Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye

I went up to the marvellous roof garden, on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.

Here is a picture of the Royal Festival Hall, with the London Eye behind it. The tower of Westminster looms behind the wheel.

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This roof garden seems to be a place for serious discussions. Some people at the next bench were discussing whether to stay employed or not. One of the options was to “go travelling”. Another, as far as I could work out, was to “get married”. It was hard to keep track of their wide ranging conversation, because I had to concentrate on the beautiful curve on the front of the Royal Festival Hall. It was a luxury to be there, and to appreciate the lines of the architecture. The lines were somewhat compromised at this roof level by the many creeping plants, floodlights, and surveillance cameras which you see encrusting the ventilation shaft in the foreground. Also note the prominent mobile phone mast on top of the Royal Festival Hall. I would not have granted planning permission for that.

The roof garden is a wonderful invention, and well done. By the time I’d finished the drawing, many people had made their way up, and were discussing work, and relationships, all very earnest. I discovered that I was sitting in the smoking area, which is adjacent to the vaping area. Marijuana smells wafted up from somewhere, perhaps from the skateboarding area in the Undercroft below. I could hear the crashes and the calls. But there was also a smell of grass, actual green grass, as in the picture.

Here is work in progress and a photo of my sketchbook on the concrete:

The drawing took 1hr30mins.
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The London County Council (LCC), as it then was, initiated the building of the Royal Festival Hall as their contribution to the Festival of Britain. The foundation stone was laid by the Prime Minister Clement Atlee in 1949 and a mere 18 months later, in 1951, the concert hall opened with a gala concert, which shows what can be done if you are determined and have a deadline.

The project was initially led by the LCC chief architect Robert Matthew, then later by Leslie Martin, with Edwin Williams and Peter Moro. It was built on the site of the Lion Brewery, which was built in 1837.

[this information from the Royal Festival Hall website, and the Twentieth Century Society]

Great Arthur House from the Barbican Podium

Here is Great Arthur House from the podium ramp near Blake Tower. You can see Blake Tower on the left. At the bottom of the picture is the ramp that goes down into the Car Park at Bunyan Court.

Several stories below me, at ground level, there was an assortment of discarded furniture and paint tins, and a huge skip full of Christmas Trees being collected for recycling.

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It was really cold out there. I saw a black cat sliding in between the debris.

This picture done on Fabriano Artistico loose sheet,  8inches by 10 inches. About an hour, on location.

Galway House

Galway House is one of the two Towers on the Pleydall Estate just North of Old Street. The other tower is Grayson.

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I drew this from behind Grayson House. There was a ferocious cold wind. I seemed to have picked the place where all the winds met. Here are maps showing the direction I was looking.

 


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Here are the blocks in the picture. It almost looks as though the Atlas Building continues the march of these majestic 1960s blocks. But it doesn’t, not really.

In the drawing you can see the scaffolding on the Atlas Building, and the external lift that was going up and down as I was drawing.

I was interested to see that the inhabitants of Galway Tower made use of their flower beds.

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Raised flower beds in Galway House, South side.

I’ve seen the same arrangement of raised flower beds next to the flats in Rahere House, where the beds were more exposed, and not used.

This whole area underwent huge changes in the twentieth century, although the street layout is unchanged.

From 1751, on Old Street, there was a huge hospital for the mentally ill: St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.

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St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics on Old Street. The obelisk in St Luke’s Gardens is in the background. Image credit: Wikipedia

This hospital was closed in 1916 and the residents moved out. The building was acquired by the Bank of England and used for printing bank notes.

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Bank of England Printing Works on Old Street, 1925, image credit: Bank of England Museum.

Here is the area in 1940: map from http://www.maps-of-london.com, click to enlarge.

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The Pleydell Estate area, Finsbury, in 1940. Picture credit: http://www.maps-of-london.com

You see Galway Street on the crease of the map, in the centre about a quarter of the way down. Below it, to the right is the “Bank Printing Works”.

In 1959 the London County Council sought to purchase the Printing Works site and use it as an annexe to Covent Garden. This was opposed by Michael Cliffe, MP for Finsbury and Shoreditch, on the grounds that it would create unacceptable traffic congestion, especially at the Old Street Roundabout.

Mr Cliffe is quoted in Hansard:

“…London County Council (General Powers) Bill, …. The Council, through the Bill, sought powers to acquire and redevelop St. Luke’s Printing Works as an annexe of Covent Garden Market….. I would ask the Minister what is the point of spending millions of pounds in trying to solve the problem of congestion in Central London if we are to convert the St. Luke’s Printing Works as an annexe to Covent Garden in an area where we know it must inevitably cause the kind of congestion that we are trying to avoid and which we are discussing every day. As the number of vehicles increases, further problems will have to be solved. Surely we do not want to create further difficulties after our experience gained in the past?” [Hansard: HC Deb 17 December 1959 vol 615 cc1738-47]

Mr Cliffe must have prevailed. I feel an affinity with him because earlier this week I drew Michael Cliffe House.

The Printing Works building was demolished in 1963. At around that time Finsbury Council was building council houses, including the 4 tower blocks in the area: Gambier House, Grayson House, Godfrey House and Galway House. So somehow the Council must have acquired the Print Works site. I can’t find the history online so I’m going to visit the London Metropolitan Archives and the Islington Museum.

The Towers also were allocated to different Estates: Galway is in the “St Luke’s Estate” which includes the Printing works Site, Gambier is in the City Road Estate and Grayson and Galway are in the Pleydell Estate.

From “Streets with a story, The book of Islington” (1986) by Eric A Willats FLA I learn that: “Messrs. Emberton, Franck & Tardrew were the architects of Galway House (Pleydell Estate)”.

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From a map sent to Mr I Agar in 2010 in response to a Freedom of Information request [FOI 340742.pdf]
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The Pleydell Estate, Galway House in the Background.

Michael Cliffe House

Here is Michael Cliffe House, in the Finsbury Estate, from Tysoe Street.

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The lower level block in the low centre of the picture is Joseph Trotter Close, also part of the Finsbury Estate.

While I was drawing the picture a man came and told me that he had seen the original architect’s drawing of this low level block. In the architect’s vision it was “sleek and wonderful”. But the man said the reality was very different. The concrete had worn badly and the building had not succeeded, in his opinion.

Earlier a woman came when I was at the pen-and-ink stage. She said that her 11 year old grandson had started painting, which pleased her very much. She bought paints for him. I asked if she painted too. She said no, but she was inspired by her grandson and might now have a go herself. “After all,” she said, ” he just paints anything, and I could do that too!”. I agreed.

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The drawing took two hours. After I finished I went to have a look at Joseph Trotter Close. I saw a low-level set of bungalows, all very much inhabited, with children’s play things and outdoor chairs on the lawn. It may not be sleek, but it looked as though people enjoyed living there.

The entrance to Michael Cliffe House was cramped and congested, with cars manoeuvring awkwardly and a dark, obscured, entrance. Lovely typeface though.

 

The real surprise was inside the entrance. There, uncelebrated in the underpass, were some amazing mosaics of dancers.

 

Michael Cliffe (1903-1964) was a Labour councillor for Finsbury, Mayor of Finsbury (1956-7), and an active Labour MP (1958-64).

The Finsbury Estate was built by Finsbury Borough Council in 1965. The architects were Emberton, Franck & Tardrew. Finsbury Borough council was absorbed by Islington.

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Later note (7th Feb 2019): There is detailed information on the Finsbury Estate on “British History online” – try this link, which starts with a history of Spa Green, and goes on to describe the Finsbury Estate.

Grayson House

Grayson House is part of the Pleydell Estate.

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1 hr 40 mins from the small park called Radnor Street Gardens.

Grayson House on the left, and Gambier House in the background.

Next to me, for the entire duration of the drawing two men played ping-pong. The children came out of school at 4pm, and wanted to use the ping-pong table. But the men said no.

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I drew Gambier House from the same park, in March, on  a peregrination around City Road

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Later note:
I discover from the amazing “Streets with a story, The book of Islington” by Eric A Willats FLA, that “Grayson House (1961)” was ” named after Frederick George Grayson, a superintendent of Radnor Street Sunday Schools and Mission, formerly in Radnor Street.”

Mr Willats’ book lists streets and some buildings in Islington, including as he says “what has come to my notice up to the early summer of 1986.” It is in the Islington Museum.

Peregrine House from the King’s Square Estate

At 27 stories, Peregrine House and Michael Cliffe House are the two tallest towers owned by Islington Council. This sketch shows Peregrine House, an Islington Council residential tower, visible from my window.  It is on Hall St, just off the Goswell Road. The view is looking North towards Peregrine House. I was standing in the Kings Square Estate, another Islington Council Estate, next to Rahere House.

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Peregrine House was finished in 1969. It is part of the City Road Estate, together with Kestrel Tower. I have drawn Kestrel Tower previously, see this link: Towers of Finsbury – Rahere and Kestrel. See the different brick colours on Peregrine Tower: the more yellow brick for most of the balconies, and the more red-coloured brick for the balconies across the top and around the sides.

The solid neo-Georgian block in front of Peregrine House is “Level 3 communications” a data centre and communications hub. In 2011 they applied to Islington Council for permission to install 5 steel flues. The permission was granted and the flues are on the back (north) of the building, not shown in the sketch. As part of the consideration of the permission, the building is described as “1930s”. I haven’t yet found out what it was before it was a data centre. It looks like a telephone exchange or electricity substation. (Update: 6 February 2019 – it was a Gordon’s Gin Factory – see comments below)  I drew the back of this building in the Kestrel Tower sketch: Towers of Finsbury – Rahere and Kestrel

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Photo from the Level 3 application to install satellite dishes. I think that’s Micheal Cliffe House in the distance.

Level 3 also applied for permission to install 4 satellite dishes on the south side of the building. The application is undated, and no indication is given of the outcome. This application was “retrospective”. Link to their application is here:  Level 3 Application for Satellite Dishes

I was looking at the South face of the Level 3 building and I couldn’t see any satellite dishes.

 

In the foreground, right, of my sketch, is the blank end-wall of 6 Moreland Street, an Arhag Housing Association residential building, which looks like a late 1970s development.

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The Kings Square Phase 2 development, picture from the Higgins Construction website. It’s a bit hard to tell, but I think that’s a similar sightline to the one in my sketch, with Peregrine House in the background. Picture credit: Pollard Thomas Edwards architects.

In the foreground on the left, work is in progress on “Kings Square Phase 2” which a hoarding informed me was “93 new homes”, which are “51 council homes and 42 for private ownership”. Completion is due in 2020, and they’ve already got the concrete frame up. The construction workers were working hard and calling to each other while I sketched, issuing instructions and shouting warnings in several languages, including English. The contract was awarded to Higgins Construction plc in February 2017: £30 million.

The sketch took 90 minutes: half an hour each for pencil, pen and watercolour. Done in Jackson Watercolour sketch book, 8 by 10 inches.

If the lighting looks flat and there is a complete absence of shadows, that’s because the lighting was flat and there was a complete absence of shadows. It was that kind of a day.

Later note:

I saw the satellite dishes on the Level 3 building, they are high up on the roof and not visible from ground level.

Here they are:

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Sketch 28 May 2018, from my window.

 

 

Towers of Finsbury – Rahere and Kestrel

I have been trying to find good views of Rahere and Kestral Houses,  two Towers of Finsbury which I can see from my window.

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From “King Square Estate Regeneration, Summer 2015 Issue 4” by Islington Council.

Rahere is in the King Square Estate. This estate was built by Islington Council in 1959-61. The architects were Emberton, Franck and Tardew. Franck had worked for Tecton, the firm who designed the Spa Green Estate. King Square Estate is currently subject of improvements including addition of new dwellings.In between all the blocks is St Clements Church.

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Rahere House is just visible to the left. The new tower, Lexicon, is above it on the left. Carerra House, of the 250 City Road development, is under construction, visible to the right of the spire.

I couldn’t find a distant view of Rahere House, so here is a close-up.

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This is one of the back doors. The architects thoughtfully provided lead-lined troughs, at waist height, for flower pots, I assume. One of these is shown in the drawing, to the right of the door. Off the picture to the left, these continue as long boxes, like water-troughs. None of them are used, presumably because the council don’t do flowers and the temptation for vandals is too great.

Instead, residents have their own plants, inside their windows and out on the balcony. See also the feral plant, growing out of the concrete above the door, top left.

Turnpike House is on the same King Square estate. Turnpike I have drawn before.

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Turnpike House, King Square Estate, from the Goswell Road

To the North of Rahere is Kestrel House. This tower is on Moreland Street and City Road. It is currently surrounded by building work associated with the Bunhill Heat and Power. This scheme takes energy from braking Tube trains and uses it to heat local houses and schools.

Kestrel House is on the “City Road Estate”. I found a view of of it from Hall Street: it’s the rectangular tower block in the middle. The Lexicon, otherwise known as “Chronicle Tower”, a new development by “Mount Anvil” is the sloping building behind.
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The building which dominates this drawing, on the right, is the premises of “Level(3)”. I walked round the block a couple of times to see what it was. The windows on the street side are high, and there are serious steel shutters over every entrance. Note the huge ventilation shafts. It looks somehow as though it’s ventilating a larger volume than the building, as though it goes down a number of stories below ground. The business of Level(3), according to a web search, is “Connecting and Protecting the Networked World”.

The red-brick building straight ahead was previously “St Marks Hospital Nurses Home”. This is cast into the stone work above a former door on Pickard Street. The door is no longer in use, and fenced off. “Founded 1835, Erected 1853”. The main entrance now is on City Road. It looks disused. Fallen leaves clutter the steps, the grass wafts unmown. But there is a car park, so perhaps there’s another entrance from there that I couldn’t see. It’s “300 City Road”, which appears online as Citidines Serviced apartments.

Behind me when I drew this was Peregrine House, another tower, very high.

Later I went back to try to get views of Peregrine House.

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President House, left, Peregrine House, centre.

I forgot to take my drawing book.

I’ll have another go at these towers.

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Buildings served by “Bunhill Heat and Power 2” – in green.

Barbican Staircase 

This is the staircase from Podium Level down to the Lakeside. It’s a magnificent sculptural piece of architecture: it appears free floating, a mass of concrete in the air. 

Drawn in the sun after a lunch in the Barbican Kitchen. The wind kept shifting my art equipment around, and the shadows changed as the clouds came and went. 

About an hour and 15 minutes, drawn and coloured on location. 

Finsbury Health Centre

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Built 1935-38 designed by Lubetkin and the Tecton Architectural Practice.

Partly restored mid 1990s, but still looks dilapidated, especially round the back.

Evidently still in use as a medical centre. While I drew the picture, ambulances arrived and departed, carrying elderly and disabled patients. A mother and child looked at my drawing. The mother encouraged the child to see how slowly I was drawing.

Posting this in 2019, after I went to the Wellcome Collection “Living Buildings” exhibition, and learned how carefully this health centre had been thought about. There was a mural inside, which was destroyed in the Second World War.

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Postcard from wellcomecollection.org, “Exhibition display panels explaining features of the design of the Finsbury Health Centre, Pine Street, Finsbury London. Cheerful atmosphere. Lubetkin and tectonic. 1938. RIBA collection.”
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