Oxford House

I was asked by Josh Spero, one of its Trustees, to visit Oxford House, a community-oriented settlement just off the Bethnal Green Road.   It’s one of that generation of high-minded, Anglican, late Victorian settlements, which were established by Oxford and Cambridge colleges (in the case of Oxford House, Keble College, Oxford) to bring ‘sweetness and light’ and a dose of high Anglicanism to the poor of East London (‘come and be the squires of East London’ was the slightly unfortunate way of finding recruits).   The building was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield in the heavy, late Victorian, institutional gothic he had perfected at Selwyn College, Cambridge.   In the Second World War, it was run by Guy Clutton-Brock, later one of the founders of the ANC, and turned into more of a local community resource which it has remained ever since, now rundown, but due to be revived by an HLF project.

This is the chapel at the top, currently little used, with an altarpiece dated 1914:-

The arms and Victorian brickwork:-

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John Brinckerhoff Jackson (4)

I need to complete my sequence of posts on John Brinckerhoff Jackson, because I have discovered that he is crucial to the invention of what he called ‘odology’, that is, the study of the American road.   ‘Odology is the science or study of roads or journeys and, by extension, the study of streets and superhighways and trails and paths, how they are used, where they lead, and how they come into existence.   Odology is part geography, planning, and part engineering – engineering as in construction, and unhappily as in social engineering as well.   That is why the discipline has a brilliant future’.   For cross-continental travel, he recommends George Stewart’s US 40:  Cross Section of the United States of America which he described as the ‘best and most original guide book yet produced’.   And it hasn’t escaped my attention that he influenced, if not inspired, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, although naughtily he did not credit Denise in his review (he had his faults).

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Burlington Gardens

It’s coming along.   Francis Bacon is all cleaned up:-

This is the current surface of the new Link Bridge:-

This is the view out of the British Academy Room:-

Adam Smith:-

John Locke:-

And the building from Old Burlington Street:-

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John Brinckerhoff Jackson (3)

I’ve got absorbed in finding out more about John Brinckerhoff Jackson and have acquired a volume of essays produced after his death by the University of New Mexico – Everyday America:  Cutural Landscape Studies after J.B. Jackson. ed Chris Wilson and Paul Roth, Berkeley, 2003.   He was anti-modernist, turning against a house designed by Le Corbusier in the Paris Exposition of Modern Art in 1926.   ‘I didn’t like it’.   In 1934, he travelled round Europe and saw the Stuttgart Wissenhof exhibition of modern housing and city planning, including work by Gropius and Mies van der Rohe.   He regarded it as ‘ridiculous, intellectual architecture’.   After the war, he contributed pseudonymous reviews to Landscape, the journal of which he was himself the publsher and the editor, in which he attacked modernist architcture on the grounds that it was not ‘designed to improve the lot of Man but a desire to create pure geometrical forms, an autonomous art of cubes and cylinders and two dimensional planes;  independent of the past, independent of the earth and of life’.   This was what led him to his interest in the vernacular and the ways in which ‘all the while there enters through the back door of the modern dwelling a troop of interior decorators, landscape architects, home consultants, psychologists, appliance and television salesemen, each of them bent on making the modern home as complex and irrational and individual as possible’.   This was in 1952.

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Across America (3)

David Lowenthal has sent me his translation of an interview with the two curators of the exhibition Beyond Asphalt, which was held in Montpellier earlier this year.   The interview provides other candidates for making documentary, as opposed to artistic, photographs of American roadtrips.

I didn’t know about Donald Appleyard, a British-born urban planner who studied at MIT, taught at Berkeley, and published The View from the Road in 1964.

Most people will probably know, but I didn’t, about the exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, held in Rochester NY in 1975, which introduced a style of deadpan topographical photography ‘eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion’.

My third candidate is Chester Liebs who produced a book Main Street to Miracle Mile in 1985.

All of this research derives from David Lowenthal diplomatically pointing out that there are plenty of other people, himself included, who have established a tradition of non-fine art – maybe anti-fine art – documentary photography.

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Across America (2)

I”m one step closer to solving the problem of who took the documentary photographs crossing America, which I remembered seeing a reference to.   Richard Bram has managed to find out through a contact of his that Reed Estabrook, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, planned a coast-to-coast trip in the early 1970s with a camera connected to his odometer fixed in the right side rear window of his ’57 Chevy, taking a wide-angle photo every 1/4 mile, which he then planned to exhibit in a continuous floor-to-ceiling strip (see http://www.reedestabrook.net/projects/earlywork.php).   This is definitely as good an answer as I am likely to get.

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Richard Bram (2)

As of today you can have the pleasure of a different sequence of photographs as the opener to the blog (although weirdly I don’t see it myself):  more informal;  more summery;  taken in the streets of Stepney, rather than the purlieus of St. James.   Bram adopts what he calls the Jane Bown technique – that is, taking the photograph before one has a chance to pose.

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