A short walk in the City

Here is the stunning view looking east from outside 12 Throgmorton Ave.


TwentyTwo Bishopsgate now rises above Tower 42. I have previously drawn both these towers as part of a skyline from Lauderdale Place: From Lauderdale Place: Eastern Cluster.

This was a quick sketch, perhaps 25 minutes. The moon hung just above Tower 42, as you can just see in the picture, and in this short time, it moved until it was over TwentyTwo.

I was on my way to see if the new rooftop garden on 120 Fenchurch Street was open to the public as advertised. With very low expectations I found my way between the immense towers of the insurance district, and presented myself, in my anorak with my rucksack, at what I deemed was the correct entrance. It looked like a corporate reception area, with a person in uniform with a label round their neck. Expecting to be asked my business and turned away, I asked politely if I could go up. “Yes of course,” said the uniformed individual, smiling broadly, “Just put your bag through the scanner.” It was as easy as that. I was amazed. More uniformed people were on hand to welcome me into the lift and out when I reached the 15th floor.

This roof garden is stunning. The sun was shining, and a estuarine wind ruffled the heads of the tulips. People were standing about on the clean concrete areas as though in an architectural layout. 120 Fenchurch Street is not particularly high, on the grand overall scale of things, but the view is spectacular because it is embedded within other towers, so it’s like being in a sculpture park. The Gherkin, the Scalpel, and TwentyTwo Bishopsgate are all round it, and there’s the Lloyds Building, and a distant view of St Pauls, and the glint of the Thames.

I decided I would be selective, and not try to draw a wide view. So I settled out of the wind, on the West side, and drew this.


I enjoyed the chasm, and the roof paraphernalia. The drain pipes were much in the steampunk tradition. They took flamboyant routes over the brick, with far more right angles than is strictly necessary. See also the iron staircases and platforms, more like the set of “Streetcar Named Desire” than office blocks in the financial district.

Here is work in progress, and the sketchbook on the paving of the roof garden.

The drawing took 1hour 15 minutes.

Here are maps showing where I was.

From Lauderdale Place: Eastern Cluster

It is amazing how many buildings you can see from Lauderdale Place. Lauderdale is the Westernmost of the three Barbican Towers. I am standing beside it, looking South-East, over Lambert Jones Mews.


The towers are members of the so-called “Eastern Cluster”. The new building, 22 Bishopsgate, with its 60 floors, makes the former “NatWest Tower” look small. The NatWest Tower used to be the tallest tower block in the City. It is a mere 42 floors, and is now called “Tower 42”. Perhaps that is because of the number of floors. I never thought of that before.

You can just glimpse “the Scalpel”, the pointed crystalline building on Lime St, near the Lloyds building. In the picture it is between 22 Bishopsgate and St Giles’ Church.

I have annotated all the buildings here:

IMG_1755 copy

Here is work in progress:

We think of the Barbican as concrete, but in fact there is quite a lot of brick. I studied the brickwork on Lambert Jones Mews carefully, and then found it was more difficult to draw than I expected. The pattern is very particular: long-short-long-short.


The drawing took 1hr45min, drawn in bright sunlight and a light breeze. I finished it at 12:15pm. Then I went home and had a Hot Cross Bun which I had bought from St John’s Bakery. The bag was standing beside me while I was drawing, smelling spicy.


88 Golden Lane

Today was a glorious sunny day. I walked out into the sun and everywhere was worthy of a sketch.

Here is 88 Golden Lane, a strange thin building. It is an architects’ practice: Blair Architecture.


I sketched this standing on the side of the road in the sun, then retreated to sit on my case by a nearby wall to add the colour.

It must have looked as though I was sitting on the pavement. An elderly woman, pushing a shopping basket on wheels, stopped and asked me if I was alright. I said I was, and explained that I was drawing a picture. “Oh,” she said, “because I was going to say that if you needed a sit down, there a bench just around the corner here.”

I gestured to the building I was drawing. “Ah yes, you wouldn’t be able to see that if you went round the corner.” She told me she had wanted to be an artist. She always got the art prize at school. But then the schools closed. “We were blocked,” she said. I didn’t know what she meant. “I’m old,” she said, smiling at my blank expression, “the war.”

Because the school closed, she left at 14. “I wanted to go to the art school, St Martins, but that was closed because of the war.” So, she said she’d be a typist. Then the firm she worked for closed down because of the war. “So I went on War Work,” she declared. “Oh, I’ve had a good life. I’m 93. Although people say I don’t look it.” She certainly didn’t look it.

I suggested she take up art now.

“I can’t,” she said, “it’s the hands.” She held up her arms. Her hands were balls, in gloves. “Arthritis,” she said. “But I’m alright. I was ill. And I recovered. So now I think, well, I’ve got a new life. Get on with it.”

She waved her balled hands cheerfully and pushed her trolley on. She turned round. “I hope to see you again,” she said.



Barbican Towers in winter

Here is a sketch I made yesterday showing Shakespeare Tower, the middle one of the Barbican Towers.


I drew it sitting on a bench in Fortune Park.

fullsizeoutput_329aWhen I sat down, there was an agitated rustle under the bench, and a blackbird emerged onto the grass, looking rumpled. Another squawked among the leaves. I had the distinct impression that I had disturbed the creation of the next generation of blackbird. He, on the grass, squawked his annoyance at me.

I offered crumbs from the rock cake which I had bought from Big John on Whitecross Street market. The blackbird accepted the crumbs, fluttered a little way away to enjoy them, but was not appeased. His mate, having adjusted her make-up, hopped out, and asked for some rock cake too.

This picture took 1hr 15, drawn and coloured on location.

Here is a picture I’d done 2 days before, from an extremely cold and windy position on Chiswell Street. From left to right, Cromwell, Shakespeare, Lauderdale.


You see the infamous “Beech Street Tunnel”. This is an area of illegally high pollution levels, as the street is usually full of vehicles, and is covered. I haven’t shown the vehicles. Or the numerous pedestrians.

The odd circular tower type thing on the left of the tunnel is the vent to the car parks below. It is an architectural feature.

This was a much quicker picture as I was very cold and the location was busy and difficult to work in. 15 min on location and 15 min to do the colour at my desk.


Britannic House and Angel Court

Here is a view of Britannic House, 1 Finsbury Circus, from the back entrance of Moorgate Station.


It was 5 degrees C. I was standing outside 45 Moorfields, at the junction with New Union Street.

Behind the blue hoardings is the Crossrail site. When the buildings above Crossrail are finished, this view will have gone.

As I was drawing, young people emerged at intervals from Moorgate Station, pointing their mobile phones like laser guns. They glanced up from the screen, and chose New Union Street. This is a poor choice. New Union Street doesn’t go anywhere you want to go. It joins Moor Lane about half way along Willoughby House in the Barbican. Then you have to turn either left or right. Either way is a long draughty walk.

Nobody asks for directions these days. Eventually a young woman hesitated. My curiosity overcame me. I asked if she needed directions. “No”, she said, “I’m just going to “Bad Egg”. It’s that way, isn’t it?” She pointed down New Union Street, no doubt following the advice of her phone. “Well, no,” I said, “You’re best off going this other way, and across the Piazza”. She looked doubtful, and glanced again at her phone as if asking it for permission. But she followed my instructions. She will get there ahead of the people in front who are walking three sides of a square. The phone doesn’t know about the Piazza in front of City Point, which is where “Bad Egg” is located. “Bad Egg” is a very noisy restaurant. I walk past it on the way to Moorgate.

I carried on drawing. More young people emerged and set off down New Union Street. I let them go. Then a woman emerged and walked in the other direction, pointing her phone at the Moorgate Crossrail site. She kept walking until she was right close to the hoardings, and then stopped. She looked accusingly at the hoardings. They should not be there. She should be able to walk south unimpeded. But there is a huge Crossrail site in the way. Evidently this feature was not apparent on the online map. She rotated gently, but still the reality on her phone refused to match the reality on the ground. She made an impatient gesture and walked out of sight, towards Moorgate.

After I finished the drawing I wondered what the tower was that is behind Britannic House. So I walked in that direction, and found it is “Angel Court Bank”, a multi-use office space.

It soars up, planted in a very ancient part of the city, near the Bank of England. Angel Court itself is an alley way which joins Copthall Avenue with Lothbury.

I liked the disjunction between the smooth modern architecture and the decorated banking halls on the other side of the alley. The black thing on the pavement is a hunk of black granite intended as a bench. It has slots cut in the side to stop skateboarders using it as a jump.


In this picture you see the modern tower “angel court bank” on the left. It is also called “One Angel Court”. It slopes outwards, as you see, and is totally smooth, made of curved glass, which must have been really hard to assemble. On the other side of the street are old banking halls, once grand. Number 11 is the one which is ornate, in the centre of the picture. It is dilapidated, apparently empty. Its pillars really are green and white marble, albeit that one of them is held together with a rusty iron band. On the right of the picture is Numbers 9-10. I was surprised to see the bikes locked to its iron railings, as this practice is generally frowned on, and bikes are cut down. This building also looks empty, but a notice in the window declared that it was inhabited by “live-in guardians”. A note on the letter box instructed the Royal Mail where to put the post for residents. The bikes, evidently, belonged to the live-in guardians. They have great place to live, for the time being.

I was really cold by this time and my eyes were streaming. So I came home.

I have down Britannic House before:

1 Finsbury Circus, across the Crossrail site


Here’s a bit, from the “Open House” site, on Angel Court:

Original design
Fletcher Priest Architects, 2017
Fletcher Priest Architects, 2017
Restaurant/bar, Offices
  • Overview

    Fletcher Priest has completed Angel Court for Mitsui Fudosan UK and development partner Stanhope. The last tower of the ‘first generation’ of tall buildings in the Bank of England Conservation Area, Angel Court is located at heart of the City’s financial district.

  • Refurbished

    Extensive studies were initially carried out to examine new-build, re-build and refurbishment options for the 1970s structure before it was decided to replace all but the core and foundations of this 25-storey building, increasing the net area by 60%. The new tower hovers above pedestrianised Angel Court, formerly a cut-through from Lothbury to Copthall Avenue, now improved to create 40% more public realm.

  • The Translucent Building

    The most noticeable aspect of the tower is its skin, which flows as a softly curved homogenous surface around the walls and roof of the original octagonal form. During the day, glimpsed through the close-knit grain of the City’s streets, its translucency gives it a distinctive, light presence. These effects come from a double frit, a ceramic dot baked onto the glass surface, which allows views from inside to out and offsets solar gain. The sculpted lower garden floor buildings with deep-set windows faced in rough-hewn Carlow Blue limestone sit comfortably in their context and contrast with the softly curved tower. At night, the tower transforms to reveal a simple square grid to match the lower buildings, unifying the whole composition.




St Giles and Bastion House

Today Urban Sketchers London held a “sketch crawl” in the Barbican. So I joined them. An astonishing number and diversity of people assembled inside the entrance of the Barbican Centre at the appointed time of 11am. I counted about 35 and then another dozen or so joined. All shapes and sizes of people, tall, short, studious-looking or flamboyant, quiet or talkative, smart or windblown, old or young, all were there. I knew I was at the right place because everyone had a very obvious “drawing bag” or rucksack, and some were sporting a neat red Urban Sketch London badge.


A few words and then off we all dispersed. To my surprise I found a good place very quickly. A wall, at ground level, looking over the Lakeside Terrace and St Giles. I liked the way St Giles was surrounded by Bastion House, and framed by the massive concrete of Gilbert Bridge. I also thought I would be sheltered from the wind. I was wrong about that. In fact, the location seemed to be at the bottleneck of a wind-funnel, and at times the wind was painful, as well as being very inconvenient for my drawing materials, which shifted about and jumped down off the wall.


Another Urban Sketcher came up and elected to draw the same view. She had an interesting concertina type sketch book, which she said was her “collage sketchbook”. The wind very soon got under that and unravelled the concertina right across the walkway. She got it under control though, and finished her sketch. She was doing a number of sketches in different locations. I did just the one.

I finished it at 12:50. By that time I was thoroughly cold, and glad to go back inside the Barbican Centre. All the levels were by now densely populated with people participating in all sorts of events. The Urban Sketchers, by some alchemy, found each other again and we put up our sketch books for everyone to see.

Everyone’s sketches were of interest. People had done very different things. I suppose that’s obvious, but it was startling how different they were. One person had made very precise and delicate engineering drawings of brackets. Another had a wonderful atmospheric wash of the church. Someone else had done the fountains and their environment, in firm black lines against a shadowy orange background with white water. Others had outline drawings in crayon, or detailed drawings in sepia ink, and someone had done a sketch on their iPad.

One of the organisers made a panoramic film of the drawings so I look forward to seeing them on the Urban Sketch London website.

It was a good experience and I’ll aim to go to another later in the year.