We went to a fund-raising event at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields last night organised by Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, based on their podcast ‘The Rest is History’ which I didn’t know about, but the rest of the audience obviously did, not least from the cheers which greeted Holland and all the other speakers. They managed to tell us an incredible amount about global history in a spectacularly short time through extreme compression and concentrating on a rapid narrative, employing other experts to fill in the narrative in rapid-fire, two-minute slots, a way of talking about the past which seemed to work unexpectedly well. So now I must pay more attention to their podcasts (https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-rest-is-history/id1537788786).
Some time ago, I went to look at some of the new architecture in Oxford, particularly the fine new library at St. John’s by Wright and Wright and the new buildings at St. Hilda’s by Gort Scott, both good examples of what can be achieved by thoughtful clients and a long-term view of architecture. I don’t think it’s just a matter of money. Below are my reflections.
I have very much enjoyed reading Iconicon, an oddly titled, but immensely absorbing history of the last forty years of building development by John Grindrod, subtitled ‘A Journey Around the Landmark Buildings of Contemporary Britain’. It feels like the first draft of history, making sense of a mass of contemporary journalism by treating the material thematically, beginning with postmodernism and the development of docklands through the advent of the national lottery and the era of grand projets, including an account of the Millennium Dome, the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and the Scottish Parliament, a very detailed and damning account of Grenfell Tower, and ending with supportive descriptions of the work of Peter Barber in Donnybrook Quarter and Ordnance Road in Enfield, and the work of Assemble in Granby in Liverpool. The lesson of the book is that iconic buildings by big name practices have been of much less benefit than smaller, more local projects by the less well known: a good lesson post-Covid.
I have just discovered a relation who till this morning I didn’t know existed, my great aunt, Helen, who is commemorated in a fine piece of stained glass in Steyning Church, north of Worthing. I had assumed that all my great aunts had lived in Australia, where they migrated in 1890 when Helen was twelve, but she must have returned to England and lived in Sussex unmarried. I don’t ever remember her being mentioned, so would be interested to know more about her life, if anyone knows.
I have been asked a few questions by Inigo, the posh estate agency which was born out of The Modern House and is based on the same principle of being selective in what they take on, providing good quality photography and accurate architectural information. It makes me sound a bit of an old soak, but maybe that’s just a consequence of being closeted during lockdown with no consolation apart from wine:-
In case any of you are in the vicinity of Petworth on June 17th., I am doing a talk in the Newlands Gallery on ‘The Rise of the Private Gallery’, followed by lunch for those who want it nearby. I didn’t want to just repeat talks I have given on my book over the last year, so I have chosen a topic which I half covered, but only half.
It’s only just over a year since my book on art museums was published. It seems longer ago, partly because the text was delivered on 31st. March 2020, a week after lockdown and so inevitably reflects a more confident and optimistic era. I added a final conclusion to reflect the changes which I could see were coming. It is possibly too apocalyptic. But I hope the book still stands as a historic record of museums as they developed in the post-war era, becoming ever bigger, more architectural, more civic in their view of their responsibilities.
It’s five years since the Garden Museum, so Dow Jones, its architects, gave a talk about the nature of their practice in the nave surrounded by their earlier interventions: thoughtful, lowkey, interweaving sometimes lightweight architecture with the natural world. Their extension to the Garden Museum has worn well, inserted to the north of the church, with the effect of a cloister surrounding Dan Pearson’s small garden at its heart and retaining the adjacent medieval wall of Lambeth Palace. Their other projects obviously have many of the same qualities, particularly their Maggie’s Centre in Cardiff, although on a difficult site, which also has a garden at its centre; and I’m pleased to see that they’re working on the Bevis Marks Synagogue.