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Visit to London

BUSHEY CEMETERY

We were given a warm welcome - and the offer of a guided introduction which we had not expected. This was an interesting visit in that we learned much about Jewish burial practices and how they shaped the design of the buildings. The setting was very ‘outer London’ and the earlier buildings looked – from a distance - as if they might be interesting too. Although the low flying light aircraft rather spoil the sense of tranquillity the new buildings are modest, thoughtfully laid out and the ceremonial spaces have a peaceful atmosphere. The rake to the floor was disconcerting, but it must be very effective for a standing gathering. The plainness was welcome in a space intended for worship.

The rammed earth construction merits some comment. Although it appears that lime might have been used in this centuries-old form of construction   the Architect’s Journal’s 20 October 2016  states that actually cement was used in the mix there - which undermines the ‘earth-to-earth’ objective we were told about.

The potential of the landscaping to take many burials was apparent, but one hopes that in the future the headstones will have a complimentary effect on the setting of the buildings.

All in all, a worthwhile stop in a surprisingly rural spot before heading into the truly urban parts of London.

Jonathan Hurst

THE DESIGN MUSEUM

 


Based in Kensington High Street, this building was originally occupied by The Commonwealth Institute from 1962 until closure in 2003.  It reopened in 2016 after John Pawson had been commissioned to renovate it, keeping the structure’s extraordinary qualities.  At the time it was considered to be one of the most important modern buildings in London. As you approach the spacious outer area and see the dramatic hyperbolic curve of the roof, described as a tent pitched in leafy Holland Park, it prepares you for the shapes you will see inside, where light and space allow the visitor immediate access to colour, shape and quality of materials.

Once inside, because of the size and internal design, there is much to see;  some of the work is on permanent display (like ‘Designer, Maker, User’ about the history of contemporary design) and also various temporary exhibitions.  Everything related to ‘design’ in its many forms, is either on show or available to see and learn from the very many talks, workshops and courses for every age group.  
A very special temporary exhibition, whilst we were there, was the one highlighting the early black and white photography of Stanley Kubrick, the outstanding American filmmaker.  There was a special video about his film work, which was way ahead of others at the time.

I found it very refreshing to recognise that this museum has got its priorities right.  There is something there for every age group and it was clearly a case of ' the pleasure of learning’.  And, of course, splendid refreshments to persuade you to stay longer.

Alwyne

THE PAINTED HALL GREENWICH

At Alwyne’s suggestion, we rearranged the second half of the day to allow us to visit The Painted Hall at Greenwich Old Royal Naval College on the way back to the hotel. This hall has just had an £8.5-million refurbishment and is described as “UK’s Sistine Chapel”

After getting lost and inadvertently exploring some of the underground areas of the college, we found our target. It was quite an experience entering this large highly decorated space. I was particularly interested to see the use of trompe l’oeil to give (apparent) relief to the enormous columns.

It was equally inspiring to see the exquisite 18th-century Chapel of St Peter and St Paul.

Of course, several of us  took the opportunity to walk by the Thames.

Rob

THE NEWPORT STREET GALLERY

This gallery owned by Damien Hurst and free to visit, won the RIBA Stirling Prize 2016. It involved the conversion of a terrace of listed industrial buildings, that were formerly theatre carpentry and scenery painting workshops. The gallery runs for the whole length of the street, with the three Victorian buildings having additions at either end. Both floors within the five buildings form continuous spaces, allowing them to be used flexibly. At the time of our visit there was an exhibition by John Bellany and Alan Davie.

Most members found the architecture more interesting than the contents - particularly the three stairwells. Each one was a delightful combination of curve and line. The craftsmanship of the brickwork was worthy of note and the hand rails, both built in and freestanding, were a pleasure to experience.

We enjoyed a good drink in the ‘Pharmacy 2' café - which was of much interest to the medics in the group.                                      

Rob

THE GARDEN MUSEUM

I would not have thought that a disestablished church would be a good site for a museum of garden history, but St Mark at Lambeth succeeds brilliantly. Built in the grounds of Lambeth Palace it opened as a museum in 1977 and was redeveloped in 2015-17.

It has the advantage of a close association with the Tradescants, father and son, who created a botanic garden in South Lambeth and were both buried in the churchyard. They were plant hunters in the seventeenth century, travelling as far as Arctic Russia, Algeria and North America and became gardeners to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

One room displays items from their cabinet of curiosities while the churchyard is filled with their plants.
In the gallery there is a splendid collection of gardening equipment, garden plans by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll and illustrations of gardens and gardeners.

I was so absorbed that I did not get to the temporary art exhibition or the café.

David                         

THE VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM

The new porcelain-tiled entrance is a spectacular open space and is far more welcoming than the old entrance on Cromwell Road. It has created an extra 6,400 square metres of underground exhibition space. This space was being used for the Christian Dior & Mary Quant exhibitions during our visit.

The new design takes the visitor straight into the heart of the museum where it is much easier to access the restaurants, the inner courtyard and the galleries.

The photography gallery did not live up to my expectations. There was a curious lack of labelling in places and the room temperature was chilling.

Rob                                                                                              

THE FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE BLACKHEATH

The day before we set out I received an email informing me that amongst several other Friends’ Meeting Houses about to be listed was the one in Blackheath.

This was by the architect Trevor Dannatt - who also designed College Hall and The Jewry Wall Museum/Vaughan College building in Leicester as well as being involved in the design of The Royal Festival Hall, London. When I realised that it was only 400 metres from the hotel I decided to add it as an optional drop-off at the end of the day.

Several indefatigable members took the opportunity and we found it quite easily. Unfortunately, we were unable to gain entry although we explored as much as we could on the exterior. It has a very striking lantern at the centre of its zinc clad roof. I can only imagine the space at the centre of this building - presumably the meeting room - being lit from above by this device more often seen in churches.

Rob

ELTHAM PALACE

 

On our final morning we drove to the sunlit uplands of southeast London to visit Eltham Palace. The former monastery turned Tudor palace became in the early twentieth century the Art Deco home of the very wealthy Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. The Great Hall is the only clue to its former existence as the impression conveyed is one of ultra modernity, 1930s style. The work of architects Seely and Paget was derided by some at the time for "looking like a cigarette factory" but what is striking to modern eyes is how the compact butterfly layout and spacious rooms lend themselves to modern living.

The Courtaulds commissioned the latest and the best from artists and craftspeople. The interior joinery, especially the decorative marquetry, and the bas reliefs on the exterior are highly accomplished, and the reconstruction of the original hammer beam roof of the Great Hall was a feat of conservation.The house was rebuilt within the original moat and set in delightful colourful gardens which make clever use of water and level changes. The occasional distant glimpse of Canary Wharf was the only reminder we were not in the countryside so skillful was the landscaping and secluded the setting.

As well as the splendid interiors Eltham offers fascinating insights into twentieth century history such as R.A. Butler, amongst others, sheltering from the Blitz in its cellars and also clues as to the sophisticated and adventurous lifestyles afforded by such wealth, for example, "Darling, you like skating, I'll build you an ice rink in the West End" or "Let's take the yacht to the East Indies to supplement our orchid collection”.
In all a very satisfying visit.

Alison and Richard

THE BLOOMBERG HQ BUILDING

The drive to the City of London was another sightseeing experience for us all with glimpses of many well known institutions including the Richard Rogers Lloyds building en route.

The Bloomberg HQ by Norman Foster is a large, striking creation with a walkway through it creating a new pedestrian street on what was the line of Roman Watling Street. This thoroughfare was thronged with workers and tourists enjoying the restaurants and cafes in the warm weather. The quality of the sandstone and bronze finishes on the building was very high, as might be expected for a client providing financial information services.

Our walk around also allowed us to appreciate the three part bronze sculpture “Forgotten Stream” by Cristina Iglesias that recreates the Walbrook, one of London’s “lost” underground rivers.

We chatted to members of the City of London police before we were whisked underground to experience the Temple of Mithras. These significant Roman remains have been relocated from nearby and lovingly reconstructed as part of the new building’s foundations.

Alison and Richard

THE COAL DROPS YARD KINGS CROSS

This is another part of the regeneration of the old goods yard north of King’s Cross, a short walk from Granary Square which we visited in 2014. Built in 1850-70, it was an innovative way of dealing with the coal supply. Waggons on upper sidings discharged coal through a trap door in their base, to be bagged on the lower level for distribution by horse and cart. After various other uses, workshops, studios and night clubs were established under the arches in the 1980s.

It was redeveloped in 2018 to a design by Heatherwick Studios. Bridged by a striking curved ’kissing’ roof, it has shops, cafes and galleries on the two levels. A large piazza placed centrally on the lower level is furnished with seats and loungers. Markets and festivals are held here; on a sunny Saturday it would be thronged.

The gas holders re-purposed as flats are nearby, and the surrounding area is still under development with eight cranes visible.

David Watkin

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