The definitive ‘Guide to the Architecture of London’, first published in 1983, is now available as a free app. Authors Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward revisit some personal highlights for AT.
Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward’s enduring ‘Guide to the Architecture of London’ has been developed as a free app by The Architecture Foundation. More than 1100 buildings, each with photos and a critical text, are GPS co-ordinated and can be filtered by proximity, architect, type and date. The app, designed for Apple’s iOS system by QIP Creative and supported by Brockton Properties, will be updated annually. It can be downloaded from iTunes.
Christ Church Spitalfields – 1714-29, Nicholas Hawksmoor
The 15-year-long restoration of Christ Church was controversial – some had preferred the semi-ruin that it had become after the second world war and would have opted for conservation. The reputations of both Hawksmoor and the church have grown over the years since James Stirling (to whom a memorial slab near the entrance is dedicated) and the later the authors visited it as students. The setting of the church, the open graveyard to the south, was severely compromised by the erection of a single-storey building, opened in 2015 for use by the church school.
Pickering Place – 1731
As the scope and content of the original book emerged from conversations, we decided that we probably didn’t do ‘charm’ and that we would avoid anecdotes (“Mary Queen of Scots slept here”). Our editor was tickled by – and never let us forget – one of our few excursions into the ‘Betjemanesque’ when we described this very modest little court as “a surprising tiny enclave”. It still is. It suggests that there’s a place for a guide (or app) to the many surviving examples of backland architecture that would include the many drab, smelly and occasionally frightening alleys and short-cuts through blocks et cetera.
Bedford Square – c1775, Thomas Leverton
We were students at the Architectural Association in the late 1950s and early 60s, and the view from the first floor of its Bedford Square premises was then notionally reserved as rooms for the ‘Membership of the Association’. Leverton’s handsome, high-ceilinged rooms now provoke memories of the events, successes and failures of our time. Over those 60 years the square has survived threats of encroachment from its surroundings, the use of one side as a major traffic through-route, and changes in the use of its buildings from houses to offices and back to houses. The square’s inaccessible plane trees have just kept growing taller.
Cenotaph – 1919-20, Edwin Lutyens
In our time at the AA, Lutyens’ name was rarely if ever mentioned, eclipsed by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn, who were all then still very much alive. It was probably Robert Venturi’s book ‘Complexity and Contradiction’ (1966) and friends who’d become involved in the Victorian Society who first made the appreciation of Lutyens respectable for us Modern Architects. There were two Cenotaphs: the first, in wood and plaster, thrown up very quickly in 1919 and (we speculate) with flat vertical planes and levels horizontal. The second version, inaugurated in November the following year, was in Portland stone. It incorporates very sophisticated ‘visual refinements’: battered vertical planes, and an extraordinary system of measurements, including multiples of one-fortieths of an inch. One of us speculates, so far inconclusively, that it is these that give the monument an allure similar to that of a Greek temple.
Midland Bank – 1924-39, Edwin Lutyens
Working on successive editions of the guide over the past three decades, Edwin Lutyens has for us been almost unique in the continued enhancement of his reputation. We are reminded that when Mies was preparing his unbuilt project for Mansion House Square across the road he had great respect for Midland Bank. And so here at this important intersection, Lutyens takes his place in a small Pantheon of British Architects – Wren, Hawksmoor, Dance, Soane and more recently Stirling. Recently it has been converted into a grand hotel and club, named ‘The Ned’ in Lutyens’ honour; its splendid former banking halls are now appreciated as a venue for London’s present insatiable enthusiasm for eating and drinking.
Penguin Pool – 1934-35, Lubetkin and Tecton
Modern architecture made a tentative arrival in Britain in the 1930s, and it is an irony that the gorillas and penguins of London Zoo should have been among the first to enjoy its pleasures. The penguins, which once patiently lined up on the flamboyant ramps of the Penguin Pool in a parody of city gents, have now been relocated to a less distinguished and muddy venue, a consequence of ‘health and safety’.
Ham Common Flats – 1958, Stirling & Gowan
In opposition to the limp ‘Swedish Modern’ that pervaded much British architecture of the Festival of Britain era, these flats show other allegiances, above all to Dutch de Stijl and to Le Corbusier. Their exposed concrete was for some an early arrival of the Brutalist sensibility, but not for us. For the post-war avant-garde this tag represented frustration with the architectural establishment, characterised by the Architectural Review of the day, and a wish to get into better company. “Mies is great but Corb communicates”, was Peter Smithson’s maxim.
Robin Hood Gardens – 1968–72, Alison & Peter Smithson
Despite huge support from the architectural profession for the retention and reuse of Robin Hood Gardens, its demolition began in June this year. By way of an epitaph, here’s one last shout. As exemplified at Park Hill in Sheffield and many other semi-notorious but well-intentioned projects spawned by the Welfare State, there is ample evidence that transformations can be achieved with new management, a concierge or caretaker, new lifts and so on. Here the generous central garden, once the pride of the project as a place of refuge from the traffic on the thunderous approaches to the Blackwall Tunnel, will be soon much reduced, even lost, in the currently planned denser developments.