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27 February 2014

Battersea – we must rebuild it

Continuing from my from my last post about my tour of Covent Garden Flower Market and the area around Nine Elms.
I wrote a while back about how I am none too happy with the large ugly glass buildings that will be built to wrap around and obscure what is left of Battersea Power Station. All artist impressions or computer-generated images of how the site will look after the project is finished mostly show the area from the air or from the river, but I have not seen any views depicting how it will look from street level.
As we walked westwards along Nine Elms Lane I took some photos, shown top row, above (the bottom four pics were taken in February 2009). These views will not be possible once the new construction is in place. I noted how the brickwork of the building is in really poor condition. There is a hoarding that runs along the street with a quote on it. I now wish I'd made a note of whole thing. From my photos I can make out: "...have seen me before, but you don't know me. I stand here bold and strong. My proud heritage, combined with the future world, I will be like nothing you have seen..".
Further along near Battersea Park station, in Prince of Wales Drive, behind a lovely old wall made from London stocks are Battersea's gas holders and other buildings including an impressive 3-storey detached Victorian house called 'The Field'.
The lower floor of the house is at the moment being turned into a pop-up gallery for an exhibition of large framed photographs taken on a dull day with an expensive camera. It strikes me that if you care about a building and want to take some good shots of something you choose a good day for it as I did for my photos above.
The house itself is far more interesting than the framed prints. With a bit of elbow grease and tlc this sturdy brick structure that has stood there for approx 150 years would make a fantastic home or business space(s) as it contains most of its original features; hand-painted stained glass in the doors and windows, architectural mouldings, intricate Pugin-esque hallway floor tiles, and wooden stairs with curved wood and metal bannisters. I'd have included some pics of it here but we weren't allowed to take photos, though I couldn't really fathom why not.
Sadly this 2-acre site, including the 80-year old blue gas holder, and probably the surrounding wall as well, is going to be demolished to make way for – yes, you've guessed it – a development of metal and glass containing homes, shops and businesses – as if that hideous complex next door isn't bad enough.
It was all too much for me to take in and attempt to make sense of – too big, too much and too fast.
After seeing what was going to become of the Nine Elms area earlier that day, then walking past what's left of the power station, this was the final straw for me and it moved me to tears. Really, it did (sorry, this is 2014; I mean 'literally').
Ian Nairn used to get emotional about this kind of thing decades ago. He must be rolling in his grave. We are learning nothing – I doubt these glass replacements will last 50 years, let alone 150.
Soon there may be no historical details left for me to photograph and this blog will be all rants and sadness.
Sigh again.

25 February 2014

New Covent Garden Flower Market and the Promenade of Curiosities

Last Wednesday I went on a tour of the Nine Elms area. I have written about the some of the bad bits so here's the nice stuff.

I had never been inside New Covent Garden Flower Market before and really enjoyed listening to Helen Evans, director of business development and support as she told us all about imported plants, sundries, plant buying, problems with the existing building and the plans to relocate to the other side of the road near the fruit market. 
Flower prices are, of course cheaper and fresher at NCGFM  than from your local supermarket where they sit just inside the entrance doors batting to stay alive as the temperature changes by the minute. Anyone can shop at the market – you buy by wraps (bunches) and pay by the stem +VAT. It's option anxiety. I was really impressed by how many other things are available, not just plants – there are pots, planters, lights, ribbons, driftwood, fake flowers, architectural elements galore – anything you might need to make a display.

From there we wandered eastwards and heard about the The Promenade of Curiosities which will create a pedestrian walk linking Nine Elms through The Pleasure Gardens and all the way east to Lower Marsh. We stopped off half way for tea and scrummy cakes at the beautifully renovated Tea House Theatre, formerly the rather down market Queen Anne pub. Then along Vauxhall Walk and across Black Prince Road to look at the construction of Damien Hirst's new art gallery in Newport Street (bottom right) which I will probably write something scathing about when it opens (!).

21 February 2014

The Dubaiification of Nine Elms

Earlier this week, as part of a promotional walking tour around the Nine Elms, Battersea and Vauxhall area I got to see a the scale model of the plans.
My jaw dropped – I knew there was a lot of building work going on but I had no real concept how bullying and oppressive the scale would really be.
At the moment there is one very tall boring glass tube near Vauxhall station – you may recall that a helicopter crashed into it last year. Well, hold on to your hat – there are going to be plenty more tall buildings like that – pilots; take note!

The local councillors who were there, outlined the regeneration scheme and talked about iconic buildings and creating community (note: iconic buildings are not created; they become so, and community is not created; it evolves).
A skinny little grassy space will meander through the area intended to create environments for outdoor events, markets, fairs etc which will "link the town centres".
Towns? As far as I am aware 'Vauxhall town centre' is a train, tube and bus station. Where is the library, town hall, butchers and post office? It's got a nightlife though – there are over 20,000 people going there every weekend for the clubs and bars in the arches area. It's really 'Club Town', I suspect, due to the demise of the nightclub scene that used to be at Kings Cross.
I was not surprised to learn that retail spaces are planned for the ground floor of these new buildings, so expect to find all the same things you see everywhere else such as large coffee chains and express supermarkets with those annoying self-service check-outs. I doubt there will be any shops there selling normal things like groceries, haberdashery, hardware etc. Or pound shops for that matter.
I asked how much of this huge scheme had been sold already and got a woolly politician-style response. When I asked if the local community been involved in the plans, again, I got no real answer, just that there will be schools and health centres. Oh, so that's OK then.
The build is already underway, using glass from the US. I find it scary how so many enormous structures can be erected in one swathe. Nothing is allowed to evolve these days. What they are building here is, I think bigger than the City of London – a pop-up, slot-together 'Meccano' world.
But there are plenty of empty office spaces available in London, even in the pointy thing... so why build more? Just because there is a large piece of land that doesn't mean something big has to be built on it to fill the available space. It is beyond me how they can start with a blank canvas and yet still end up with a spider's web of outdoor areas that not that much different from high-rise housing estates of the 1970s.
And, regarding 'community', do the developers ever think to revisit the areas they have 'regenerated' 5, 10 or 15 years after to see if a community vibe has indeed taken hold? Has anyone been to the Isle of dogs lately?
It's so depressing.
If Ian Nairn was still alive today he would be as agitated by this as I am. Everything will end up looking like Dubai – a sea of glass and metal. Soon there won't be any details for me to find at all and the only things I will write about here will be rants about glass and loss.
For balance, here's Nine Elms' official site so you can hear their side.
Next week I'll write about plans for Battersea...

Actually, speaking of Ian Nairn... His series of programmes and his books about how he cared so much about the buildings around him just show that you don't have to be an architect to be interested in or have a view on or a love of architecture and how it makes us feel
If the BBC would like to make a similar series of programmes with a caring, opinionated, woman driving around the UK in an old Morris Minor... then look no further... I am here.  

For more of my posts in this vein London's please enter 'architecture' the search box top left.

18 February 2014

Mosaic musings at the National Gallery

I expect most people think all the interesting arty stuff at the National Gallery is hanging on the walls in the galleries.
But slow down as you climb the stairs in the vestibule (what a great word!) and look below your feet – the landings are covered in the most amazing mosaics created by Boris Anrep in the 1920-30s depicting the labours and pleasures of life.

It's a bizarre range of illustrated topics that features many famous people of the time and Anrep's arty friends in place of muses/mythological characters. These include Winston Churchill, Margot Fonteyn and Greta Garbo.
I am at a loss how some of the images tie up with the words but, that aside, they are fabulous. 
Lucidity, Astronomy, Compromise, Delectation,
Humour, Folly, Dance, Sixth Sense,
Pursuit, Art, Football, Defiance.

13 February 2014

A lack of movement in Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is full of statues including Nelson, George IV, some lions and a big blue cockerel that are made of stone, bronze and other strong arty substances, but there are also some other statues to be found there.
I am referring to the street entertainers who stand motionless like a statue but then move slightly or suddenly to scare or amaze passers-by.

I have seen some very clever ones in Barcelona, Prague, even Covent Garden, and marvelled at their strength and ability to stand still for so long, possibly just moving their eyes, but what we have here in Trafalgar Square these days are people making no real attempt at all – they don't even paint their bodies to look like statues any more. Instead they dress up head to toe in purchased outfits complete with rubber masks and then most of them wobble about on platform constructions intended to make it look like they are levitating. On the day I took these photos, back in November, there were four Star Wars characters including two Yodas and a girl in a Stormtrooper outfit who just made five minute attempts to hold poses but mostly stood around holding her helmet.
And the really annoying thing about this? People actually give them money!!!

10 February 2014

David Hockney's prints at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Blimey he's talented and prolific, as these snaps I took there clearly show.
The show is almost a how-to of print-making techniques and really inspirational.
More here – on until 11th May and well worth a visit.

6 February 2014

Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined

This fabulous show at the Royal Academy is really worth a visit and great for all ages; it's not just for people interested in architecture.
The seven exhibits have been cleverly built to interact with the RA's gallery spaces and are designed to inspire you to consider how architecture makes you feel, both mentally and physically.
Climb, make, smell, sit, engage, ponder...
Go... take the kids... they'll love it too.
On until April 6th. More info here.

4 February 2014

Tate Modern update

You may have read here before that I am not that keen on the Tate Modern.
I am delighted to share with you The London Column's thoughts on this building, entitled 'Sugary Fun' (AKA Turbine Hall Blues) – I particularly like his phrase "a sort of Battersea Funfair for the Boden Set.

I was going to put together 12 pics as usual, but it seems these are the only ones I have; three taken in May 2010 and a sign offering pens and paper that aren't going anywhere.
It appears I have no pics of the outside of the building at all – just goes to show to that I must just charge in and out of there on a mission. I really thought I'd taken some shots looking up at the chimney, and of patterns in the brick walls, but I must've imagined that, or just thought about it, or took them and deleted them as being the same as everyone else's.