Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones

There is a very good interview with Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones in this month’s RIBA Journal, which gives a sense of their respective personalities (see below).   Considering how much important work they have done, particularly in central London – the Royal Opera House, the Ondaatje Wing at the NPG, the opening up of the Somerset House courtyard and King’s Place, not to forget the Saïd Business School in Oxford – I often feel that their work has not been as much studied or appreciated as it deserves, partly because they set up in partnership relatively late, partly because the Royal Opera House is very sensitive to its scale and relationship to its surroundings and partly because, in different ways, they were both influenced by the change in attitude towards history and modernism during the 1970s, as indeed was Jim Stirling, but this doesn’t seem to have affected his fame and reputation. I worked with them very closely at the NPG and subsequently at the National Gallery. I still regard them as the nicest and best of architects – a good double act, both of them working together on both projects, although they tended to work not quite so closely thereafter. I particularly like the photograph of them in 1973 as young, hippy idealists, which they partly remain.


Stirling Prize 2021 (2)

An interesting choice of winner for this year’s Stirling Prize: good that the Town House, commissioned by Kingston University, acts at the intersection of town and gown; good that the prize has been won by Grafton Architects, intelligent, lowkey Irish architects. The Cambridge Central Mosque by Marks Barfield may have been a bit too obvious. One faintly wonders if the jury were really able to see the Windermere Jetty Museum in situ. My own limited experience of architectural juries is that one can’t help but be influenced by the way a project is presented by its client and by the quality of construction, which doesn’t show up in photographs. So, the bookies got it wrong.


Bishop Auckland

I came back last night from a day visiting the astonishing and wonderful new Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland, financed philanthropically by Jonathan Ruffer in what was a bank in the market square:-

There’s a new entrance to the square by Nìall McLaughlin, based on a siege tower:-

He has also designed what will be a new Museum of Faith in the Castle grounds:-

I particularly admired the tomb of Bishop Trevor in the medieval chapel, not to mention the Zurbaráns in the dining room:-


Museums in the 21st. Century (2)

I realise that I hadn’t mentioned watching the three-part series about the Met., made last year which was its 150th. anniversary and which gave a remarkable insight into the individual and collective trauma of having to close its doors in the year that it should have been celebrating.   Things that stick in the mind are Keith Christiansen, the chairman of the department of European Paintings, explaining that he felt it was time to hand on the baton; the intensity and fervour with which Daniel Weiss, its President, explained how the institution had to change; and the overall sense of them all coping while New York was in crisis. There have been plenty of other films about museums – I think particularly of Frederick Wiseman’s epic about the National Gallery – but few which have given such a clear and fair-minded idea of their workings behind the scenes. On BBC Four and well worth watching.


Museums in the 21st. Century (1)

I happened on the attached podcast in which theee museum directors – of the National Gallery, the Met and Yale Center for British Art – discuss the consequences of COVID on their institutions: their closure to the public, 300 days for the National Gallery which had to close three times over; the migration online and development of new digital programmes; what to do about suspect sources of funding, in which Gabriele Finaldi and Dan Weiss imply, but do not state, that their institutions depend on philanthropy, so are under some degree of obligation to honour the terms of historic gifts; and new ways of interpreting their collections, in which Courtney Martin in Yale has been the most radical.

My own recent experience of the National Gallery has been the benefit of fewer surrounding crowds which makes possible more close and concentrated looking, which runs counter to the drive to increase visitor numbers (and revenue).

All three directors talk interestingly about the challenges of COVID, but surprisingly little about the loss of revenue and staff.


A full tank

I was tipped off that one of our local petrol stations has fuel, so nipped off to fill up.

I read today in the Times that Johnson will remain in power as long as the British secretly enjoy the Blitz spirit. But I am not totally convinced that sloping off to enjoy a buckshee holiday in the Spanish sun is exactly in the blitz spirit; more that of a quisling.


22, Bishopsgate

It may legitimately be felt that I am slightly obsessed about 22, Bishopsgate, the monster that has appeared out of nowhere to blight every view of the City, given permission by the City fathers who I hope now regret it.

This is what it looked like a couple of nights ago on my way to the dry cleaners. Scary:-


The absence of petrol

Luckily, we had half a tank of petrol when the petrol strike hit. But since I keep being told that it is all in the imagination, there is no shortage of petrol, it’s just a typical complaint of Remainers upset about not being able to buy avocados and about the slaughter of pigs, who the Prime Minster assures us would have died anyway – this I assume was his COVID policy as well – we ventured out. None of the garages in East London had a drop of normal fuel. Plenty of diesel, of course. So, that’s our last expedition for a bit. Then I remembered that the Prime Minister is on holiday in Marbella after complaining that the British people are pathologically lazy.

It is a mystery to me that his poll ratings hold up.


The Warner Estate

We walked in Lloyd Park behind the William Morris Gallery admiring the quality of the adjacent terrace housing on the Warner Estate. As Michael Gove considers what to do about ensuring higher quality housing through design codes, it’s maybe worth remembering that these issues have been faced before. Thomas Courtenay Warner, the Mayor of Walthamstow and a liberal MP, ensured high-quality social housing on his family estate by insisting on good building materials, standardisation, but with a degree of latitude in the decoration, long streets, local parks and plentiful trees. Not difficult, but apparently normally beyond the capacity of cheese-paring volume builders:-


Young Poland

The Willism Morris Gallery in Walthamstow have got a very enterprising exhibition about the Polish Arts and Crafts movement, which was very obviously parallel to comparable movements in other parts of Europe – fiercely nationalistic, while at the same time very aware of equivalent work elsewhere, inspired in its origin by the charismatic Stanisław Wyspiański:-

Some of it was very theatrical:-

They absorbed crafts traditions into their building techniques, as they settled an area round Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains, reviving traditional crafts:-

Beautiful batik wall hanging:-

It’s a very impressive exhibition for a small gallery to have put on, with a big accompanying book.