Open House London 2014

Posted on October 26, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

A 'belate' entry on the Open House event last month...

I didn't have time to do much research before Open House weekend this year, and so I missed most of the pre-booked tours. And due to the London design festival (not sure why are these events all crammed within the same week), I only had Sunday to uncover some hidden gems in this city.

 

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The Mathematical society on Russell Square; Right: An Brunsviga  mechanical calculator produced from 1929-1948

 

I did not want to queue at the popular spots, and so I decided to concentrate around Bloomsbury, one of my favourite areas in London. I first visited Grade II listed London Mathematical society which occupies two of the nine terrace houses along the south side of Russell Square. Built by James Burton (who was responsible for large areas of Bloomsbury including the Foundling Hospital) in 1800-03 for the upper and middle classes, the interior of the buildings was subsequently converted into offices. Sadly, there is not much to write home about because apart from the original staircases and the ornamental fireplaces, the rooms inside this Georgian building are filled with MFI furniture and carpet. It was a big disappointment despite being lead by an informative and enthusiastic volunteer.

Not from this is the quirky The Horse Hospital, a Grade II listed stable-turned arts venue also built by James Burton in 1797. I was surprised that I have never noticed this venue before even though I have walked past the street several times before (something that seems to happen in this city all the time).

 

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 The Horse Hospital & Contemporary wardrobe collection

 

Once inside, you can access to the basement or the first floor via concrete moulded ramps. Both floors have five cast iron pillars, several original iron tethering rings and a mock cobbled herringbone pattern re-enforced concrete floor. The basement provides a gallery space for arts, music and fashion related events, while the first floor is home of the fantastic Contemporary Wardrobe Collection where you can hire vintage and street fashion couture items and accessories.

Unfortunately, this idiosyncratic independent and non-profit art venue is facing closure because the building is to be sold in March 2015. I think it would very sad if this historical building to be turned into some sort of trendy entertainment/retail complex by property developers, so efforts must be made to save this. You can click on the web link above to find out more.

 

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The art workers guild

 

On Queen Square, there is a seemingly conventional Georgian building, it is the home of the Art Workers guild. This Grade II listed building was built in 1713 and although altered, it is one of the few original houses remaining in the square.

The Art Worker Guild was founded in 1884 by 25 artists, architects, craftsmen and designers, with the aim to reach out to workers in related disciplines, going beyond the confines of 'fine' art set by the Royal Academy. William Morris was elected in 1888, and serves as Master in 1892. In 1913, the organisation moved to this location and in 1914, a new meeting hall was rebuilt by F.W.Troup and W.R.Lethaby in a neo-Georgian style.

It is wonderful to see that a lot of the original features inside the building are still intact, esp. in the back hall. I also love the display of both traditional and contemporary art and craft pieces side by side. This organisation would occasionally host arts and crafts related exhibitions and events, so don't miss the opportunity to visit this historical and beautiful building.

 

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 St Pancras Waterpoint

 

Moving away from Bloomsbury, I headed towards Kings Cross to visit the Victorian gothic-style St Pancras Waterpoint designed under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott to complement St Pancras Station and the adjoining Midland Grand Hotel (now St Pancras Chambers).

Built in 1872 to supply water to the rapidly growing steam network at St Pancras, the ornate brickwork and elaborate detailing is an indication of the importance of engineering to the Victorians. In 2001, the Waterpoint was threatened with demolition because of the development of the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link Terminus. Eventually, English Heritage intervened and saved the structure by relocating it 700 metres to the north east of its original location.

In order to move the 238 tonnes and 9 m high structure was no easy task, but it would have a significant loss if this structure was to be demolished. Now the new site of the Waterpoint stands prominently on a viaduct overlooking King's Cross and St Pancras Stations, St Pancras Yacht Basin, Regent's canal and Camley Street Natural Park.

 

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St Pancras old church and churchyard- 3rd row middle & 4th row: The Hardy Tree Bottom: Tomb of architect Sir John Soane and his wife

 

For a long time I have wanted to visit The Hardy Tree in the churchyard of 4th century St Pancras old church, which is considered as one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. The history of the church is interesting, but what is more intriguing are the stories and people related to the churchyard...

The churchyard is the resting place for the remains that were exhumed when the Midland Railway was built in 1866 over part of the original churchyard. The vicar of St Pancras insisted that the 8,000 remains be respectfully removed and re-interred, and commissioned the architect Arthur Blomfield to supervise the exhumation and dismantling of the tombs. The Blomfield then passed this 'sought-after' task onto his apprentice (and later novelist/poet) Thomas Hardy. And bizarrely, the relocated headstones were placed around an ash tree, which has become known as the Hardy Tree. Now the tree has grown in amongst the tombstones, creating a remarkable sight that looks almost like an art installation! The spooky and horrendous task later inspired Hardy to write the following poem:

“O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!"

“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!'”

Not far from the ash tree, you can find one of the two Grade I listed tombstones in London that architect Sir John Soane designed for his wife and himself. Believe or not but this mausoleum provided the inspiration for the design of the iconic red telephone box by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

And in 1968, the Beatles were photographed in the churchyard grounds, in the famous publicity photographs for "Mad Day Out". You can also see a plaque mounted on a bench where the four of them sat.

 

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Top row: St Mary's church designed by W. & H.W. Inwood in 1822-1826. Bottom row: Roman Catholic Church of St Aloysius

 

After visiting the sites, I wandered around the back streets of Euston (also known as Somers Town) and coincidentally discovered many interesting architecture including contemporary arts venues and Modernist social housing.

In the 19th century, the area used to be slums and it was redeveloped at the beginning of the 20th century and were replaced by new social housing. The scheme was led by Father John Basil Lee Jellicoe, a clergyman in the Church of England who devoted his time and effort on improving living conditions of local people and helping build a strong community in Somers Town.

 

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Top row: Ossulston Estate; 2nd & 3rd row right: Chalton street estate; 3rd row left and 4th row: Chenies Place; 5th row: Oakshott Court

 

I first stumbled upon Ossulston Estate and was captivated by its white facade. The Grade II listed modernist council estate was built between 1927 and 1931 by G. Topham Forrest of the London County Council in Somers Town. The designer was influenced by Viennese modernist public housing such as Karl Marx-Hof, and this type of modernist social housing was unusual at the time.

Walking towards Chalton Street, a block of housing estate with a streamlined facade caught my eye. This looks very Art Deco like, but I couldn't find information on the building date and architect of this building. Yet the style is fairly consistent with the nearby Chenies Place, so I assume the two buildings were built probably around the same period.

On the opposite side of the street is a large L-shaped complex, Oakshott Court built in 1976 by Peter Tábori of the Camden Council Architect's Department. This modernist social housing has 114 flats and maisonettes and looks a lot more pleasant and 'livable' than other social housing in London. I think a large part of it has to do with the large green lawn and the well-sized balconies. And from the photographs I found on the internet, the interior is bright and spacious, which is designed better than many of the new and over-priced commercial flats.

 

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Contemporary architecture in Somers Town

 

Although I didn't visit many 'grand' venues at the Open House this year, I enjoyed my visits to the smaller and lesser-known gems in the city. However, I must say that stumbling upon an area full of architectural wonders was probably the highlight of the day. Now I would love to return to Somers Town again with a walking tour to find out more about the history and stories of the area.

 


This post was posted in London, Architecture, Modernist & Art Deco, Contemporary and was tagged with London, open house, contemporary architecture, modernist architecture

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