Lister House

I was interested to see the obituary of John Stillman, recently deceased, whose firm, Stillman and Eastwick Field is credited with the design of Lister House on Vallance Road. It’s a 1956 block, elsewhere said to have been designed by Count Ralph Smorczewski, a Polish count, brought up on his family’s estates, fought in the Polish Resistance, and arrived in England after the war as an officer in the Eighth Army, then registered to study at the Architectural Association and worked for Stillman and Eastwick Field, before moving to Monte Carlo: an unusual figure to have been involved in the reconstruction of Whitechapel:-

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/aug/22/john-stillman-obituary?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Standard

St. Magnus the Martyr

Going to the Grinling Gibbons exhibition made me realise that I don’t know the City Churches nearly as well as I should. So, I called in on one I don’t think I have ever been in to – St. Magnus the Martyr, marooned on the wrong side of Lower Thames Street, but open and smelling strongly of incense as a citadel of the high church since the 1920s at least. First to be burnt in the Great Fire, it was one of the first to be reconstructed, reopened in 1676 with an elegant landmark steeple, modelled on the Jesuit church in Antwerp (there was a drawing of it in Wren’s office) and visible from across the river:-

The history of the interior is complicated. The woodwork was initially the responsibility of a joiner, William Grey, then Mathhew Banckes Senior and Thomas Lock, who worked for Wren. But it was considerably reconfigured in the 1920s when the box pews were removed and the reredos reconstructed:-

Standard

The Custom House (1)

I have been tipped off that there is a big issue with the Custom House, a historically very significant, but relatively unfamiliar building on the Thames just west of the Tower of London, which is easily accessible on foot from the Tower, but pretty cut off from the rest of the City by Lower Thames Street, which, as a traffic-clogged dual carriageway, does not exactly encourage exploration of the river frontage – in effect, its public value was destroyed by 1960s road planning.

The current building, which is impressive in a low-key neoclassical way, was put up in 1813, designed by David Laing, a pupil of John Soane. He had been appointed Surveyor to the Customs in 1810, responsible also for a new customs house in Plymouth. Not surprisingly, its most prominent façade is towards the river, with a central block reconstructed by Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum and a fellow student of Soane: a building of obvious historic importance in terms of the relationship of the City to river trade, responsible historically for the collection of customs on goods imported from all over the world.

The building has been used until this year by HM Customs and Revenue, but was sold twenty years ago by Gordon Brown when Chancellor to Mapeley, a property company based in Bermuda – an unusual transaction for a puritanical Scot, transferring a major public building to the private sector. It is now in the process of being sold and being developed – you guessed it – as a hotel, as if London post-COVID has an unlimited appetite for luxury hotels, instead of being made available, like Somerset House, for improved public use. It’s presumably just a convenient way of offloading its upkeep to the private sector.

The city planning committee are about to consider the plans (20/00631/FULMAJ). Do we trust them to do the right thing and consider more imaginative proposals ?

London has long needed a proper Museum of Photography. And a Museum of Fashion. We need things to lure foreign tourists back to London. And the pattern of work is changing. The City needs to think imaginatively and creatively about its future.

Standard

Whitechapel Station (2)

One of the consequences of the new Whitechapel Station is that you get a good view of some of the more obscure bits of old Whitechapel, behind the street façades:-

Standard

Whitechapel Station (1)

This post is a tiny bit geekie, but there was something rather wonderful about being able to walk through the main entrance of Whitechapel Station after about five years into a broad expanse of new station in preparation for the opening of Crossrail, which will tie three bits of line together – or four if you distinguish the District line from the Hammersmith and City. You can see what they have done from above, throwing a big expanse of new station across all three lines, behind the old Victorian shop fronts and the local dry cleaner:-

Standard

Brick Lane and beyond

I walked up Brick Lane.

I assume this is Bishopsgate Yard awaiting redevelopment:-

There’s a nice bit of unlikely decoration at the corner of Sclater Street:-

A residual memory of the furniture trade on a warehouse north of the Museum of the Home:-

The belfry of St. Chad, Haggerston, designed by James Brooks:-

A distant view of George Loveless House on the Dorset Estate, designed by Lubetkin:-

The west door of St. Peter’s, Bethnal Green, designed by Lewis Vulliamy:-

The architectural riches of Bethnal Green.

Standard

Museums as Culture Factories

I am posting information about a conversation I am doing at the National Gallery on Saturday 25th. September with Richard Williams, a Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures at Edinburgh, who has just written an excellent analysis of the current state of the public museum, concentrating on its status as part of the wider cultural economy, as much a part of movements in contemporary architecture as for the white cube display of contemporary art (as well as simultaneously publishing a book about Reyner Banham):-

https://forarthistory.org.uk/events/museums-as-culture-factories/

Standard

Out with the new!

As readers of my blog will know, I have been particularly struck Post-COVID by the pace of new building development in London. The streets may still be empty and people are not returning to work, but everywhere old buildings are being torn down and monstrous new buildings erected, as if the mere fact of redevelopment is a sign that the economy is in good shape. But much of it looks totally gratuitous. What is happening to French Railways House on Piccadilly is a good example. A good office building is being torn down to be replaced by a nearly equivalent bad one. If the government is remotely serious about issues of climate change (is it ?), it should surely be looking at whether this is necessary.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/18/the-guardian-view-on-buildings-out-with-the-new-for-the-planets-sake?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Standard

LEB Building (2)

Now that I have been alerted to the fact that the LEB Building on Cambridge Heath Road is on the Twentieth Century Society’s list of the Top 10 Twentieth Century Buildings at Risk (https://c20society.org.uk/news/top-10-c20-society-buildings-at-risk-list-2021#dismiss-cookie-notice), it seems all the more odd – and foolish – that Tower Hamlets, which owned the building up till 2017, should have sold it and be in the process of allowing its demolition for another big block of faceless flats. It is not as if Tower Hamlets has an overwhelming number of historically important buildings and, as has been pointed out, the LEB Building belongs to a vocabulary of post-war civic and urban reconstruction which is surely worth preserving – and indeed is a very important part of the history of Stepney and Bethnal Green, the heartland of post-war civic improvement. It seems that there is a Faustian pact between local government and developers: that local government wants and needs the income from development, so is prepared to sacrifice historic buildings irrespective of their historic importance and, equally important, of the environmental cost of preferring new build to conservation. It’s probably too late to do things differently, but it’s part of a pattern which will look crazy in retrospect.

Standard

Bethnal Green Road

To complete my peregrinations on the way to buy sushi (Sushi Show, highly recommended), I liked the capitals on the side of the Bethnal Green Tavern:-

And some of the shop windows:-

Standard