I have just been listening to the latest episode of the Londown (https://open-city.org.uk/the-londown), an excellent weekly programme about what is happening in architecture. This week is concerned with Michael Gove’s decision to call in the plans to demolish Marks and Spencer’s building in Oxford Street. It does feel as if there could be a mood swing in attitudes towards new building: this decision to protect a perfectly good if not especially distinguished 1920s commercial building instead of replacing it with a deeply undistinguished new building; the decision to appoint the most conservation-minded of the entries to the competition to re-do the Barbican; the apparent success of a scheme to convert Hammonds of Hull, a department store, into a food market; these suggest efforts to look for imaginative new uses for existing buildings instead of just demolishing them. Now, it just needs Gove to call in the planned monstrous development by Make next door to the National Theatre to demonstrate his support for this new policy direction. It would be condemned for its conservatism; but it is about the future as much as the past. The ITV scheme by Make is a 1950s dream of the future by a 70-year old architect. Younger architects have a much more imaginative attitude towards re-use, refurbishment and protection of the planet, as well as of old buildings. It feels as if Gove sees this and supports it.
I have been pretty sceptical about the City Corporation allocating £150 million to the idea of a radical transformation of the Barbican just at the moment when it is being properly appreciated as an architectural monument, but the team selected look well qualified to renew it and regenerate without changing its character overmuch: not least Asif Khan who is also working on the Museum of London, so there could be a chance to look at the culture of this part of the City as a whole, once the new Farringdon Station opens later this year; it needs a project of cultural regeneration instead of commercial over development. Plus Alan Baxter, who are based in Cowcross Street so use the neighbourhood every day. And Isaac Julien. Good choices.
I should have said that the exhibition about Maurice Dorfman is in Clapham Public Library, conveniently close to Clapham High Street station which is on the Orange Line (I travelled straight back to Whitechapel) and Clapham North which is on the Northern Line (but remember that the Moorgate branch is partly closed), and part of the pleasure of the exhibition is the way it is laid out through the library, which, whatever its defects as a library, works well as a space for exploration. Also, the exhibition was originally going to close at the end of this week, but has now been extended to May 28th. If it wasn’t already obvious, I strongly recommend it and attach a) a piece in the Guardian about it:-
And, b) the website address of the exhibition which tells you how to buy the book:-
A friend, Jim Grover, who is a photographer, spent a lot of lockdown documenting the life and shop of a haberdasher called Maurice Dorfman, who had a shop on Clapham High Street called Jeannette, next door to the Railway Tavern (it’s still there). I never visited the shop and don’t remember it – not really my part of town. But the story and the pictures are fascinating, a microcosm of the life of a small trader – Jewish, single – starting out in his parents workshop, De Harmo, and then after his parents died and his brother emigrated, running the shop on his own until his death in 2020.
This was Maurice:-
This was a workshop in East London of the type Dorfman’s grandfather would have worked in (I thought it was Ukraine where the family came from):-
It’s a wonderful piece of visual and sociological documentation, showing the amazing richness – sailing, dancing, Harley Davidsons – of an everyday life.
If any of you are near Bruton over the next month or so – it’s a good place to stop if you are driving to Devon – there is a treat in store.
The only thing about being away for Easter is that we may have missed the best of the tulips:-
There is a very good and level-headed analysis by Rowan Moore in this morning’s Observer (in the main paper, not the The New Review) of Make’s plans to create a huge new office development right next to the National Theatre. The question is whether or not it is right to have a new office development on this scale on such a highly sensitive sight right opposite William Chamber’s Somerset House, particularly since, because of the curve of the river, it will dominate views east from Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. Moore suggests that Michael Gove calls the scheme in. I sincerely hope he will.
We went to see a preview of the new film about the Queen which is due to be released on May 24th. just in time for the Platinum Jubilee.
We had seen a preliminary version some time ago, which was a touch more personal, with more private film footage of family life in the 1950s. Now, it is more about the Queen as icon in the late twentieth century – by turns, funny, charming, revealing, affectionate, getting close to being sentimental, but staying on the right side of the line, a very tricky tightrope to have to walk, possibly too glorifying for a younger generation and not quite reverent enough for Palace officials, but for anyone born in the 1950s, as the late Roger Michell was who directed it, inescapably nostalgic, including news reel footage of the Coronation, the Queen as a child, her passion for horse racing, the requirement to go on endless factory visits, never putting a foot wrong, with very occasional glimpses of humour behind the never-ending imperturbability, ending with HM and David Attenborough looking at the labels on the trees in the garden at Buckingham Palace or maybe it was Windsor. Terribly and touchingly moving. At least that was my view seeing it again on the big screen.
We happened to listen to the PM Programme yesterday just after the Prime Minister had been referred to the Committee of Privileges for lying nem. con. At long last, it felt as if the whole structure of the recent extremist tory party erected by Boris Johnson is falling down. No Nadine Dorries or Jacob Rees-Mogg coming out to defend him, saying that decency, honesty and integrity in politics are just a piece of fluff which can happily be ignored by shysters and millionaires in top hats. Instead, at long last, the mainstream of the party grappling with their consciences as to whether or not it is really in their interests to have a pathological and serial liar at their helm who had mistaken Carrie and champagne in the Cabinet Room as a work meeting and, it seems, has almost certainly been photographed dancing to Abba in his flat on the night Cummings left Downing Street. I liked the analogy of the boy who is contrite only for as long as he is in the headmaster’s study and then jokes and beams and shows no trace of contrition in a room full of his co-conspirators, which is presumably exactly what happened and seems to have revolted even them.