diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 18, 2005

London Open House: It's that weekend again, the one where hundreds of London properties open their normally-closed doors to the public (but no Gherkin this year). There are probably too many buildings open, to be honest, because you'd need more than one lifetime to get round them all. But I managed five yesterday from across the capital, and I'm off out again today to visit some more (so I'm in a bit of a rush). Here's where I've been so far, and I'll come back tomorrow and tell you a bit more about the top two.

BBC Broadcasting House: currently closed during a hu-uuge rebuilding project. I've stood on the roof, I've stood in the new Radio 4 drama studio, and I've even stood in the DG's office. Which was kind of appropriate. (more tomorrow)

Alexandra Palace: I can't tell you how spooky it was to watch a video of the world's very first television programme in the same studio (on the very spot) where that broadcast was recorded. (more tomorrow)

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building: This year-old office space on the Euston Road won the RIBA 2005 Prize for its architecture, and from the inside you can see why. There's a huge central atrium, there are several floors of glass-walled open workspaces and, most impressively, there's a stunning seven-storey sculpture (called Bleigiessen) made from a hundred thousand glass beads threaded on thin wires in a sort of dangly globby shape that glows and shimmers. See photo left. Lovely.

Kingsley Hall: A few hundred yards down the road from me, in Bromley-by-Bow, there's a community centre with a unique history. I've written about the place before (full history here) but I'd never previously ventured inside. Mahatma Gandhi stayed here for several weeks in 1931 on his only visit to London, advancing the case for Indian home rule (and meeting local people), while psychologist RD Laing took over the centre in the 60s for a not terribly successful schizophrenia project. The current beardy centre manager showed a leftish group of us around, from the pool tables on the first floor to Gandhi's tiny cell on the roof. I was most impressed by the commitment of all those here to peace and to the community, and it's a place I'm proud to have as a neighbour. (more information here)

A13 Artscape: Of all the things I could have done yesterday afternoon, I chose to take a minibus tour down the A13 through Barking and Dagenham. You might think that I was mad. I was certainly the only person on the tour (although I was told that the noon tour had been packed). But I wanted to see a pioneering urban art project which has engineered new landscapes and landmarks alongside what it has to be said is one of London's dreariest arterial roads. My guide in the minibus was the borough's Head of Arts Services, so she was duly passionate about a couple of subways, a lot of fencing and some lights on sticks. And, by the end of the tour, so was I. The various projects along the road are both innovative and functional, from the airport-style lights of Holding Pattern to the towering tarmac cones on the Goresbrook roundabout. The upgraded subways heal the scar cut across underprivileged communities by the A13, and carefully chosen fencing and tree-planting will give the road a new kind of rhythm. Four million quid has transformed dreary and unsafe locations into welcoming public spaces of which the borough are rightly enormously proud. The rest of London would do well to follow their lead. (official website here)

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