Herzog & de Meuron

I read the long and rightly admiring profile of Herzog and de Meuron in today’s FT,  but was surprised to find that there was no mention of their biggest projects currently in London – the two huge new office blocks, one of which is cantilevered on top of Liverpool Street Station.   This, if it is permitted, will become part of their legacy:  two elephantine and bland office blocks which will disfigure this part of the city.

I am hugely looking forward to their exhibition at the RA and am a great admirer of their international museum work, but it is sad that they are willing to lend their name and reputation to one of the grosser examples of current corporate development.

https://on.ft.com/3lztk48 via @FT


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (111)

The Gentle Author is quite rightly keeping the fate of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the public eye (see below).

I had myself noticed last time I passed that it looks increasingly dilapidated. There is a risk that the current owner, Raycliff Estates, is allowing it to deteriorate in order to make Tower Hamlets more flexible about its future use, because at the moment there is a requirement that some portion of it is turned back into a bell foundry, which obviously limits its commercial value.

What is frustrating is that the London Bell Foundry has a well worked out and commercially viable business plan to put back the foundry element, whilst at the same time modernising the work that is done in the foundry by the use of new (and clean) technology.

This would require Raycliff to lease the foundry to the London Bell Foundry or agree to its sale. But there is said to be an alternative client who has expressed interest. It will be interesting to find out who this client is and what their plans are, since there is no evidence yet of them seeking planning permission. And planning permission would be conditional on reinstating a foundry.

Tower Hamlets should, of course, intervene. It was their planning department which supported the scheme to turn the building into a hotel. Tower Hamlets must have a tourism strategy. There are not so many buildings of international significance which could become tourist attractions so close to the City. The New Town Hall is just up the road. Perhaps the Chief Executive could convene a meeting of interested parties to see if there is a workable solution ? Or could Historic England do this ? Someone should.



Hylton Nel (1)

One of my all-time heroes, Hylton Nel, is showing work in an exhibition at Charleston, opening next week, and I am looking forward to talking to him next Saturday.



Phyllida Barlow (1)

We have spent the day mourning the totally unexpected death of Phyllida Barlow who we saw not so long ago at the opening of her joint exhibition at Gagosian in Paris – Hurly-Burly, now closed. She was, as ever, full of an immense joie de vivre, and it feels unreasonably cruel that she should have been struck down.

Of many articles about her work, I admired Tanya Harrod’s:-



Sir Christopher Wren (3)

I devoted my monthly column in The Critic to Sir Christopher Wren to mark the tercentenary of his death, trying so far as is possible – it is not easy – to give a sense of his personality, which seems to have been pretty reticent, incredibly hard working, able to get on with successive monarchs, and in the end, upset by the way he was ousted from the Office of Works, which had the benefit that he sat down to document his life in Parentalia.

A great man, as well as a great architect.



Anthony Green RA (2)

I went to Cambridge to bid farewell to Anthony Green RA, who I always liked when I was at the RA, always jovial and full of good commonsense.

This was the picture of him on the order of service, copyright James Hunkin:-


Marmalade Lane

Inspired by Rowan Moore’s article about new housing developments (see below), I stopped off at Marmalade Lane, one of the recent schemes he cites, which I knew about, but had never seen.

It doesn’t seem very difficult to see why it’s better than the acres of nondescript housing by which it’s surrounded: more solidly constructed, a bit smaller scale, more variety, involving the owners in the design of the interior, making sure it’s properly insulated, being attentive to the idea that a house should be a part of a living community. There are chickens in the back yard. After four years, it feels lived in and two people were happy to chat about what it’s like and show me the big back garden. This kind of friendliness on a remote housing estate is pretty unusual. I could have had a cup of tea in the community café if I’d located it.

I don’t quite understand why successive housing ministers find these ideas so hard to grasp, except that many of them may have received funding from the volume house builders who are the bulwark of Tory donors, so that, as a result, we have had twelve years of much crap new housing and no solutions to the housing shortage.

Gove’s latest idea is that there should be a new Architecture School focussed on urbanism which would mean that we might have some new housing designed on different principles in about twenty years time. Perhaps his civil servants could take him on a little tour. Perhaps they could go on a tour themselves.



Lucie Rie

I stopped off at Kettle’s Yard to see the Lucie Rie exhibition, which was much more varied than I had expected, showing the full range of her work. beginning in Vienna in the 1930s:-

To buttons she made as an enemy alien in the early 1940s:-

To earthenware bowls in the late 1940s:-

To teapots for Heal’s:-

And stoneware jugs:-

To prototypes for Wedgwood (rejected):-

More elaborately decorated work from the 1970s:-

To a late, translucent, porcelain bowl:-

This was her showroom in Albion Mews:-

The exhibition was designed (beautifully) by David Kohn, with graphics by A Practice of Everyday Life.


David Chipperfield (2)

PS There is a very good and characteristically thoughtful interview with David Chipperfield in a new volume called Imagining the Museum: 21 Dialogues with Architects edited by Andras Szanto (https://www.hatjecantz.de/andrs-sznt-8307-1.html). Highly recommended.


David Chipperfield (1)

A very nice article by Edwin Heathcote about David Chipperfield winning the Pritzker Prize, for those who have an FT subscription (see below).

I’m particularly pleased, for obvious reasons, that it mentions the work he has done – and is still doing – at the Royal Academy, for which I sometimes feel he didn’t get the credit he deserved: partly because it opened not long before lockdown; partly because it is lowkey, about renovation, stitching two buildings together and reinstating a lecture theatre where there was a lecture theatre before; and partly because, as at the Neues Museum, he worked with Julian Harrap as conservation architect in an effective partnership. But these are precisely its virtues, fitting into the surrounding city and sensitive to its history, instead of being a big personal statement.

Like Heathcote, I just assumed he had won the Pritzker long ago.

https://on.ft.com/3YtTRxp via @FT