Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Eighty years of made up names

Troubled architectural practice Archial is to be bought out by a Canadian firm, Ingenium; and so what could the new firm possibly be called but 'Ingenium Archial', if the AJ website is to be believed.

Whatever happened to the idea that language is a means of communication? Who comes up with these names?

Do you remember Consignia, as the Post Office became briefly, only to back down in the face of universal ridicule? I wonder if Ingenium Archial do.

There is, however, a problem with looking down one's nose at made up names of this kind, which is that the trend appears to have been started by a really great practice: Tecton. Perhaps Ingenium Archial will turn out to be their heirs.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The irregulars

Panter Hudspith are a practice whose buildings I often admire and this remarkable new block of flats in Bear Lane, south of Southwark Street, is a good example.

It is interesting in a number of ways. The building responds to its irregular and varied site; thinking about this in relation to the practice's other buildings, it caused me to reflect on how some architects are much better at dealing with irregularity and some much better at regularity. Panter Hudspith seem to have a highly pragmatic temperament and (in my view) are at their best responding to varied conditions - as found also in their buildings of recent years in Lincoln (museum) and Cambridge (residential over shops). Other have interests and aptitudes that incline more to regularity.

Clients when choosing their architects might like think about the shape of their site and take this into account. Mies or Michael Hopkins might not be at their best struggling with funny shapes; Giancarlo de Carlo or Panter Hudspith might not excel given a square city block.

This may be genetic. Watching small children with building blocks (when left to their own devices) one can observe that some are predisposed to arrange them asymmetrically, other symmetrically. It's not obvious which confers the evolutionary advantage, but perhaps a survey of Stirling Prize winners would provide an answer.

The dreary and the cheery

In Union Street in Southwark you can find this recent Travelodge, much of its elevations made of the kind of dark grey 'fairfaced' blockwork normally confined to the insides of plant rooms and suchlike. While apparently many people find Southwark's planners pretty picky, they seem to have let this one go.

Close to this dreary hotel, you can find, on the corner of Dolben Street and Bear Lane (and opposite an extraordinary new building by Panter Hudspith, to which I will return) something much cheerier: a new block of flats where the choice of external materials has lifted a building rather than spoiling it - in this case, a glorious green glazed brick, used to great effect on a big curved wall (the photo above does not do justice to the colour at all). The architects are Association of Ideas (AOI).

Taken together, these are two good examples of how the planning system appears to be too busy obsessing about all sorts of things that don't matter very much to pay much attention to things that do matter. If all the planners controlled was external materials, and if they did that job well, might that be a better system than the one we have?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Walk to work day - spirit of the Blitz

A tube strike is a nuisance, but there is something pleasing about seeing far more people than usual walking on the streets - and not just because it makes them resemble the way that architects always draw street views, with more people than is plausible. Old photos of everyday street scenes often show more pedestrians than one would expect today - so do street scenes in mid-century films by the likes of Preston Sturges and Alfred Hitchcock, which can look contrived today but perhaps appeared natural at the time. In the past there was more experience for everyone of this basic communal activity, presumably not because there were fewer people on tubes, but because there were fewer people sealed away in their cars. The optimist might detect, in the rush hour today, a slightly increased sense of common purpose, in (very mild) adversity, at a time when the media are commemorating the start of the Blitz.

Keep calm and carry on.

The Olde Mitre

The Olde Mitre pub, near Holborn Circus, is a good example of the general rule that most 'rules' of urban design etc. are there to be broken. Accessed down an alley which is about 1200mm wide, the pub appears to do good business, and is packed at times. If you proposed this as a new route to get to a new bar, the police would object, so would the people who collect rubbish, so would the planners, and so would the commercial agents.

The charming sign on the lamppost on the pavement in Hatton Garden helps you find it for the first time. Locals were distraught when this was trashed earlier in the year, and it seemed unlikely that it would be replaced - but it has been. Well done to whoever sorted this out.

The Olde Mitre is recommended, in spite of the tacky orthography, for good beer- and a rare opportunity to buy a pickled egg from a jar on the counter.