Skinny skyscrapers are now a definite trend. I recall speculating that this trend might have something to do with views having become a bit more desirable. But it is clear that what is really happening is that plots of available urban land are getting smaller, while structural engineering is getting cleverer. They build these Thin Things because they have long wanted to, and because they now can.
Personally I like the look of these Thin Things very much. Your typical old school skyscraper is often suitably elegant from afar, but when you stand right next to such a Thing at ground level it can be a bit overhearing, and just plain big. This Thin Thing has, at its base, a little decorated frontage left over from the previous building, that is no wider than a terrace house.
So, Keeping Up Appearances at ground level, while above that, the new stuff above soars off into the sky. This is a style I really like. Front doors need to announce themselves, in the established language of older and smaller buildings. What happens above them can just be tall and shapely. (That creaking sound you hear is the cadaver of Ayn Rand, turning in her grave.)
Since the top of this Thing is sliced off in the above-right photo, here’s how that top looks:
We have plenty of Keeping Up Appearances buildings in London, but I wish we had more of these Thin Things. Something to do with the soil? Maybe later. Sooner rather than later is my hope.
I have had one of those blogging days. The day was all available for blogging, but instead of me consequently quickly shoving up three or four fabulous little postings here, I got stuck on the first one. So, I eventually let that be and switched to doing another one, a quickie. But that also grew quite a bit, and turned into a piece called On why feminists ought to be glad about skyscrapers. It grew because I found myself also writing about one of the men who designed this place.
At which point, it made sense for me to bestow this piece upon the mass media, my version of which is Samizdata. So if you want something of substance from me today, you will either have to wait and hope, or you’ll be satisfied with merely reading this, or you’ll follow the first of the above links and have a go at reading that.
To answer the question I know you’re asking: yes, there is a big old cock joke in it.
I can still remember the Great Leap Forward that the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge” camera was. For me if not for all of photoer-kind. For me, the best “bridge camera” I could have was my perfect camera. Tons of zoom, but no faffing about with different lenses to at once capture whatever sscene presented itself to me, near or far.
I went rootling through the photo-archives looking for some early photos I photoed with this wondrous new contrivance, looking at the first photo-expeditions I embarked upon, along the River, to the Victoria Docks, or just to Westminster Abbey and Bridge, to photo my fellow photoers, to pick out some photos that brought back the shock of pleasurable surprise I had when I first got my hands on it.
But then I realised I was looking in the wrong place. What I needed to see were not merely some “early” photos, photoed days or even weeks after I got this super-camera. What I wanted to see were the absolute first photos I took with this camera, on January 26th 2012.
And the very first one of all was this:
That scene, of my kitchen window and surroundings as seen from my swivel chair around which most of my life revolves, if you get my meaning. (It’s the chair that does the actual revolving.) I am happy to report that the big grey Thing, bottom left, which was for making ice, has been replaced by a slightly bigger black box, which also makes ice, and also looks after food of many other sorts, including in particular ice cream. Otherwise, nothing has changed.
On each side of the window are CD shelves, and the next few photos I photoed were all close-ups of CDs, edge on:
That was when it hit me, and I believe I can still remember this glorious moment. This was the camera I had been waiting for, all my life. The key point was not just that these were successful photos of distant details. I can tell from the numbering of these photos in the archive that there were no failures. None. All of my first dozen or so photos with this new camera came out fine, even the one of my pop music department, which was where it still is, way off to the left and way up near the ceiling.
Only the following day did I photo anything beyond my front door.
The first outdoor photo I photoed with my new FZ150 was this, dated January 27th, i.e. the following day, just before it got dark:
That’s looking across Vincent Square at the building activity in and around Victoria Street, which has been pretty much continuous, one place or another, for the last decade. Mmmmmm, cranes.
Since then, I have upgraded to the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and then to the FZ330. But they are both really just the FZ150 with frills added. If my current camera, the FZ330 were to be snatched away from me, and I was given another FZ150 and told that this would be my last camera, I’d not be that bothered. Were I told that I would have to go back to the crappy camera I had before the FZ150, that would be a disaster. Soon after acquiring this FZ150, I wrote about it at some length for Samizdata. This confirms what, up until re-reading that, I had merely remembered. The FZ150 really was a huge step forward.
Hurrah for capitalism. It really is ridiculous that the world’s schools are now cranking out a whole new generation of nitwits, an appallingly significant proportion of whom seem genuinely to want to put a stop to this glorious process.
And whoever Western Traditionalist is, he or she illustrates this opinion with the following photo, of a building and a sculpture:
This building is the Torre Velasca in Milan, and it would appear that Western Traditionalist found the above photo of it at Wikipedia, where you can learn more about what I think is a very handsome building.
As “brutalism” goes, I don’t believe that the Torre Velasca is especially brutal. I recall liking this building very much, when I was trying to become an architect myself, half a century ago.
But I want to assert an idea that is perhaps rather individual. I agree that “brutalism” was indeed an “attack on the soul”, in the sense that its purpose was, aesthetically speaking, to batter people into accepting it as desirable architecture, rather than in any way charm or please them. And, I now like a lot of the surviving relics of brutalism. Definitely including the not-very-brutalist tower in the photo above.
How come? Well, let me ask you something. Do you think that the castles built by the Norman monarchs of England are beautiful? Many do, now. Thousands visit them, and are charmed by them. But it is undeniable that these buildings, when first built, were “attacks on the soul”, the souls of the native English, whom the Normans were busy subjugating with great brutality. Great brutalism, you might say. Those Norman castles were exercises in military intimidation, not attempts to be the tourist traps that they now are.
Brutalism owes much of its inspiration to military constructions built by the Nazis during World War 2, in places like the northern coastline of France, prior to the Normandy landings. And for as long as brutalism was on the march, so to speak, and threatening the houses and neighbourhoods of the world with demolition, people hated brutalism, and with bloody good reason. People hate any architectural style that seems to be coming straight at them, while seeming not to give a damn what they think of it. Remember that “brutalism” wss the name given to the style by those who invented and preached it. This was not merely an insult label pinned on “brutalism” by enemies and then adopted ironically. The brutalists gloried in being brutal. They were attacking souls.
But so what? Now that brutalism has been stopped in its tracks, is now in retreat, and has become a deeply conservative – indeed downright antiquarian – exercise in conservation and preservation rather than the radical act of aesthetic bullying that it began as, there is no reason for us to be intimidated by it any longer. Brutalism is now picturesque, just like those Norman castles are. And I for one like its surviving structures for exactly the same sorts of reasons that I and millions of others also like Norman castles. Brutalist shapes are interesting rather than always drearily rectangular, their rugged bulk possessing the charm of a mountain range. And I know that me liking these edifices in this kind of way would annoy the annoying people who first unleashed this style, that being, for me, another feature rather than a bug. I hate the idea that anti-brutalists, in the grip of the sort of analysis I have supplied in my previous paragraphs, and egged on by people like Western Traditionalist, might one day destroy all these buildings.
On June 30th 2019, I was out walking, beyond and then on Tower Bridge, then back along the south side of the River, and then across to Embankment Tube and home. Here are some photos from that day, of crowd scenes:
At the time, I often thought I was photoing something quite other than mere people, in a crowd. At the time, the mere fact of lots of people all bunched up together didn’t mean much. It does now.
The present dose of Plague History we’re having has caused much pessimism concerning the future of big, densely packed cities. Being an enthusiast for big city architecture, especially the seriously big and eye-catching sort, I am now more than ever on the lookout for people saying things about why cities confer, and will continue to confer, an advantage upon all those who live and work in them.
So, I particularly noticed this Bo Winegard tweet, when I encountered just now:
It depresses me how quickly a person on twitter can go from disagreeing with you to cursing and insulting you. Strikes me that there’s probably an evolutionary mismatch because almost all of our interactions were face-to-face. People are much nicer when they have to look at you.
I think that captures a key advantage of face-to-face communication, which is that it makes it more likely that those face-to-face communicating are that bit more likely to do it like ladies and gentlemen rather that like loutesses and louts.
I think people on twitter shout, so to speak, partly because they can. But also, maybe, because they feel they have to, to get their point across. If you do one of those oh-so-gently meaningful and very politely phrased criticisms, on Twitter, or for that matter during a conference-at-a-distance, you are liable to fear that your point will get lost. Your iron fist will be completely smothered by the velvet gloves you chose to wear. Face-to-face, you can literally see and hear and feel your point getting across. Or not, in which case you can politely rephrase it.
Being able to disagree in a civilised manner, in a way that doesn’t leave lasting scars or permanent feuds, is fundamental to the successful functioning of any organisation.
My dad was a barrister, in American: a trial lawyer. British barristers are always careful to call each other “my learned friend”, and the more fiercely they are quarrelling, the more they are careful to scatter these words upon all the insults they trade. That always used to amuse me, when my dad talked about it. But an important point was embodied in such drollery, not least because dad often spelled it out explicitly. When arguing, be polite. The more fiercely you argue, the more important politeness becomes. Twitter seems to make that harder. Face-to-face communication makes it easier.
So, cities will survive. Face-to-face communication is now one of their core purposes.
Ten years plus a few days ago, I was checking out the work that was beginning to be done making the new BlackFriars Bridge railway station. And today, I checked out the resulting photos, Here are six of them:
Photo 2: Sampson House and Ludgate House, again. Photo 4: The Shard, just getting started. Soon after those photos, I photoed that black bus.
It was a somewhat gloomy day, and my camera wasn’t as good as what I have now, so I was glad to come across a couple of photos of a painting. And because I took such a good note of the painting, in the form of a photo of the painting and of its title and creator – memo to self: always do this – I was able quickly to track down a better digital version of the painting:
Reminds me of this photo of mine, but it’s far less of a muddle.
John Duffin, it would appear, sees London in the same way I do and, I’m guessing, the way lots of others do. He pays attention to landmark buildings, and all those bridges of course, and kind of recedes everything else more into the background. Cameras don’t discriminate. You have to point them at particular things if you want them to emphasise those things. Otherwise, to emphasise this or that, you have to do bullshit graphics manipulation. Or if you can’t or won’t do that (that would be me), write an essay.
I believe it’s a symptom of getting old that I become less apologetic about being sentimental about animals. And birds. And especially birds who evidently have something a lot like a romantic relationship. Like these two, for instance.
Or, these two:
I encountered these two love-birds in Regents Park, in April 2005. This being after I had descending from Primrose Hill, where I had been photoing the Big Things of central London, from a great distance, with a camera that needed to be a lot better. At the time, it was the Big Thing photos that continued to interest me, and not these birds at all, until now. And while I was photoing them, I was probably just as interested in how that fence was reflected in the water as I was in the birds.
Just as there is confusion about whether the two birds by the river, linked to above in this, were ducks or geese, so too, these “swans” would appear really to be geese, approximately speaking. And according to this piece, geese can live for as much as twenty years. So, this Evening Standard piece dated January 2013, also about a pair of black swans in Regents Park, is probably about the couple I photoed.
If so, it seems that the birds I photoed split up, were then reunited, and then ended as a couple when the lady black swan got killed by a fox. Foxes eh? Cute, but no respect for bird rights.
Way back in March 2005, I photoed this photo, of the Ghost Columns of Blackfriars:
Not bad, I reckon, especially when you factor in the primitiveness of the camera I had then.
The two last things on my mind when I photoed that were Sampson House and Ludgate House. Yet look what we observe in the distance. On the left: Sampson House. On the right: Ludgate House. Clear as bells. Another to add to the “Sampson House and Ludgate House photoed by mistake” collection. Given that I never did this on purpose, I find the above photo especially satisfying. It has a touch of ghostly gloom about it, lacked by the many photos I have photoed of these empty columns from Blackfriars road bridge, looking across at them rather than up, and from slightly further away. These are ghost columns, and in this photo that’s how they look.
On the left, we do not see the new Blackfriars Bridge railway station. We merely see the old station, which was mostly on the north side and just sticking out a bit across the bridge.