22, Bishopsgate

I am fascinated by 22, Bishopsgate, the massive new tower block which has appeared like a stealth bomber during COVID, dominating the skyline. It could be worse. It is strangely nondescript, as if it has been designed not to be too obtrusive. Probably it was:-

This is the view of it from outside our house:-

From further away:-

And up close:-


Hackney Downs

We went to see the wonderful mosaics in the children’s playground in Hackney Downs, done by Tessa Hunkin and her big team of helpers in the style of the Roman mosaics of Jordan:-

Nearby are the Hounds of Hackney:-

And tea at Brunswick House. It felt nearly like normal life.


The Society of Antiquaries

While I was at the Royal Academy, I was always very aware of the benefits of having a 999-year lease, while the other Learned Societies in the Burlington House courtyard were having to spend a disproportionate amount of their time and energies negotiating their leases from the Department of Communities and Local Government. This is an argument which seems to go round and round between the societies, the Treasury, and the department as their current landlord. Since the Society of Antiquaries, much more than any of the national museums, has devoted itself for over three centuries to the study and investigation of British history, maybe Oliver Dowden could devote some of his interest in British history to solving it by way of a private conversation with Robert Jenrick. A quick way to solve a real problem and win public applause.



The New Broadgate

I am rather fascinated by the imagery of the new building in Broadgate which was given planning approval yesterday, because it betrays absolutely no awareness whatsoever of its surrounding context, as if it is being built in the middle of nowhere, or in Toronto or Sydney as the comparative images suggest – a free-standing monolith, which pays no attention to Liverpool Street or Spitalfields or the view from Victoria Park or, for that matter, the forest of other narcissistic, free-standing towers which will surround it in close proximity.

I can see that the City is determined to show its chutzpah by giving planning permission to a clutch of megaliths, all presented in the name of sustainability by anonymous corporate architects on the international circuit. But is the City’s planning committee really paying attention to changing patterns of work ? To the future skyline ? To the risks of terrorism ? They look a bit like the cooling towers built in the 1970s and now being blown up. That’s not my idea of sustainability.



The interpretation of history (3)

I have been looking in the press for reports of the meeting of Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with museum directors to tell them how to run their museums. But although the meeting was much trailed in advance and we were told by the Sunday Telegraph what its conclusions were going to be, the only report so far is Dowden’s own Twitter feed which says that ‘it was a very productive conversation about protecting heritage for future generations’ in which – this reads like a slight parody of Whitehall practice – it was ‘agreed to set up a working group & produce guidelines to put the govt’s retain and explain policy into practice, so that more people can engage with our shared practice’. It sounds as if the lion might (very sensibly) have turned into a mouse.


Hackney Wick (2)

On our recent trip to Hackney Wick, I spotted a bakery, but wasn’t able to investigate, so went back today. It’s called Doh, is opposite Hackney Wick Station, and only opened in its current location in January. It was, as I had guessed, full of the most delicious things, including Veg Boxes, too big to carry on my bicycle, and the most incredibly excellent, freshly made bread:-

There are other good things in Hackney Wick:-


The closure of museums

I feel a terrible and slightly desperate sense of sadness that museums have been put in Tier 3, only allowed to open at the earliest on May 17th. Just when it felt there were gleams of hope and the opportunity for cultural nourishment, when I have been receiving information about the long awaited reopening of Charleston and was looking forward to Durer’s Journeys at the National Gallery, it turns out that we can go to the gym and shopping, but not to the stately halls of the National Gallery, where everyone is so disciplined in the art of social distancing. It feels illogical as well as sad, but I presume is a victim of the decision to phase re-opening and sport is regarded as more important than the starvation of art.


The interpretation of history (2)

I have just been on Times Radio, a new experience for me. I thought it was going to be about issues of restitution following the minor spat in the Times between Antony Gormley, a former trustee of the British Museum, and Hartwig Fischer, its current director, who has the task of re-interpreting the collections, a mammoth task, given their scale and immobility, and the history of the institution as a vehicle of the Enlightenment and Greek Revival.

Instead, I was asked about the meeting being held tomorrow in which Oliver Dowden is apparently now going to ask museum directors to present a rounded view of the past, a softening of the purpose of the meeting as previously reported in the Sunday Telegraph. I’m in favour of a rounded view, just cautious of the suggestion that it should be more overtly celebratory. So, both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and I agreed on a history that was complex, investigative and open about the sins of the past.



One of the benefits of going in search of the Museum of London is that I discovered how much more accessible the upper deck of the Barbican is and that there is a route through at upper level from the Barbican station which gives good views of the Barbican’s private estate and gardens:-