Monday 27 September 2010

111 Strand WC2

This plain but quite elegant building was designed by Michael Squire & Partners in 2001, and constructed with load-bearing panels. The sculpture is by artists Langlands & Bell, who specialise in this sort of thing.
I like it. It is a map of the surrounding streets - the building itself is at the intersection of the second and third panels up. 
I've tried to match the pattern with a map and aerial photography from Google, but of course it is distorted by the camera angle from the street. Interestingly, the aerial photo fits the pattern much better than the map - perhaps the camera angle from the plane was similar.
The artists themselves describe the work as "a vector of cityscape. An axial section of the locality rising perpendicular to the ground in the form of a block and street plan in low relief. The city is upended and “re-presented” as a view from above on 5 storey's [sic] of the buildings [sic] facade."
More evidence that artists should let their work speak for itself - it is usually so much more articulate. 

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Kingsgate House, 114-115 High Holborn WC1

You really have to crane your neck to see this extraordinary pair of statues perched right on the top of the Queen Anne style Kingsgate House. When they were placed there in about 1903 they represented the first and latest Edwards to sit on the throne of England, Edwards I and VII.
The building is in fact part of the Baptist Union complex in Southampton Row behind, designed by Arthur Keen. The statue of Bunyan on that building is by Richard Garbe, who indeed carved the two kings.
The choice of subject was no doubt prompted by the fact that Edward VII had just come to the throne. Comparing the new monarch to Edward I, a great warrior, Crusader, legal reformer and establisher of parliament, probably went down well.
The images will be totally familiar to anyone who went through an English education before about 1968. Edward I is dressed in chain mail, wears a sword and holds what appears to be a hammer, a reference to his nickname, Hammer of the Scots. Edward VII with his familiar beard holds the orb and sceptre. No sword, though he was a noted swordsman in his own inimitable way.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Jubilee Market Hall, Covent Garden WC2

The market porters of Covent Garden were famous for carrying tottering piles of baskets of fruit, veg and flowers, up to six or seven, on their heads. Now few of the tourists who mill around buying tacky souvenirs and watching the buskers realise the place was a market at all.
Some families worked as porters at Covent Garden for generations, as portrayed in a bronze on the Jubilee market Hall by Glynis Owen. The caption at the bottom of the bronze explains all - click to enlarge, as with all picture on this blog.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Old Admiralty (Ripley) Building, Whitehall SW1

The 1723 Admiralty building, now the oldest surviving government offices, was originally built as apartments for the members of the Board of Admiralty, both naval officers and politicians.
In 1760 Robert Adam was employed to design a screen consisting of columns in front of a wall, with pavilions at the ends and a gate in the middle.
The gate has a pair of winged hippocampi or seahorses, very appropriate for a navy that was propelled round the world by the wind. The pavilion pediments are carved with ship's prows - on the right a Roman galley with another hippocampus, a ram in the shape of three of the short stabbing swords used by Roman soldiers, and a brazen eagle's head.
On the left is a British warship with a lion figurehead. The message is clear - the Navy is the power of the new Imperium.
The sculptor was Michael Henry Spang, a Dane who had found fame with a flayed figure in bronze that he made for the noted surgeon William Hunter, under whom he had studied anatomy.
Spang was one of Adams' favourite sculptors but unfortunately died shortly after the Admiralty screen was completed.

Monday 13 September 2010

Apollo Victoria, Wilton Road SW1

The Apollo Victoria theatre was originally built in 1928 by E. Walmsley Lewis as a monster cinema for Gaumont, whose executive architect was William E. Trent. As a result, the name Trent crops up a lot in the design credits for Gaumonts of the period, including W. Sydney Trent and Newbury A. Trent, an admirable example of keeping it in the family.
Newbury Trent did these frothy little bas reliefs for the main entrance. They show an audience watching a romance (on the left) and a drama (on the right).
They watch the romance impassively but the scene of a lady being knifed in the back elicits violent reactions - women faint, shriek or hide their eyes in their hands. One man even rises to his feet and puts up his fists, threatening to fight the assailant.
But the couple to the left of centre are oblivious to the screen, locked in their embrace in both pictures.
Incidentally, the knifing is very reminiscent of Hitchcock's Psycho. I bet Hitch knew the Apollo in its cinematic heyday.
An interesting detail is the figure of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp on the responds of the entrance, presumably also designed by Trent (left). The comical feet-out, hands-out posture is captured perfectly.
The figure is repeated on the Vauxhall Bridge Road entrance, but strangely different (right). It is shorter, squatter and the bowler hat is at a slightly more rakish angle. It has a more feminine air - as if Trent had put Vesta Tilley doing Charlie Chaplin on that side. Odd.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Gower Street WC1

RADA was built in 1927 by Geoffrey Norman, with these actors holding masks of Tragedy and Comedy sculpted by Alan Durst over the main entrance. Durst was a career soldier who left the army for art and enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design in 1913, with tragically bad timing. The very next year he was, of course, back in the Marines for the duration.
Durst makes a simple and effective point about acting by giving the Mask of Comedy to the grumpy old bloke on the right, and the Mask of Tragedy to the sunny, smiling beauty on the left.

Friday 3 September 2010

4 Millbank SW1

No 4 Millbank was built in 1912 by Simpson & Ayrton for the Crown Agents. The allegorical figures over the entrance are by Albert Hodge. London possesses few of Hodge's works - born in Islay, he began his career in Glasgow and died in 1918 at the early age of 43.
The female on the left sitting on top of an Ionic column is not as generously endowed as most Edwardian lovelies, which is typical of Hodge. Both figures have muscles like penny rolls, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, which is another characteristic of Hodge's work.
The male figure carries a bundle of fasces, so he must be associated with justice. Note the tiny winged figurehead under his left hand, implying that he is sitting on a ship. You can just see a mooring ring behind him to his right.