Strange days in Smithfield

A great view of the grand arcade in Smithfield Market.  What will happen to it?  The controversy arising from plans to replace the General Market with a new office block focused attention on the destruction of a part of the market which was no longer in use.  The General Market is now subject to a redesign which will largely retain the existing building.  An interesting question is the long-term future of the main part of the market, currently in use for storage and sale of refrigerated meat.  Smithfield is now the last-remaining central London wholesale-only market.  Borough has a small wholesale market but is now mainly retail; Billingsgate has moved to Poplar, Covent Garden to Nine Elms and Spitalfields Flower Market to Ilford.  Billingsgate and Nine Elms are now facing major redevelopment because they now find themselves in the middle of new building projects.  Once Crossrail is complete, Farringdon will the a highly connected railway station linking most of London’s airports.  It is difficult to see how Smithfield can survive in such a valuable part of the City doing something that does not particularly need to be done in the heart of London.  Once it had an underground railway delivering cattle direct to the market; that disappeared during the blitz and was never rebuilt.  Now it is dominated by early morning lorries.  It is a bit of a transport disaster in the midst of what will one day be an amazing transport interchange.

More retro stuff

Brought to you by the same people who gave us the red rusty chairs, this clock in the newly-unmodernised Benugo in Clerkenwell is a fascinating find.  It is almost certainly from a radio or recording studio.  It is manufactured by IBM and is very beautiful but what is it doing here? The restaurant, like the one at the Museum of London and the Barbican, has gone slightly retro.  The walls are bare, the furniture distressed in a 1960s LCC sort of way.  I am still bemused by this approach to design.  If your house were furnished like this, it would suggest a fondness for flea-markets or a hankering after the days when Portobello Road sold junk rather than antiques but this is corporate stuff and takes a lot of careful calculation.  Maybe this is big society design, locally-sourced, slightly nostalgic and a little bit damaged.

Slumming it at the Museum of London

Why is the brand new London Wall Bar and Grill created by Benugo for the Museum of London showing off this battered red table?  Like the new ‘food hall’ at the Barbican Centre, this seems to be a variation on battered 1960s schoolyard chic.  There is a touch of the Blitz about this.  Slightly bomb-damaged, weather-beaten but in fact brand new.  I think it was the Leon chain that started this but Benugo has taken it up with enthusiasm.  No much room here for modern design.

Guarding London Wall

Moor House acts as a gateway to London Wall.  It is a building by Foster and Partners that is best appreciated from the top of another building.  At street level it is a little overwhelming and the astonishing curved wall and roof are difficult to see properly.  It was built in anticipation of Crossrail arriving in the basement so it has some of the scale of Canary Wharf Jubilee Line station by the same architect.  It is part of the recent generation of buildings along London Wall that have replaced the post war set of six almost identical tower blocks lining this street.  Peter Ackroyd in his biography of London, talks of the way in which the Barbican Estate of the 1960s was built looking inwards to avoid the wastelands of the Blitz and of how the old London Wall has been replicated by the new Estate.  This comment is equally true of Moor House, it is Barbican-like in the way in which it safeguards the City but it is also pretty sensational in the way in which it swoops across the street.

Golden Lane waits for the builders

Here is a great view of Golden Lane Estate with the swimming pool at its centre.  Work is due to start any minute on restoration.  There is some nervousness about this.  The plans involve making some significant changes. At present it is easy to walk around the site at two levels.  The lower level space between the sports hall and the swimming pool is due to be blocked in with a dance studio.  The roof will also have photovoltaic panels and all of the windows will be replaced with double glazed versions.  It should be good but will the windows look right or will they be out of character?  Will the dance studio destroy the lightness and fluidity of the current arrangement?  Will the panels on the roof look ungainly and inappropriate and will they generate enough electricity to make their installation worth while.  The problem with much-loved places is that they lead to conservatism from those who want to preserve a quality which it is feared will be lost with the improvements.  Has the Festival Hall been ruined by its new stage and the removal of the acoustic canopy?  Is the Barbican worse off because of its orange paint work.  Golden Lane Leisure Centre will be a test case for matching elegant restoration with the joy of moving through water. (Picture: Tim Crocker).

Room with a view

This is a view of a building not yet complete but likely to have an interesting impact on the City.  It is the new headquarters building for Rothschild’s Bank.  Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the top of the building which is a boardroom for the bank is placed on stilts above the main office block.  The view from Bank and from across the Thames is pretty sensational; the view from the boardroom undoubtedly even better.

School days at the Barbican Centre

Work on the overhaul of the Barbican Centre was completed nearly two years ago.  The changes to the building were significant – a new bridge was installed to connect Silk Street and Riverside entrances; bold graphics were used to sign each of the floors and main venues; and the pointillist walls and carpets were replaced with bold oranges and reds. The improvements were major and muscular, not only making it easier to move around the building but visually stunning.  So a great surprise to see the way in which the Riverside Cafe has recently been transformed into a 1950s style canteen cum classroom.  School chairs, a blackboard, American diner-style benches and these light fittings based on pickle jars, have created a retro atmosphere slightly out of style with the building. The cafe is now billed as a food hall.  Perhaps the design is intended as a refuge from the hammered concrete and wide open spaces of the foyers.


In the deep end at Golden Lane

Work is due to start tomorrow on the restoration of Golden Lane Leisure Centre.  The Centre contains the only public swimming pool in the City.  The campaign to resist its closure led to 850 responses to the consultation which convinced the Corporation (which owns it) to invest £2.6 million on the restoration.  The changes have been controversial with the architects originally proposing to fill in the space between  the pool and the badminton court.  There will now  be changes to this listed building but of a modest nature.  Meanwhile, every swim now requires a bus trip up to the west end.

Freezing outside the Lloyds Building

A freezing night but one of the most spectacular and exciting moments of the week.  Here is the Lloyds Building next to its recently-completed neighbour the Wills Building.  This is the centre of new building in the city.  Lloyds is now more than twenty-five years old and it overlooks the site of two new buildings: Leadenhall also known as the ‘cheesegrater’ and the Pinnacle, both of which are after a delay of a couple of years, now on site.

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