Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Sense of PLACE at the Grosvenor Estate, Page Street

'Place' is meant to be important now - so important that it has been promoted to capital letters in the Farrell review.

But the endless blethering about 'sense of place' that fills today's planning documents can be tiring, because no one is able go on to explain what on earth it might be - or, for example, how you could hope to provide it in a new social housing scheme.

There's no question that it's important, though.  And you know it when you see it.

One of the weirdest housing developments in London can be found at Lutyens' Grosvenor Estate housing around Page Street in Westminster, only 500m or so from Parliament.  Weird and wonderful, that is.  Built in 1929-35, well into Lutyens later, more classical / imperial phase, it provides one of the most surreal streetscapes in London.  Long, repetitive, parallel U-shaped blocks, end on to the street, have deck access around the three inner faces. The surreal quality comes from the combination of severe repetition of the blocks themselves and of the chequerboard pattern applied to their outer faces.

Between the wings of housing along the street frontages are elegant single storey pavilions, containing shops and other facilities; these are given fancy classical detailing that is largely absent from the housing itself, a nice touch  - while such embellishments might have been pompous on the housing, they are charming on the pavilions, elevating them several notches above the mundane  - and rendering them just about strong enough to accommodate the exigencies of later commercial signage...

Spend some time here on a quiet, sunny day - or even a rainy one - and you can experience at least one example of how a sense of place has been achieved.

It probably won't help you achieve it anywhere else, though.

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