diamond geezer

 Monday, September 21, 2009

Open House: Southwark

For the second day of my Open House weekend I devoted my attention to the London borough of Southwark. Three pages of venues to choose from, including City Hall (already been), Dulwich College (fully booked) and the top of the Oxo Tower (damn, Saturday only). But there were still plenty of goodies to view instead, including shiny South Bank towers, elevated millennial libraries and an awful lot of arty people's bedrooms.

Blue Fin Building1) One street back from the Thames, where once stood Europe's largest 1950s office block, rise three Bankside towers. One of these is the Blue Fin Building, named after the aluminium panels randomly-spaced around the outside, and now home to 2000+ employees of IPC Media. If you read Woman's Own, NME or Country Life then your magazine originates here. IPC HQ forms a bold collection of elevated offices anchored around an airy atrium. It's all very glassy, even the vertigo-inducing walkways that span the central void. For Open House, visitors were allowed to use the lifts unsupervised (that's a rarity, I can assure you) to explore four of the building's eleven floors. Half price magazines (and archive leatherbound Look Ins) on 3. The very non-glam offices of various female-oriented lifestyle periodicals on 7 (Ugly Betty this is not). On the very top floor, the main restaurant (which would have served lunches to visitors had anybody wanted any) [photo]. And down one on 10, as well as a ring of transparent meeting rooms, the opportunity to amble out onto the roof terrace and soak in the view. Oh yes, this is why I do Open House, for the chance to view London in an unfamiliar location from above. The London Eye encircling the Shell Building like a halo [photo]. The Dome of St Paul's peeking out from behind the tower of Tate Modern [photo]. And a few nice plants and two circles of astroturf should employees ever tire of the outward panorama. Unlikely, I suspect.

Peckham Library2) When Southwark council sought to revitalise the centre of Peckham in the late 1990s, their eyes turned to the "temporary" post-war library Hut beside the High Street. As a replacement, they commissioned architect Will Alsop to design a landmark public building, and were delightfully surprised by the result. From end-on, Peckham Library looks like a copper-clad inverted 'L' [photo] [photo]. The books and public stuff are all at fourth floor level, with stilts to prop up the suspended edge from below. This makes it rather awkward to change your books if the lifts aren't working, which they weren't on Sunday afternoon, causing several elderly or pregnant visitors to abandon their visit and head home. Our tour group was lucky enough to see some of the behind the scenes areas, including the various 'meeting pods' on the fifth floor. The central pod is shaded by the orange tongue that sticks out over the edge of the roof. Alas the other two aren't quite so well ventilated and can get a bit warm inside, not that readers sitting in the main library underneath would ever realise [photo]. The building's Stirling Prize medal is kept on the top floor in a cabinet, while from the stairwell there's a great orange-shaded view north to the skyline of Central London. On the staff-only 3rd floor we got to peer down below the overhang to watch Peckhamites scuttling across the paved square beneath. And on the 2nd floor we entered Southwark's Local History Library, where the borough archivist greeted us with an eclectic selection of historical documents and shared some Alsop tales. It came as no surprise to discover that the new Peckham Library had boosted visitor numbers sevenfold. If you choose to check in too, keep your fingers crossed that the lifts are working.

Quay House3) 4) 5) 6) 7) If you're one of the nine readers who've actually visited my flat, you'll know that interior design isn't one of my obsessions. Nevertheless I spent a considerable proportion of Sunday taking lessons from the experts by poking around inside their stylish abodes. Bunch of show-offs, the lot of them, but then they had a spectacular amount of good taste to show off. At 15½ Consort Road, Peckham, Monty Ravenscroft has crammed an astonishing house into a narrow scrap of unwanted wasteground. The garage at the front doubles up as his wife's dance studio. A glass roof glides across the hole in the top of the living room when it rains [photo]. The bedroom has a showerhead embedded in the ceiling and also a fully functioning bath stashed underneath the bed. It's no surprise that Channel 4's Grand Designs have been here, and maybe that's what drew Sunday's fascinated queues to the front door. Half a mile away, at Quay House, an art studio and architect's residence have been shoehorned into a converted milk depot. I loved the fire-escape-style landing suspended above the hallway, unnecessarily rising and falling to reach four small upper rooms, and I was also particularly taken by an unexpected recycled artwork in the back yard [photo]. Meanwhile, behind the unassuming facade at 49 Camberwell Grove, widower Nick has built an eco-friendly retirement-proof bolthole. His centrepiece is a cylindrical lift to link the two floors, which would have completely replaced the staircase had not Southwark's "bloody" planning department insisted that he put a flight in. But Nick's a mere eco-amateur compared to the owner of 2 Coleman Road, whose two-up two-down is reputedly carbon-negative. Obsessive adherence to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle enables Donnachadh to export electricity to the National Grid (and, for a fee, he'll audit your home to help you do the same). With bags more character than all the other houses put together, however, was the 300 year old townhouse at 67 Grange Walk, Bermondsey. Sympathetically restored, its imperfect angles and slanted stairs had visitors grinning with "I want to live in a house like this" covetousness. Of all the houses I visited, the owners here had made the least attempt to hide away all their belongings, resulting in an 18th/21st century culture clash of most appealing proportions. I may never aspire to live anywhere even vaguely similar, but Southwark's Open House weekend permitted several opportunities to learn from the experts.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream