Sunday, 31 January 2010

Sunday 31st Jan 2010. Upper Richmond Road, Putney, London SW15


These are actually quite spiky, and I wouldn't like to get tangled up in one, but I do like the generosity with which the line of commercial buildings pictured below offer themselves up to the street.

I also think they work pretty well en masse and, although variety is obviously the spice of life, I personally could quite happily imagine a whole district of this stuff, cascading bushes, recessed pointing, dark window frames and all.

Some draconian planning laws will be needed to achieve this of course, enforcing a strictly limited palette of materials, maximum building heights etc, which is all starting to sound a bit Poundburyesque...and is probably unhealthy.


One lovely thing about this chilly and in many ways depressing time of year is the poetry of the leafless tree.


Obviously this is the back of a building. Except it isn't. I checked.

Perhaps this nice mural is compensating for lack of refinement in the detailing elsewhere?

It seems today i've been holding my camera consistently about 1 degree out of level, and although i've been too lazy to correct this in photoshop i do promise to square my sh*t up next time

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Below a belated write up of our B&B daytrip to Barking before Christmas...

Sunday 6th December 2009: Barking Town Square, MUF Architecture/Art
/+ Peter Barber Architects - Tanner Street Gateway

There's a fairly full description of this scheme in a November issue of BD online giving a good overview of MUF's approach to the landscaping of this newly created series of public spaces.

The most notable features
are a fake-old folly which terminates the end of a piazza (and screens off the back end of a delivery yard) and a dell-like wooded area, which brings to mind some forgotten,non-picturesque fragment of Hampstead Heath.

Fronting the latter is a raised 'stage' which is rather crudely put together and both dell and stage are ringed by hurdle-like barriers 'protecting' the patches of wooded ground or keeping you safe from some fairly unthreatening little slopes.

There's also a concrete tree stump housing a water fountain (presumably for children as it's aperture is too small for an adult head), and an Alice in Wonderland chequer-board floor to the arcade fronting the re-vamped library building.

Despite Muf's apparent determination to embed their work into the hearts and minds of those who use or experience it, Barking square feels oddly alien - even aloof and it's quite easy to imagine the whole thing reassembled in the turbine hall of the Tate Modern and somehow making more sense there.

The other question our visit raised in my mind is why a firm with sufficient stamina and self belief to persist in what, over the years, must have been a pretty unsupportive climate, haven't executed here with more conviction, either in terms of detail or the weight of the conceptual punch.

The new buildings surrounding all this seem generally to scream out for more funding, or simpler detailing and it the only uplifting image I was left with on my camera for the whole trip was this council run sports centre which at least sits comfortably in it's own skin.

On our way back to the station we also took a turn around the Peter Barber designed Tanner Street Gateway project where three mid-size slabs of social housing have been replaced by 2.5 street's worth of terraced 'dwellings' - which is an urban planning point bluntly put - and one which I would guess demostrates accurately the temperature of the times.

What this appears to offer over it's bulldozed precursor is safer communal space (ie overlooked streets) and a reduction in the impact of antisocial behaviour (of the weeing-in-the lift/loitering in the stairwell type) though whether you buy into the former may depend on whether you can think of any streets you've ever avoided walking down.

For me the reality is that these are really quasi-streets - being considerably narrower than those which neighbour the development and with no front gardens, hedges, fences etc to define the private realm. And while opening your front door directly onto the street worked when the only traffic was the rag and bone man, these ones unsurprisingly, are full of cars - both parked-up and in motion.

All this may or may not point to the irony that, having pulled down three large residential blocks it's then quite difficult to shoe-horn the same number of people back into a couple of terraced streets....

Jan 21st - London

Photographer Jamie Barras has collected (and, crucially, annotated) rather decent photos of buildings in London for every decade since 1840...which makes interesting comparative viewing and has helped me put (architects') names to a lot of buildings I've seen over the years but never properly identified. (Jamie Barris Flickr Site)

Monday, 18 January 2010

17th Jan 2010 Farnham, Surrey

You'll need to zoom in on the photo but here's what I like about this...

1. dark window frames
2. brick soldier course 'plinth' - even though i'm not sure it's working very well
3. chamfered brick on edge window cills
4. the way the side gate is surrounded by a kind of flying buttress which morphs seamlessly into the facade
5. funky font and random positioning of '13' and 'Flat 1' - and that it's black
6. blackness of the roofing tiles.
7. corbelled eaves gable
8. the way the party wall projects up in a highly positive manner and the jagged lead flashing

If I were commissioned to tidy it up a bit here's what I'd do:

1. change the front door and paint it black
2. have a look at what's going on with that lead panel above the front door and paint those three horizontal bars black
3. paint the gate to 'no.4', you guessed it, black (and change their letter box)
4. change the velux for one of these.
5. do a stepped lead flashing on the other party wall
6. move the bin out of shot before taking the photo for my portfolio

Monday, 4 January 2010


I am extremely proud of having found this building in Rome (area Pyramide) and would lay down a challenge to all comers to find anything remotely like it in the rest of the city....which possibly proves something Terry Kirk points out in his very useful guide to 20C Italian Architecture..which is that while Milan was open to rationalism & technology for it's post war architecture , Rome wasn't so keen - preferring to keep faith with ideas based on mass and monumentality* instead. (More images here).


The area in Rome where I stayed over Christmas is about twenty minutes walk from the historic centre south of the Tiber, is almost entirely residential and, I'd guess, began to be developed in the 1930s.

It's typical structure is the apartment block between 5 and 8 storeys high, squarish on plan, sometimes with parking below but often not. A block might have fifteen flats in it and these blocks follow the streets, which follow the hilly ground.

While it all works well enough (apart from the desperate lack of parking) there's precious little to point a camera at either, so I was glad to find this - which I am told was quite well publicised when built - and which now functions as an old people's home on the lower floors and private apartments above.

Anyone who saw my photos last month of Lockyer House in Putney will no doubt be immediately struck by the connection.


Lastly, a big hulking chunk of raw concrete in the form of the Lyceo Scientifico Statale 'G.B.Morgagni' which demonstrates the sublime marriage of verdure, concrete and decay as well as the tendency brutalist architects have to use a particular colour of blue for their entrance gates (see here for another example of this little known phenomenon).

And if anyone has a picture of a knobblier bit of bush hammering, then I'd like to see it.

*Kirk sites Rome's Fosse Ardeatine war memorial as being a key example of this Roman monumentalism.

Additional images of all of the above buildings can be found on my Flickr site and I apologise in advance for the quality which does't by any means do them justice. From now on I take the proper camera.