Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Photographers' Gallery, by O'Donnell & Tuomey

O’Donnell & Tuomey’s warehouse conversion for the Photographers’ Gallery opens up a series of complex spaces and multiple skins, against a dramatic inner London streetscape
We were talking about the day that Oxford Street cracked,” says John Tuomey. “What happened when London’s tectonic plates shifted and this great geological rift appeared.”
He is not recounting an experimental slam poetry event, nor an evening of a more psychedelic kind, but a conversation with the planners at Westminster City Council. “Everybody’s got a bit of poetry in them,” he twinkles. “You just have to reach it.”
And reach it he and his partner, Sheila O’Donnell, clearly did, for the result of these conversations about plates and fissures now stands on the corner of Ramillies Street in central London, in the form of a £3.6 million new home for the Photographers’ Gallery.
The rift in question is the level change between the busiest shopping street in Europe and the quiet back-of-house world that lies to the south down a set of steps, accessed through what can now only be read as a momentous crevasse separating Dorothy Perkins and Next.
“We always thought this change in level made it feel like a crack in the system, a shift to another world,” says O’Donnell, as we walk down what she describes as the crossroads where Oxford Street meets Soho, a short-cut route of service entrances and back doors. A recent public realm improvement by the council has seen it partially tidied, with new granite paving and star-shaped benches, and the arrival of the gallery will no doubt see this treatment extended further down the street — although it would be a shame if its slightly seedy air was completely obliterated, removing the sense of discovery.
Read the full article here
Originally published in BD, 23 May 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kensington Palace refurbishment, by John Simpson and Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

A project to liberate long-concealed areas of Kensington Palace has successfully transformed its outside spaces. However, the interior renovations are underwhelming
Every year more than seven million people stroll the Broad Walk in Kensington Gardens, the north-south avenue that separates the private royal world of Kensington Palace from the public park that sprawls to the east. Until recently, few ever strayed beyond this western limit, the presence of a 2.4m- high spiky fence and thick shrubbery signalling the royal realm as clearly off-limits.
And yet it was not. Since the 1920s, a large part of Kensington Palace has been open to the public — for those determined enough to find the entrance.
“I remember coming across an American family who were in tears because they couldn’t find the way in,” says Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, the landscape architect who has worked to reinstate the palace with a new public setting as part of a £12 million renovation, completed last month. “A lot of people didn’t even know it was there.”
Over the years, the palace had retreated further and further behind layers of fences and foliage, with trees planted for privacy along the eastern front, and visitors forced to navigate around to a low-key entrance from the north.
“Our primary aim has been to make the palace part of the landscape again, as was always intended,” says Longstaffe-Gowan, describing how the history of the building’s successive improvements and additions had always been based on opening up views, not retreating behind protective suburban screens.
Read the full article here
Originally published in BD, 16 May 2012

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Bridport House, east London, by Karakusevic Carson Architects

The first social housing block in Hackney for 45 years, Karakusevic Carson’s Bridport House is a rallying cry to get boroughs building
Two weeks ago a storm erupted when it emerged that east London’s Newham council was planning to move 500 families on housing benefit to Stoke-on-Trent, some 160 miles away. Blaming rising rents caused by the Olympics and the increasing demand from young professionals, Newham saw this “departure from traditional methods” as the only way to relieve its burgeoning waiting list, in light of the recent cap on housing allowance.
Curiously, the borough was simultaneously finalising plans to demolish its 500-home Carpenters Estate in Stratford to make way for a new Olympic Park-side campus for University College London — after it converts the upper floors of two blocks into exclusive, bird’s-eye-view TV studios for rent. The estate is now hemmed in by the worst of Stratford High Street’s bullying towers, monuments to the council’s thrall to the private sector and negation of its public duties, a physical bar chart of developers’ Olympian greed.
How surprising, then, that only three miles away in neighbouring Hackney, a fellow Olympic borough with equal levels of deprivation, a brand new social housing block has recently been completed — the first such building here for 45 years.
The £6 million Bridport House, by Karakusevic Carson Architects, stands at the northeast corner of Shoreditch Park, a slender sliver of bricks and balconies, like the latest product of the canalside gentrification of this part of town. It occupies a narrow plot on a densely packed block, sandwiched between two housing association sites and Countryside Properties’ Hoxton Wharf, a mean-minded metallic box by Flacq Architects topped with half-a-million pound penthouses. With its deep, cantilevered balconies, high-quality brick and floor-to-ceiling windows, it is hard to believe that Bridport House is the local authority housing block of the bunch — it looks a good deal more expensive than its neighbours.
Read full article here
Originally published in BD, 9 May 2012