I’ve just had breakfast with Peter Rosengard, a genial insurance salesman who transacts all his business from a corner table at Claridge’s. A few years ago, he had the idea of commemorating 9/11 by exhibiting one of the twisted steel girders from the Twin Towers. For a while, it was displayed in Battersea Park. Then, it was destined for Potter’s Fields south of the river. Currently, it is being stored in a farmyard in Cambridgeshire. The plan is that it should find a permanent home in Olympic Park.
For the sake of completeness, I feel that I should record that tonight was the night of the formal opening of Catherine’s exhibition by the Duchess of Cornwall; and that seeing my portrait now for the third time, it improves each time I see it and I am beginning to think that it might look like me. I suspect that this may be a standard sitter’s response: that one gradually adapts to someone else’s image of what one looks like. Ivor Braka and I swapped anecdotes about the experience of being painted. I like his portrait. He’s got a good head of hair. He said his housemaster at Oundle had let him grow it long and he’s kept it ever since. The portrait which I didn’t pay attention to last time was the Self-portrait by Catherine herself. It’s unexpectedly self-glamorising:
In documenting the rapid gentrification of Stepney, a landmark is clearly the opening of Dirty Burger on the Mile End Road. It occupies a grand Edwardian building next to the Trinity Almshouses. Run by Soho House, it is an instant 1950s saloon, complete with light industrial styling, where you can have flagons of Crate ale and superior, but not expensive burgers:
All the architects I know are passionate about boats. Nick Grimshaw sails off the coast of North Norfolk. Michael Hopkins has a sailing boat on the River Alde. Richard MacCormac had a clinker built boat which he’d sail up the Essex coast. What is it about the relationship between designing buildings and messing about in boats ? It’s partly the modernist dream of practical form, where form and function meet in the use of wood, sailcloth and rope. It’s partly the fact that architects want a practical side to their life, being in charge of the rudder. Maybe there’s a distant memory of the design of Noah’s Ark.
I was due to go sailing this morning in the Hopkins-designed Windflower (named after Elgar’s mistress), but there was no wind on the estuary, so we just went out on the motor instead. The skipper was Michael Hopkins:
The crew were Charles Jencks, dressed for Ascot:
I travelled by the branch line from Ipswich, past the boatyards of Woodbridge, water-locked fields and piggeries to Saxmundham, where the weekend commuters got off. In the morning, the tide was high. I looked across to the church at Iken and walked along the path by the river:
Today is the 98th. birthday of Olivier Bell. She was was one of the first students at the Courtauld Institute; a friend and lover of Graham Bell during the second world war; worked for the Control Commission in Germany after the war as an honorary Colonel restoring works of art to their rightful owners; was one of the first officers of the newly established Arts Council; married Quentin Bell, the younger son of Vanessa Bell; edited Virginia Woolf’s diaries with exemplary precision; and helped to establish Charleston as an independent trust where she still attends Trustee meetings (as today). After a lifetime of public service, the government awarded her an MBE in the New Years Honours. Only about sixty years too late.
It’s a long time since I’ve been to the first Duke of Devonshire’s palace in the Peak District, the south front of which was designed by William Talman whilst the Earl of Devonshire (as he then was) was in retreat as MP for Derbyshire, implacably hostile to the actions of the Crown and one of the signatories to the letter inviting William of Orange to invade in defence of protestant liberties. Quite a medieval act of treachery for such a pillar of the community. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the idea that the architecture is in some way a statement of the independence of the post-Revolution nobility, but the internal courtyard is certainly full of martial imagery
In wandering round the students’ final show yesterday, my eye was caught, as often, by the character of the setting, generations of students passing through and leaving their trace and the casts which were used as a tool for teaching:
I have just been to a talk by Thomas Heatherwick RA. I have been aware of his work for a long time, ever since we were driving down from Scotland In 1994 and stopped at Belsay, a ruined Greek Revival house outside Newcastle. English Heritage had commissioned a number of young designers to build so-called ‘sitooteries’, a Scottish term for a small garden pavilion. Thomas had designed the first and the only one I remember: a febrile hedgehog of a building which was the precursor of his Expo Pavilion in Shanghai. But I had never heard him talk before. I have seldom heard someone talk so inspiringly about the processes of design and making. He started as a student constructing a small-scale building, because he believed that buildings should be as much about the process of construction as the intellectual analysis of space. It’s obvious that he’s right, but it’s seldom said. And he went on to describe his thought process in a whole series of projects up until the Garden Bridge across the Thames.
Each year, there is a small ceremony for the graduating students of the Royal Academy Schools to receive their diplomas. Each year, I find it unexpectedly moving witnessing a year group of 17 students, who have moved as a cohort through the experience of the Royal Academy and its art school: the first year studios with the casts from Sir Thomas Lawrence’s collection hanging on the walls; the Premiums when their work is exhibited in Burlington Gardens through to their final show in the nineteenth-century studios underneath the exhibition galleries. Everyone seems to win a prize: a residency in New York or money for travel. I once made the mistake of saying that it was privileged (they pay no fees) and saw 17 people looking at me furiously because it’s not privileged having to survive for three years without secure funding. But at the end it looks and feels worth it.