A Daily Dose of Architectural Books

One of my pleasures of the last year has been being a subscriber to A Daily Dose of Architectural Books, which is a wonderful way of keeping up-to-date with global architectural publishing. John Hill selects and then provides information about a new architectural book, occasionally adding an account of an old one. It is a formidable public service. Today he has posted his favourites from the last year:-



The Garden Café

Christmas has come early in the form of a book written by George Ryle, the Head Chef at the Garden Café, and published by the Garden Museum. I’ve realised that it’s too late to get copies in time for Christmas, but I strongly recommend it as a treat for the New Year: so clear, beautifully produced like the food it describes, focussed on good ingredients, designed by Webb and Webb, with no less than four coloured page markers. What could be nicer ! Order form is (I hope):-



Holboellia Latiforia

Our garden had a radical clearance yesterday, out of which emerged a fruit – or is it a vegetable ? – which I have never seen before: Holboellia Latiforia, which apparently comes from Nepal, its fruit described by our friends at Crûg Farm as sausage-shaped, purplish and pulpy. They are apparently edible, but I have yet to try:-


The Charity Commission

I feel that not enough attention has been paid to the recent selection and rapid de-selection of a new chairman (highly paid) of the Charity Commission, a role of considerable importance in monitoring the operation and probity of the charity sector. The process took a long time. It presumably involved highly paid headhunters to identify suitable candidates.

So who was selected ?

A man who had read classics at Oxford with the Prime Minister, is said to be a close family friend, who established a charity which presented the Prime Minister with a Russian watch when he was Mayor (what could possibly have justified a charity doing this ?) and is now revealed to have stood down from a charity for accidentally sending an employee pictures of himself posing in a ladies’ lingerie firm. It would be hard to make this up. The best person to run the charity sector was deemed to be this man ? I can’t think why.



The Downing Street Christmas Party (7)

The attached BBC News report from a year ago is quite a useful reminder of how the police were terrorising people for breach of COVID rules: two people fined £200 for going for a country walk five miles from their home with cups of tea regarded as illegal on the grounds that they were a picnic.

It becomes weirder and weirder that the police cannot see a conflict between the way they prosecuted (and are still prosecuting) pretty innocent people while at the same time regarding Downing Street as exempt. What were they thinking ? I can see that it is a bit tricky for the Chief of Police to tell the Prime Minister to behave. But the Cabinet Secretary ? And the Downing Street Head of HR who encouraged staff to leave by the back door ? What were they all thinking ?

I ask this having watched the Prime Minister be interviewed on Sky News about the North Shropshire by-election. It’s clear that he feels absolutely no responsibility or culpability whatsoever, not a scintilla of awareness that he might be personally in any way to blame. It’s the same as the look of absolute gormlessness when people objected to Dominic Cummings going home to Durham. A lifetime of getting away with things has left him startlingly ill prepared to accept responsibility for things going wrong as they so obviously are at the moment.



The Downing Street Christmas Party (6)

It looks like Sue Gray is a sensible person to take over the enquiry into the increasingly numerous reports of Christmas parties in Downing Street last Christmas: highly experienced, very independent-minded, with a lot of experience of conducting these sorts of enquiries, including Andrew Mitchell’s behaviour, when he called the officers on duty ‘plebs’ and the police on duty once again disgraced themselves by embroidering the evidence.

I think she should look most of all at the reason for the police refusing to investigate, implying that there is no evidence, when it would seem pretty obvious that there is no end of evidence, including emails, party invitations, photographs, and plenty of people willing to shop their colleagues to the press. But investigation should have been the responsibility of the police at the time, not of the press long after the event and their abrogation of any responsibility is one of the worst aspects of it all.


Chris Wilkinson: In Memoriam

I was extremely upset to read of the death of Chris Wilkinson yesterday – a very good architect and an exceptionally nice, decent and shrewd person who devoted a great deal of time and energy to the Royal Academy when I was there, including chairing the Client Committee which was responsible for the major building project in Burlington Gardens and being Treasurer, a very onerous role, during the last three years. He did quite a bit of work in East London, including the Stratford Market Depot for the Jubilee Line and the Arts Two Building for Queen Mary with a wall to the main road designed by Jacqui Poncelet (he was interested in collaboration with artists).

In 2015, he asked me to write the introduction to a book about his drawings and I reproduce part of it in his memory:-

Through knowing Chris at the RA, I became a great admirer of his work and of his practice.   Some of it I already knew before coming to the RA, like Magna in Rotherham, the highly inventive science centre in a disused industrial building, which won the Stirling Prize for architecture in 2001;  the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which snakes across the River Tyne connecting Newcastle to its long-standing urban rival to the south and which won the Stirling Prize the following year;  and the elegant twisting bridge which connects the Royal Opera House to the Royal Ballet School across the street.   I even remember seeing the Stratford Market Depot, one of the early projects on the then new Jubilee line, when I was a judge on the Building of the Year Award some time in the mid-1990s.

More recently, I had the opportunity to be taken round the amazing Wilkinson and Eyre project in Singapore:  Gardens by the Bay, which consists of great bubble domes of exotic botanical specimens celebrating biodiversity in an equatorial city.   I am very familiar with Arts Two, the project he and his firm completed recently on the campus of Queen Mary, University of London, which is just up the road from where we live in east London and which includes a ceramic façade of books by Jacqueline Poncelet, indicating his willingness to work and collaborate with artists.   And, for the Summer Exhibition in 2012, Chris designed a very beautiful, extremely simple, geometric installation for the courtyard which consisted of a series of frames converting from Landscape to Portrait.

What I didn’t know — but it doesn’t at all surprise me — is the extent to which Chris thinks about the process of designing new buildings projects by way of drawing in a sketchbook which he carries with him.   I love the way he describes the process of drawing in the introduction to this book, as a system of facilitation for the process of thinking, working out his ideas on paper.   He does this not with any conscious aesthetic intent, but the results are frequently aesthetically pleasing precisely because they are pure expressions of design thinking.

What one sees in the book are the different ways in which he uses drawings:  the outline doodle;  the slightly more worked out sketch;  the ground plan showing the use of space;  the more finished watercolour;  the presentation drawing done to seduce a client;  the depiction of a particular detail which is worrying him;   the drawing which looks as if it has been done for pure pleasure.   They are infinitely various and demonstrate very clearly the ways in which he uses drawing as a visual language, now sadly rare.


North Shropshire

So, the rural communities of North Shropshire stretching east-west from Oswestry to Whitchurch – farming country, pro-Brexit – have sent a very clear message to Westminster and the country as a whole: they do not like the Prime Minister, they do not trust him, they abhor his dishonesty and would like him to go. So what happens next ? The conservative vote is 31% down from 62% to 31% – a lamentable figure. The liberal vote is 37% up to 47% of the electorate. I just hope that this might bring the liberals and labour to the table to discuss the so-called Progressive Alliance. You only have to look at the statistics to see that a minority of the country supports this government and the majority needs to work together to boot them out.


John Wonnacott: A Biographical Study

I have just been filling out the Marketing Questionnaire for the book I wrote during the toughest part of lockdown on the work of John Wonnacott, an artist whose paintings I have always admired ever since the National Portrait Gallery commissioned him to paint John Major, while Major was still (but only just) in office as Prime Minister, looking a bit forlorn in one of the grander rooms in 10, Downing Street, with Norma sitting in the window seat behind him. Four years later, Wonnacott himself suggested that he might paint a portrait of the entire Royal Family to mark the millennium. I thought it was extremely unlikely that they would agree, but to my surprise they did and so he painted a great set-piece portrait of them all. At the time, he was represented by Agnew’s, one of the leading Old Master dealers who had very grand premises on Bond Street. They were able to negotiate the sale of his work to both the Tate and Metropolitan Museum.

The book will be published by Lund Humphries in September.