David Lowenthal

I have been very sad to discover (on twitter) that David Lowenthal, the great historian, social geographer, and student of public institutions of history has died.

I got to know him in the late 1980s when he set up a postgraduate research seminar at the Warburg Institute on ‘The Uses of the Past’ jointly with Peter Burke.   It attracted an eclectic group of people from museums, including Robert Bud from the Science Museum and Nick Merriman, now the Director of the Horniman Museum, as well as a group of us from the V&A.   I remember it as an exhilirating period of intellectual enquiry about the nature of museums and how they interpret and present history, some of which had been evident in David’s great book The Past is a Foreign Country, first published in 1985.

I have kept in touch with him ever since, meeting not as often as I would have liked, in his rambling house in Harrow-on-the-Hill and more recently on Marylebone High Street, or at our house, where he complained about having to go home in spite of being well into his nineties.

Over the years, I got to know elements of his history:  a period teaching in the West Indies in the 1950s;  a long period working for the Institute of Race Relations under Philip Mason, a mentor to him, in the 1960s;  a Professor of Geography in the University of London from 1972.   The point was that he was old and wise, unbelievably well read on every topic, and fascinatingly unclassifiable as a man of learning like his books.

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Demis Hassabis

We had the first of the Rothschild Foundation’s annual lectures last night, given by Demis Hassabis, a wunderkind of the artificial intelligence world, early chess champion, inventor of Theme Park, an internationally important computer game, when he was 17, before reading computer science in Cambridge and doing a PhD. on cognitive neuroscience.   He talked about how far the new generation of computers has developed creativity, based on the contrast between the first generation computer which was able to beat a world champion at chess and the next generation which could develop unexpected and counter-intuitive moves at Go, a more complicated game not susceptible to mere mechanical memory of moves.   He went on to show the way artificial intelligence can be applied to medicine – easy to see – and art – maybe less obvious, because art is not the product of any underlying systematic order.   But he certainly made it clear that the world is going to change as machines radically outpace the capabilities of humans in so many spheres.

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Denise Scott Brown (2)

Following my post yesterday about Denise Scott Brown and her article ‘Room at the Top ? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture’, written in 1975 and not published till 1989, I have been trying to find out more about her career, separately from the work she did jointly with her husband, Bob Venturi, after they met at Penn in 1960.   I had not realised that she worked under Frederick Gibberd in the early 1950s when she arrived in London from South Africa, before studying at the AA.   It was in London that she first became interested in popular culture:  ‘As a continuing industrial romantic – one now nostalgic and, after Vietnam, sadder and wiser about technology – I continued to photograph pylons, bridges, pumps, freeways, and juxtapositions of these.  But by the 1950s I was surveying, as well, the shocking things of popular culture, advertising and communication’.   So, Learning from Las Vegas owes its origins to the proto-pop culture of the mid-1950s and This is Tomorrow.

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Spitalfields Streets

Fournier Street from the church steps:-

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The Wilkes Street façade of Anna Maria Garthwaite’s house:-

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4, Princelet Street, next door to Anna Maria Garthwaite:-

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Further down Princelet Street:-

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The street sign for Sclater Street, off Brick Lane:-

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And what’s left of the railway track:-

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Christ Church, Spitalfields

It’s so rare that Christ Church, Spitalfields is open when I’m in the neighbourhood that I braved their five o’clock service to remind myself of its interior, till recently a noble ruin, now a touch over-restored and with purple fluorescent lighting.   But I had forgotten that it contains – very appropriately – a monument to Jim Stirling (designed by Celia Scott):-

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The Rag Factory

One of the pleasures of walking down Heneage Street off Brick Lane is seeing the graffiti painted by a Sheffield-based artist called Phlegm, higher quality and more inventive than much of the East London graffiti:-

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Whitechapel Bell Foundry

There is a further public consultation on the future of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry today.   It was another opportunity to see the plans which have been drawn up by Raycliff for its development into a heritage centre-cum-café in the historic part of the building, with a hotel foyer in the space occupied by the building which was added at the back by James Strike between 1979 and 1981, and a large hotel on the site next door.   It may be a last chance to see the building before it is demolished:-

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