The road called London Wall links the Museum of London to the Tower of London. It was straightened during the 1960s in order to accommodate six identical office blocks, almost all of which have been demolished or in one case, reclad. It does not run along the Roman London Wall but comes pretty close to it. It is a reminder that little in the City of London is what it appears to be. The wall itself is difficult to find, much of it hidden in the shadows of the Barbican Estate. When you do find a spot to look at it, it is not obvious what is Roman and what is of a much more recent construction. I have started this project by taking some pictures. Here is a random selection.
This blog has focused on walking in the city, mainly London and the City of London linked to my role as a City of London guide. Over the past couple of years I have been studying as a printmaker mainly at City Lit and sometimes at East London Printmakers. My themes have remained pretty constant, the City, walking, looking at buildings and thinking about the way in which they connect. This year, my printmaking projects have looked at buildings in the City, building sites and lots of cranes (I have a particularly spectacular one next to my home). As I sit here in the City of London, locked in, locked down, I am taking exercise each day by walking and occasionally running along the London Wall. This is the Roman Wall which can most easily be seen near the Museum of London. My route takes me along the road called London Wall (bisecting the actual London Wall) down to the Tower of London; along the Riverside on the north bank; to the Millennium Bridge and up across to St Paul’s – a walk of some 7 kilometres. Each moment is monitored on my running app and when I get home, I discover the length of the walk, the height about sea level (not that a useful) but most importantly, it generates a route map. So I will look at the daily map, take pictures along the way and focus on the wall, where is it, where does it run, how much is Roman and ask what it does for the city and for me. Am I constrained by it in lock down or liberated by being close to a ruin that has survived about 2000 years?
To start, here are some of the previous term’s images.
London Wall is my starting point for a new printmaking project. Running from the Tower of London to the Museum of London, the wall built to defend London by the Romans remains a terrifying reminder of the power of an imposing structure to enclose and defend. Little remains above surface and much that is visible is medieval or later and much was destroyed but also uncovered as a result of the Blitz.
Printmaking excels at creating and manipulating layers, of paint, of ink, of paper and of many other materials. The London Wall is many-layered, highly textured and quite confusing. We know what it was for but what is it doing now? What value does it have for the city within an city at the heart of London and what lessons does a 2000-year old structure designed to enclose and defend have for a city under lockdown?
This project is part of a City Lit Advanced Digital and Printmaking course which will use the London Wall as the basis for a term of research and construction.
Marseille was not built for walking. It is the largest harbour in Europe, the docks are separated from the city by massive parallel elevated motorways and in the summer it is undoubtedly too hot to move.
However the restored old port revived with investment in the ‘Muceum’ is a remarkable achievement of pedestrian friendly architecture.
This year’s Maggie’s Culture Crawl took place on the night of Friday 18 September. A sponsored walk in support of Maggie’s Centres which offer aesthetically inspiring places for people affected by cancer, the partnership with London Open House focusing on discovering the city on foot. The walk this year was curated by Sandy Nairne, formerly director of the National Portrait Gallery who gave an especially moving speech in which he talked of the ‘power of walking’. He was partly inspired by the walk which had taken place the previous day during which the artists Ai Weiwie and Anish Kapoor had walked with blankets from central London to the Olympic Park in recognition of those currently walking across Europe. This raises the issue of what it means to walk when it is not necessary to do so. Everyone who took part in the Culture Crawl could easily have made a straightforward donation to Maggie’s or could have taken out a standing order or taken part in some other kind of sponsored event. However, all chose the walk as the preferred way of making a statement about Maggie’s or a statement about discovering part of London or perhaps a statement about the value that they attribute to the act of walking.
Last week I led a walk exploring the drovers’ route from the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington to Smithfield Market. This took in the New River, the history of Sadler’s Wells, Spa Green and especially the impact of the movement of meat and water on the design and development of the route along St John’s Street to Smithfield.
I will be leading this walk again on Saturday 26th September at 2pm, starting at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Find out more and book at Open City
Freiburg in southern Germany rightly calls itself a ‘green city’. It has demonstrated a thirty-year commitment to sustainable urban development. Born out of protests against the building of nuclear power stations and influenced by the catastrophe at Chernobyl, a green activism has led to an impressive urban achievement. This includes:
- a tradition of high-quality urban planning
- competence as a leading centre for solar energy research
- a local economy that regards environmental goals as a constructive challenge
- a citizenry that is committed to protecting the environment
- a city council that is prepared to make path-breaking decisions
(Freiburg Green City, Wolfgang Frey, 2011)
I visited Freiburg on holiday and the images below tell a story of ingenuity, homeliness, respect for children, shared green places, a joy in walking and cycling; and a commitment to the generation of solar energy. Very few of these pictures illustrate radical approaches to architecture as many of the buildings are simple five-storey apartments blocks. Houses are generally terraced but there are no detached garages and very few cars. What connects so many of the apartments are balconies large enough live on; solar panels on most roofs; space to park bikes; narrow streets that give priority to children; green roofs; colourful walls; and places that feel humane and homely. Freiburg has created its own traditions which set standards for sustainability and community.
Freiburg has the benefit of being an affluent city as well as a university research centre. It has had a stable council with the same Green Party mayor and head of planning for the past thirty years. It has also established a cost-effective public transport system which is popular with many of its citizens and it has built tram ways which are green in every sense of the word as the pictures below illustrate.
Why is London (or any part of the UK) apparently incapable of learning any of the lessons of Freiburg? Architects, local authority officials and urbanists have been visiting the city for the past twenty years.
So much housing in the capital is inhumane, grey, glass-covered and thoroughly alienating as well as expensive to buy, to rent and to heat. As the government makes a commitment to building on brownfield sites without planning permission; a serious debate needs to take place on why one of the most affluent and design-conscious cities on earth is failing to offer its citizens something which the residents of a small German city now take for granted.
There can be few more delightful ways of spending a Saturday than in the print workshop at the St Bride’s Foundation just off Fleet Street. St Bride’s includes not only the print workshop, but also a museum of design and print; a theatre; a library (as well as a disused swimming pool). A day spent learning the letterpress printing process is a reminder of a time when print was made of lead and every action had to be carefully callibrated and calculated. To set the scene, here are pictures of two of the printing presses.
My time was spent with the rather more modest Adana machine which is designed to produce letterpress printing at about A6. The process of getting from type to print is difficult, demanding and very enjoyable. This is the Adana. In this case blue ink is being applied to the ink plate. However, first some illustrations of the process of putting together the type.
This box contains a selection of individual letters all made of lead together with ‘leads’, the strips of lead applied between each row of type which leads to the current term leading to refer to the space between lines of print. Individual letters are selected and then placed in reverse order and with a mirror image into a callibrated tray.
Each line of type is assembled and held together loosely by the leading. A frame made of steel is then placed around the line of type. Blocks of metal are then inserted until the line of type is strongly bolted into place.
This is then placed in the Adana and following the inking of the ink pad, a single sheet of paper is inserted and printed.
The result can be seen below.
The process was delicate, produced modest results but was very satisfying. As the excellent teacher pointed out, mistakes were allowed and encouraged and could all be corrected. There was no need to be concerned with software failures or printers that did not work, every action could be observed, understood and used. Here are some of the wood typefaces just waiting to be used.
Over the summer I am leading a number of new guided tours with London Open City the architecture education charity.
Here are the details:
London’s historic core has gone through significant renewal over the past ten years, designed to meet the needs of the banking sector. In addition the City of London Corporation has been focusing on the needs of local residents as well as tourists by creating new landscapes, gardens and public spaces.
This one-off special walking tour looks at the investment in landscape and public realm to create a greener and more pedestrian-friendly environment in the heart of London, from the new gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral to the public spaces beneath the Leadenhall Building.
Meeting point: City Information Centre, St Paul’s Churchyard EC4M 8BX.
Wednesday 1 July 6.30pm Booking details on the Open City website.
London Landscape – Southbank
The regeneration of the Southbank from Potters Fields and City Hall to Jubilee Gardens had demonstrated the work of a wide range of landscape architects as well as the patronage of many different land owners.
With the recent completion of More London’s public realm; the creation of new public spaces outside of the National Theatre and the development of Jubilee Gardens in the shadow of the London Eye, this one-off special walking tour with the Landscape Institute looks at the way in which one of the fastest-changing parts of London has used landscape-led regeneration to establish a set of new identities.
Meeting point: Outside City Hall
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2AA
Wednesday 15 July 6.30pm. Booking details on the Open City website.
This is Bernard Morgan House in the City of London and on the edge of Golden Lane Estate. It is an interesting building not so much for its appearance (which is pleasant but not show stopping) but for what its current situation represents. It was built as a section house, a hostel for police officers working for the City of London police. It has housed not only police officers but staff working at the Old Bailey. It is about fifty years old and offers accommodation for single peole working for the City of London. By definition the people most likely to have been housed are public servants working on shifts. I am not sure how many people were housed but I guess it would be about 150. Bernard Morgan House has now been sold to a property developer to build luxury housing. In the same street is the old YMCA building. This was sold to Redrow developers about eighteen monhs ago. This also housed single people, perhaps two hundred at a time on probably the lowest rents in the City. There had been a s106 agreement (a planning payment enabling the local authority to pay for a public benefit) but the law changed and £13m agreed for public housing was lost.
So in the space of two years, about 350 units for single people on low wages, working early or late shifts have been lost and not replaced.