Euston Arch

I have discovered that it is still possible to obtain copies of the book the Smithsons produced in 1968 about the Euston Arch.   It’s a period piece, with an introduction by Nikolaus Pevsner in which he commends the fact that architects ‘who have designed buildings of outstanding integrity…are here denouncing the Euston Murder’.   There are sketches by J.C. Bourne of the building under construction:-

Fine photographs of it in its heyday:-

And photographs of it in the course of its demolition:-

There is something mournful when Peter Smithson writes how we have ‘an obligation to try and explain our nervousness when officials start to execute our value judgements for us, because we are near enough to fascist or communist bureaucracies where all value judgements are taken for everyone – architects, artists, people very like ourselves and our friends’.


Ernö Goldfinger (2)

In looking up about Ernö Goldfinger the day before yesterday, it caught my eye that he had stayed with the Terrys during the war.   I wondered if this was anything to do with Quinlan Terry and indeed it was.   His parents were friends of the Goldfingers and on the outbreak of war they stayed in a house designed by Lubetkin in the grounds of Whipsnade Zoo.  I like the idea of the middle-aged Hungarian and the earnest schoolboy proto-classicist in amongst the elephants.


Grosvenor Estate (2)

I have been sent a fascinating set of maps connected to the future of the Grosvenor Estate.   One shows the full extent of the estate – not just the whole of north Mayfair, but also most of Belgravia which was acquired and developed as a result of the marriage by Thomas Grosvenor, a Cheshire baronet, to Mary Davies, the daughter of a city scrivener, in 1677.   The best description of the estate is by Defoe in Applebee’s Weekly Journal in 1725:  ‘I passed an amazing Scene of new Foundations, not of Houses only, but as I might say of new Cities, New Towns, new Squares, and fine Buildings, the like of which no City, no Town, nay, no Place in the World can shew;  nor is it possible to judge where or when, they will make an end or stop of Building’:-



I was asked to see the Kasmin display at Tate Britain which shows work acquired from the gallery in the 1960s, together with information about the circumstances of their acquisition, including the haggling about price.   It has been done in conjunction with Artists’ Lives, the programme of recordings of artists run by National Life Stories at the British Library.   Kasmin was born in the London Hospital, the grandson of Polish immigrants.   Educated at Magdalen College School.   Left to work for Pressed Steel.   Emigrated to New Zealand.   Changed his name from Kaye to Count Kasmin.   Returned to London in 1956.   He joined Marlborough Fine Art, run by Harry Fischer and Frank Lloyd, in the summer of 1960.   Left to establish his own gallery, designed by Richard Burton (recently deceased) and bankrolled by Sheridan Dufferin, at 118, New Bond Street in 1963.   A key figure in the art world of the 1960s, not least for representing Hockney.

This is a picture of Kasmin and Sheridan Dufferin, courtesy of Christopher Simon Sykes:-

And the gallery at 118, New Bond Street:-


Regency Café

I was asked to have breakfast not in the Wolseley, but in the Regency Café in Regency Street, close to Vincent Square where I used to umpire cricket matches.   It’s an astonishingly authentic greasy spoon, founded in 1946, with a waitress who barks out the orders in a voice of such startling gruffness that we couldn’t stay for long:-


Burlington Gardens Competition

I have just been grilled by the New York Times about the 2008 competition for the design of Burlington Gardens.   I realise that even though it is quite recent and even though I was a member of the RA’s Client Committee at the time, one quite quickly forgets the details of what happened and how the decision was made.   This is what I remember, although others will remember more, or differently.

Sandy Wilson had spent the last five years of his life working on a very ambitious Masterplan for the development of the whole of the Royal Academy and its site.   His scheme had been costed at £85 million.   Following Sandy Wilson’s death, it quickly became clear that it would be hard to fundraise for a project in the absence of its progenitor and that his scheme had been handicapped by a presumption that no public route could go through the Royal Academy Schools.   So, a limited competition was held for the development of Burlington Gardens only, which was won by David Chipperfield, who had been elected an RA in December 2007.   My recollection is that he won for two reasons:-  his sensitivity to the character of the original Pennethorne building and the fact that he had gone back to its original plans (he used the phrase ‘a light touch’);  and his determination to reinstate a big daylit public lecture theatre in the space which had originally been occupied by the University of London’s lecture theatre.

At the time, the Neues Museum had not yet re-opened (it re-opened in October 2009).   And the idea of linking the two buildings was not part of the original competition entry, but came later.


Ernö Goldfinger (1)

Unlike the Smithsons, who seem to have retained their status as inspiring outsiders, Goldfinger, who was famously rude, but of a well-to-do Hungarian family and married to Ursula Blackwell of the Crosse and Blackwell family, was only too happy to be co-opted by the Establishment, becoming an ARA in 1971, an RA in 1975, presenting a design for the Trellick Tower as his diploma work and a drawing of 2, Willow Road to the Queen for her Silver Jubilee.   He was a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and served champagne to the residents of Balfron Tower.   Maybe this helps to explain why English Heritage went to great lengths to list Balfron Tower, but failed to list Robin Hood Gardens.


Richard Green

One more Poplar site.   Immediately in front of the municipal baths, there is an unexpectedly magnificent statue dedicated to the memory of Richard Green, who joined the family firm of Green, Wigram & Green, which built ships for the East India Company, whose headquarters were in Blackwall.   Green was not only successful as a shipowner, but was also a prominent local philanthropist, establishing schools and a Sailor’s Home, and supporting the Poplar Hospital and Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum.   The statue is by Edward W. Wyon, a former student at the Royal Academy Schools, who was well known mainly for his portrait busts and who deserves to be known for this fine commemorative statue of Green with his dog and its flanking bas reliefs of his ships:-


Everyday Modernism

I went to an event organised by the Architecture Programme of the RA called Everyday Modernism:  about the obvious gap which has opened up between the current romanticisation and idealisation of the small number of icons of modernism – the Barbican, Park Hill in Sheffield and Robin Hood Gardens – all seen through the eyes of Ladybird books; and the realities of conditions of social living during the period – the tendency towards conservatism in room use, the customisation of interiors, the need to use inherited furniture, and the passion for DIY;  all of which undermine the images of idealised modernism which survive in architectural photographs of the period.  


Peter Smithson

In looking up information about Robin Hood Gardens, I was interested to discover that, after studying at the King’s College School of Architecture in Newcastle on Tyne, Peter Smithson spent two years at the Royal Academy as a student of Albert Richardson, one of Britain’s most conservative and greatest classical architects, a fact which seems to be left out of some sources, maybe because it is at odds with Smithson’s image as the young Brutus.   In fact, he and Alison, who he married in 1949, were not quite as rampantly brutalist as Robin Hood Gardens might make them appear, writing a lament to the loss of Euston Arch in 1968 and Walks within Walls:  a Study of Bath in 1971.