xrematon

February 15, 2020

Canary Wharf – my work home for a year

When you commute somewhere, it is all too easy for the routine to take over and you become blind to what you see every day around. Just over half way in to a year long contract, I have realised that it was time for me to look up and remember to actively see the place I take many hours travelling to and many hours present at. The buildings are most just glassy or else stony pastiche.

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Please note the green spaces include fake grass. Does it still ‘count’ as a green space then, I wonder?

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So Canary Wharf – what is there? I must confess that I don’t think I will be particularly complimentary. My overall impression is that it is rather shiny and soulless, with a focus on making money and spending money.

Its redeeming features are the elements that stand out as being uncharacteristic of the place. These include certain pieces of art that are dotted around the area. My favourite is the statue below. I like it because it is imperfect; if it is wasn’t made of bronze, I would describe it as a bit shabby; and I still haven’t worked out whether the gesture of the statue is one of joy (thanking the heavens for their happiness) or of utter desperation (calling upon the heavens for support and consolation).

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The other parts I enjoy being in are at the edges – where real life and real London creep it. This comes through most strongly once at the river when the forces of nature do their thing: the tides expose unseemly muddy flats and cormorants pose and stretch to dry their wings at their own chosen spot.

 

I did wonder whether I was being rather harsh and bringing in ‘history’ would make me feel there is more character and depth to the place. Whilst it is certainly true that acknowledging Canary Wharf’s earlier activity in trade adds more colour to the picture, I am not sure it really changes the dynamics. This trading – as it does today – is about wealth, greed and exploitation of global resources. There was lots of trade in slaves, sugar, tobacco and drug smuggling. Hmmm. Like today, Canary Wharf was the place which could show off ground-breaking / landmark developments – for example, the first ever tunnel under a navigable river and the world largest ship built in the 19th century.

Luckily (and perhaps somewhat ironically) the place where I work is one concerned with supporting those on low to middle incomes and where the principle of paternalism (not relying on consumer choice) reigns supreme.

February 17, 2019

A day out in London

Though I toil away at a kitchen table in rural suburbia for the majority of my time, every once in a while I head out for a day of adventures in London. In order to make the most of the trip, in the lead-up to the Big Day, I build up a list of interesting and exotic venues and establishments that seem worthy of a visit. Below, I shall share experiences from working through my most recent list.

First stop-off was the recently opened London Mithraeum situated on the site of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters. This is essentially a fancy little museum which showcases the archaeological remains of a Roman temple of Mithras. This temple was actually first discovered some time ago – in the reconstruction efforts immediately after WWII – but the display of the temple remains and artifacts found there were disappointing and did nothing to capitalise on the high levels of public interest shown when the Mithraeum was first dug out.

This new display does not disappoint – it is a slick and glossy affair, showing the latest in museum trends and technology. However, I must confess that what helped to bring the Mithraeum to life powerfully did not rely on snazzy tech – it was based on careful and thoughtful use of light and sound. In fact, the main element of the visit was effectively a short ‘show’ or ‘son et lumiere’ experience.

After having browsed through various rooms showing the different objects found at the site, visitors were invited to come into a dark room. The light then gradually increased, showing at first the outlines of the temple and then shadows ‘built’ the vertical pillars as shown below.

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Further light was used to create the famous sculpture at the back.

IMG_20190208_104523Finally, the whole temple room was properly illuminated.

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Accompanying this was no commentary, but insteads the sounds you would expect to hear when the temple was in use: men chatting, chanting, and then calm again. Overall, though there isn’t much ‘there’ at the Mithraeum, it is certainly engaging and intriguing, in particular as people still can’t really explain what the secret Mithraic cult was really about.

Next came hanging around the Bloomberg building itself – at least as far as members of the public are allowed. The lobby was full of swooping curves, built from planks of the finest oak imported from the other side of the world, placed on the finest stone, also imported from half way round the world. Not very sustainable if you think about the sunk carbon cost involved in digging all this material out and getting it here (though obviously the whole building itself cannot be faulted for its energy efficiency). Grumblings aside, the effect is beautiful and creates the impression of being underwater and floating past the curving hulls of majestic boats.

IMG_20190208_110242IMG_20190208_110308Final stop was up in the Kings Cross area in Coal Drops Yard. The reason this made it onto my list was the involvement of Thomas Heatherwick – yes, shameless star name power pulling me in. The weather on the day of my visit was not helpful – there was a wet and weeping sky, making the heavens press in and the stand-out undulating roof seem like one of those motorway service stations which bridges over the road.

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Luckily, there was not a Little Chef in sight!

I’m busy plotting my next trip – await the next installment.

December 15, 2016

The new Design Museum – photo essay

Filed under: Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:45 pm
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Something visual for a change….

This week I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Design Museum, moved from its old site in London Bridge to a newly refitted building off High Street Kensington.

The building is nestled alongside Holland Park and set a bit of a way back from the bustle of the street. The museum is also close to the block of luxury flats which were developed simultaneously and formed part of the same property deal (more detail on this, and about the architects, can be found here.)

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The most striking feature about the building is the huge (some might say over-sized) atrium into which one walks on entering.

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The atrium certainly creates a lovely airiness, but it also means that everything else is either squatting in underground bunker floors or squeezed off at the edges. As an example of the latter, let’s take the cafe, often an important part of the museum experience – a place to sit, rest weary legs and chat after gazing at an endless vista of intriguing displays. In the Design Museum, the cafe is not more than a glorified small alcove off to one side of this atrium. It has no access to daylight (there are no windows) and, even though I visited at a non-peak time (early-ish morning midweek), it was already very full.

However, I did enjoy spying other elements of interest in the building, such as the spiralling beams coming off the triangular skylights…

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…as well as the concrete pillar stretching up one side.

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As my visit had no ambitions beyond getting an impression of the museum, I did not explore the exhibits in any detail. but here are some that caught my attention.

Firstly, one almost de rigeur for a design museum – a vase made by 3D printing – surprisingly light.

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Secondly, the more ‘off the wall’ item – a jacket woven from human hair – which I found personally so repulsive that I couldn’t to be near it any longer than was required to take this picture.

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Thirdly, a rather random, whimsical offering – a close-up from a kitchen mock-up constructed entirely out of wood.

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My final image are the water jets you come across as you walk back to join Kensington High Street. I am sure they will be a great hit with children on hot summer days, though I don’t think you will find me coming back to appreciate them. I would rather spent the time admiring the rural aesthetics of my garden.

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March 2, 2015

Pastiche British

The above title is not meant to be derogatory. I did um-and-ah about it for a while, toying with alternatives such as ‘International British’, ‘Aspirational English’ or even ‘Fake British’, but let’s stick with the current option as I think it best captures the points I am going to make.

This post is inspired by a visit a couple of months ago to the rather magnificent Rosewood London luxury hotel situated in the High Holborn area, which opened just over a year ago. What is notable about this establishment is the ambition to offer something which captures a mix of British manor heritage (intriguing) and contemporary design (more familiar). The end result deserves inspection; there is good intent but actual delivery is sometimes compromised.

First to the building itself – well, it is rather magnificent. It is an Edwardian neoclassical construction started in 1912 and expanded upon in four stages over nearly 50 years, during which time it was the headquarters for the Pearl Assurance Company. Here we have already encountered our first pastiche – the architectural style – which is inspired by something that was initially about simplicity, purity and careful elegance.  However, 252 High Holborn is a huge soaring pile complete with gatehouse and courtyard (hence the ability to have manor house pretensions).

Inside, the ‘wow’ factor comes from a combination of original features, such as the Renaissance-style seven-storey grand staircase made from seven types of marble, including extremely rare types such as Swedish Green and Statuary, and from modern additions. The most memorable of the latter is the rose bronze gallery which you encounter when you first enter the hotel before stepping through into the more expected luxury slick chic.

We had the opportunity to luncheon in the Holborn Dining Room, which was perfectly pleasant. Perhaps unsurprisingly the menu also had British aspirations and included dishes which are de rigeur when trying to show local alignment: spelt risotto, fish and chips, queen of puddings anyone?

Perhaps the most quixotic element was the staff. I should begin by pointing out that they were very lovely and extremely helpful.  They too were part of the British manor heritage scene thanks to their uniforms, which consisted of a mish-mash of tweed, flat caps and tartan (of course). Moving on from the rather deliciously posh pantomime effect of these outfits, what was more incongruous was the fact that not one of the staff we encountered was actually British! There was a charming and extremely camp Thai butler, resplendent in his assortment of tweeds, followed by a more brooding Spaniard the next day, whilst the waiters in the restaurant were an assortment of continental Europeans and I think the grounds man/game-keeper wannabe outside in the courtyard was probably Polish. Case made.

Rosewood courtyard staff

In terms of the interiors, here too we can find this international Britishness. The sides of the lobby were decorated with large paintings of English landscapes, but painted by a Chilean artist. Below these paintings, there was a disconcertingly lifelike porcelain bulldog, but being watched over by tweeting birds in vast cages serenading guests entering the lifts. Quick explanation: birds are associated with good luck and abundance in Asia (Rosewood is owned by Hong-Kong based company New World Hospitality).

Rosewood acquired the very prestigious Hotel Crillon in Paris last year and are in the process currently renovating and revamping it. I am bemused by the thought of what French pastiche might be!

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