Tuesday 19 June 2012

Former Daily Telegraph building, Fleet Street EC4

Charles Elcock's building for the Daily Telegraph must have been seen as bold, modern and thrusting when it was built in 1928, an odd advertisement for a paper so conservative it is universally known as the Torygraph.
The decorations on the main facade are conventional Art Deco, by Alfred Oakley.The pair of Mercuries over the front door distribute the news round the Empire and even to heathen foreigners, rushing away from Blighty on their winged boots as the sun rises round the globe. 
A rather arresting if cosmologically inexact image.
Oakley probably also carved the charming and much more natural swallows.
Oakley was the son of a chairmaker in High Wycombe and is still celebrated there. He experienced a major change in career direction shortly after the Telegraph commission - becaming a monk and exclusively specialising in religious ornamentation thereafter
High above, right on top of the building, these two rather brutal masks stare out into the middle distance.

They are called The Past (above) and The Future (below) and are the last major sculptures of Samuel Rabinovitch.
Rabinovitch's first and only other major commission was for the West Wind on the London Underground building in Westminster. There, all the artists had carved their work directly, ie when the stone was in place rather than in a studio.
However, at the Underground the initial shaping was done in the studio and only the finishing was done directly. At the Telegraph, Rabinovitch went the whole hog and carved the masks from block to finished work as a medieval mason would have done on a cathedral.
Charles Elcock, the architect, apparently did not know exactly what he was up to until the scaffolding came down, which was trusting of him.
According to Rabinovitch himself: "The stern, glum, emaciated face is that of the Past, hollowed by age...(while)...the beaming face is that of the Future - young, blank and fresh."
Unfortunately Rabinovitch concluded shortly afterwards that he himself had no future in sculpture, and gave it up to become an all-in wrestler under the name Sam Rabin. Here he is, depicted by artist William Roberts being thrown out of the ring by fellow grunt-game aficionado Black Eagle.

Thursday 14 June 2012

One New Change, EC4

One New Change is a classic example of City greed, a monster block right next to St Paul's. The trendy, look-at-me design by Jean Nouvel (based on an Airfix model of a stealth bomber) fails to conceal that fact that the main design objective is to cram as much lettable space as possible onto the site.
Not that the previous building was anything to write home about - a bland neo-Georgian block that was home to the Bank of England's accounts department. It was, however, decorated with a sprinkling of sculptures by some of Britain's most eminent artists including Sir Charles Wheeler, Donald Gilbert, David Evans and Ernest Gillick.
Most of the art was packed up and sold (though some is still available). But you can still see some of Wheeler's work on the roof terrace at One New Change.
And that was something of a revelation. You get to it by boarding a glass lift buried down a canyon through the building, with a stunning view of St Pauls at the end. When you get to the top, this is what you see:

Most people stay in the rather good tapas bar, but tucked around the corner is a 'vitrine' or glass case containing three of Wheeler's figures, St George Combatant, St George Triumphant and a Lion keystone. Not his best work, but infinitely better than Gavin Turk's new Nail, which is a big nail (duh!) sticking out of the pavement at the entrance.

Unfortunately, the glass is dotted to reduce heat transfer which makes the sculpture difficult to see properly, let alone photograph. My photo software also brings out the reflected blue of the sky much more strongly than it appears to the eye, but I rather like the effect.
Laid out on the compulsory sedum roof (oh so green) is one of the rather attractive mosaics by Boris Anrep.