22 September 2008

Open Day

Every year in September the city of London opens some 600 of it's most famous/new building for people to explore over the period of one weekend. The event is known as 'Open Day'.

I went to see quiet a few buildings over the two days, in fact on the second day I even had the privilege to be a guide at one of them. Below are some of the picture I took of them.

Day 1:

Every person I've met in London who has taken part in this event either this year or during previous years - All of them have one thing in common they have all seen or at least tried to see the first building on my list!

One of the most iconic and arguable successful of London's 'hi-tech- buildings - The Lloyd's bank head quarters designed by Richard Rogers (completed in 1984)
Different buildings that take part in this event allow for different levels of accessibility. In the Lloyd's however one can get a very good feel for the different aspects of it's design. They let you go all the way to the top, down to a typical floor and of course to the famous trading floor at the bottom of the main atrium space.
This strange building that looks rather like something out of Blade runner, sits surprisingly very sensitively in it's context of the old bank district of London.I just love the kit of parts aesthetic of it's exterior. Even though over 20 years old this building till today evokes a sense of what a sci-fi inspired future may look like.

On to the next building - The Westminster Academy designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris [AHMM] (opened earlier this year).
This building almost couldn't be any more different from the previous one. This modest yet important building given that it is a public school build on a very tight budget achieves a lot through very simple architectural moves. The exterior of the building is clad in huge ceramic tiles that make its maintenance very simple in the long run.But what really makes it a winner is the huge stepping central void that is scoped out at the heart of the building. Another tool that is very effective - is the use of graphic design - not just for signs and direction but to create a very lively atmosphere! The extensive use of bright colours and bold lettering really add a whole new layer to the common spaces of the school. In the above photo the coloured panels used to reflect the direct sunlight are in fact ready made doors from B&Q.
On the rear side of the building passes one of the most important highways leading you out of London, as you can imagine this road (which pass over this neighbourhood as an urban viaduct) has been quiet a nightmare for this area. The shady pockets created below it had led to high rates of crime and all sorts of social evils and the design of the school had to in some way respond to this situation.
Together with the school authorities and the local council, AHMM proposed to turn this wasteland into sports facilities that would take care of the schools needs during school hours and be open to the public the rest of the time. As far as the school's contribution to this part of London - this aspect of its design has been high successful, in fact the crime rates have also been falling since its completion.
(The small brown building in the above photo is a multi-sport hall designed and built as part of the play areas)
As compared to the closed front facade the rear opens out with huge balconies facing the play grounds.
Unfortunately this amazing public school barely missed out on this year's Stirling prize (the most important architectural prize given out in UK) , but did win the award for the best designed school of 2008.

The last building of the day is a Modern classic. A building that prompted Le Corbusier to say - 'For a long time I have dreamed of executing dwellings in such condition for the good of humanity. The building at highgate is an achievement of the first rank' when he visited it shortly after this completion. The building - Highpoint one - in North London was designed by Berthold Lubetkin
(completed in 1932) conformed to the Le Corbusian principles of housing construction, down to the pilotis which raised the first floor above the ground.
Check out the original sliding windows still in working condition in one of the flats.
This cruciform tower set in a lush parkland was particularly inspired by Corbusier's Plan Voisin of 1925.
The architect of this building is one of the most fascinating modernist to have worked in the city. Read more about him and his buildings in the following website - http://www.designmuseum.org/designinbritain/berthold-lubetkin

Some five years after completing Highpoint one Lubetkin developed Highpoint two in a completely different architectural vocabulary. Here the design of the facade had moved a long way from the flush and blank white facade of its neighbour.
The building is however most remembered for the controversy that Lubetkin generated by using the caryatids to 'support' the entrance canopy. In reality these don't take any load and are in fact only storm drains. An early example of post modernism or just his tribute to classical architecture - we'll never know!

Day 2:

The first building of the day was one at which I was a guide, in fact it is a building I know quiet well since I work in it - the studio of Allies and Morrison. Designed by the practice and complete in 2003.
Though a tiny building on Southwark street near the Tate Modern in South London, it has some extremely interesting features. The main one being the huge (relative to the buildings size) atrium on the first floor that connects the three floors of studio space above. The building is designed with a very limited palette of materials and colours and the excellent exposed concrete work on the interior really makes all the difference. The last photos is from one of the studio floor looking across the road at the Bankside buildings also designed by the office and visited later in the day.
Next building - Blue Fin - also designed by Allies and Morrison was completed in 2007. I had posted some photos of the exterior of the building some time ago, I will not post them again. If you interested in the old post, here it is - http://travellingsahil.blogspot.com/2007/10/had-very-successful-interview-earlier.html

I finally got to go inside this private building.
At the centre of this gigantic building is a very generous atrium space that cuts through the entire height of it.
Since my earlier post about the building I have seen it soo many times and opinion about it has changed. Though I appreciate its footprint, chunkiness and relation to context in plan, I think its far more successful as a urban diagram that as an actual building.

It is one of those buildings that have lost a lot of intend in it's finished form. Having said that the building still has some great spaces to offer to its employees.
For instance the cafe of the top floor is a great place to experience the scale of this building....
The small winter garden on the terrace is a real treasure on that rare sunny day... and of course the bonus - great views over South London - that came with its height!

The last building(s) of the day and of the Open day event was like yesterday another set of Modern buildings and coincidentally also designed by Berthold Lubetkin's team of architects - Tecton. The buildings that make up Hallfield estate mark marks a great baton change of British architecture from Lubetkin to Denys Lasdun, who was in charge of this project.
The estate is made up of a six tall slabs (10 floors high) facing north-south and eight smaller slabs facing east- west set into a landscaped park. A school designed by Lasdun completes the estate to its south. Sadly I was too late to make it to the last tour of the day for the school which was recently refurbished by Caruso St John.
This project was build between 1946-54, supported by the Welfare state. During this period poor build housing in the city that was not bombed was bulldozed away making space for freestanding housing blocks that did not have to follow the pre-existing pattern of the city.The smaller blocks carries Lasdun's balconies which foreshadow the twisted geometries that he would go on to deploy in his future projects.Overall while walking thru these housing blocks I felt a great sense of nostalgia for another housing project that I had visited more than a year ago. Build at around the same time; though much larger in scale and far far away from here it embodied a very similar spirit! Check it out here - http://travellingsahil.blogspot.com/2007/02/blog-post_23.html

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