such disgust. …
Well, the above photos are of just this old sort of ornament, the sort that Furman doesn’t want to do. But, technologically, he intends to use very similar techniques. Ceramics. Also known as: China. (Odd that, naming a material after the big old country where they got the idea from. Are there any strange things called, in foreign parts, Britain or England? So, how’s your meat? Okay, but it could use a dash of Britain. Your skirt’s falling down, try using an England.)
This China Works Tower is surrounded and jostled aggressively by modern buildings, designed by the sort of people who grew up believing all the old sort of ornament to be an aesthetic abomination, or at the very least an aesthetic dead-end.
The most aggressive architectural jostler is a fire station, immediately the other side of a very narrow road. Which happens to be the start of Lambeth High Street, which is odd but there you go. Here are photos I took of all that jostling, with the fire station in the middle photo here:
You can see the white roof of the fire station in the photo at the top of this posting.
Luckily, the China Works Tower is not entirely isolated, and is hence not totally smothered by later buildings. It was once only a small part of a bigger collection of buildings, and a decent chunk of those earlier buildings remains, attached to the Tower and keeping it company:
There was a lot of sunshine and shade colliding on the facade of the Tower, so that doesn’t look so good there. But the blander, less decorated and bigger stretch of the old building was easier to photo, as you can see.
I shouldn’t grumble too much. At least the Tower survived, along with a chunk of the earlier buildings it presided over. The Tower was the architectural advert, so to speak, for a real business, one that survived longer than most Victorian-era enterprises, way past World War 2. And then the Tower was saved by an early manifestation of the Conservation Movement, in the form of two rich fogeys, aesthetically speaking. The link above, in paragraph one of this, concerning the history of this place and what they’re now doing with it is well worth a follow, so here is that link again.
I wouldn’t want London to consist only of such ornamented antiquities, but I am glad that quite a lot of such oddities still survive, and that they now look like having a decent future, to follow their distinguished past. And I am glad to have lived long enough to have experienced a time when this past can be easily learned about. During the last century, I would see such a building, wonder about it for about one minute, and then forget it and move on to the next equally baffling oddity.
I’m back from my photo-walk and it was every bit as physically knackering as I feared. But, what with me having done more than one posting here each day for the last few weeks now, here is another quota photo.
Despite the effort, it was a fine expedition nevertheless. My better photo-walks often begin with fun photos as soon as I step out the door, and today’s was like that:
That scaffolding has been there for ages, what with The Plague. There being at the mini-roundabout where Great Peter Street meets the top end of Horseferry Road and the southern end of Strutton ground. They’re doing something to the fire station there. But what? I’m waiting to see.