Thursday, 28 March 2013

Street View goes Nolli

Nolli's great 1748 map of Rome - turbocharged version here - is a magnificent and continuing source of inspiration for architects and urbanists.  It is famous for going further than typical city maps of the period (such as Rocque's map of London, also from the 1740s) - and of today - to include plans of public buildings as well as streets and squares.  It thus shows the layout of nearly everything that can be termed the public realm, inside or outside - but not that which is private.

Two and half centuries later, Google's Street View is catching up. Lazy or overstretched architects have got used to the idea that they can get away without visiting the site by using the street views that are available now of nearly everywhere.  But one can now visit the insides of some buildings as well - at Lincoln, for example, you can enter the close and go in through the great west door of that city's glorious cathedral to see the interiors of the nave, transepts and ambulatory (but not yet the choir - perhaps Google's operator was rumbled by a verger somewhere around the crossing).   

Other sites include the Spurs ground at White Hart Lane, sacred to some - where you can do a lap of the pitch. 

Private homes will presumably follow shortly, following one of those inexorable laws about the growth of data.  Beware the knock on your front door from a man with improbably bulky headgear asking for a look round.

(Hat tip to Sarah Jackson for this one). 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Hopkins 3

To Hopkins Architects' Wellcome Trust building in Euston Road for the launch of the latest book of their work, Hopkins 3.  Their Wellcome client introduced the evening with unreserved praise for a building now nearly ten years old that still looks as as good as new (partly due, I learn later, to Wellcome's luck or wisdom in retaining long serving staff who look after and run the building as it was meant to be looked after and run - something that is not as common as it should be).

The quality, consistency and rigour of the architecture in the book, from the Wellcome building to the Olympic Velodrome - taking in along the way a surprisingly diverse range, including small country house interventions and cricket stands in India along with the better known known projects - is entirely unmatched by any other UK practice over that period.  Of course Hopkins have been fortunate in the quality of their list of major institutional clients with an interest in building properly and for the long term - not least in a sequence of university projects on the Eastern seaboard of the US.  The budgets evident in most of the work will be envied by many architects who read the book - while a big budget is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for great architecture, it certainly doesn't do any harm.

The built results mostly look effortless - we can be sure they weren't.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

MIPIM - better to hold it in Brighton?

Reflections on return from MIPIM, the annual European property fest in Cannes.

Like so much that happens in the world of property, there is plenty that is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland...

The event takes place in 'the bunker', a giant, generic exhibition space which in spite of being on the shores of the Mediterranean, might as well be the NEC or Excel once you are inside it.

Architects spend their time trying to attract the attention of developers, who are looking the other way because they are trying to attract the attention of investors, who may be more interested in countries that encourage you to build things rather than giving you a hard time....

Several thousand delegates from the UK attend, and tens of thousands from the EU, Eastern Europe and elsewhere - but one suspects the interactions between Brits and continentals are pretty limited.  Most of the UK action is in the 'London stand', actually a standoffish tent separate from the bunker.

The London stand has a great buzz - the Paris equivalent had nice drawings and models but no people, and it felt as if tumbleweed might take over.  For those involved in London projects, MIPIM is a chance to see  more people from the development world in one place at one time than you would ever get in London.  

But... this is the age of the staycation, and the rediscovery (by the chattering classes) of the delights of the English coast.  Our food is as good as the food in France.   We have our own ghastly bunkers that you can get to by train.

MIPIM, for UK property at least, would work better at home.  

Specifically, it could work in Brighton.  Brighton has its own horrible conference centre - plans to renew it seem to be on hold, but if they got on with it and added some decent exhibition space, it would be a bigger draw than Birmingham or Newham.  It has the grand seafront hotels already.  And it's a great deal easier to get to.

I like fish and chips just as much as oysters - and the merry-go-round would be much the same as this one on the Croisette...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Room at the top

The London Plan tells us to optimise the use of land, and residential densities.  It also tells us to conserve and make use of 'heritage assets'. This project in Banner Street (EC1) is a built case study of what happens when you try do both at once.

All very polite and neutral, to 'respect the character' of the old facade.  (Depending on who did it, the architects may well have used the word 'palimpsest', inaccurately, in making the case for it.)

In Moscow, in new building projects as in other respects, they are a bit more gung ho:

Not exactly refined, but entirely in the spirit of modern Russia.

More homes are needed in London, and one way of providing them is to build on top of existing buildings a lot more than we do.  As the above examples show, this doesn't need to be limited to the cautious set-back single extra floor, justified on the grounds that 'you'll never notice it'.

In Shoreditch, the Hackney planners are to be congratulated on being persuaded by Duggan Morris's interesting looking scheme (above - photo credit Jack Hobhouse), now on site, to add a further three storeys to a three storey building in Curtain Road.  A two or three storey building in central London is not optimising the use of land.

Westminster City Council have woken up to the fact that many residential areas of the centre of London now resemble a ghost town out of office hours, with crazily expensive flats and houses, owned by people who live somewhere warmer, being treated as assets rather than homes.  This is partly a result of the rationing of the supply of homes.  We should be encouraging people to add a floor or a few floors to every building in London that could take them, rather than preventing them.