diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Two big Open House openings on opposite sides of Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Open House: Lincoln's Inn

Barristers in England have to belong to one of London's four Inns of Court, of which Lincoln's Inn is the largest occupying 11 acres on the eastern side of Lincoln's Inn Fields (which was named after it, not the other way round). It's been here for at least 600 years, ever since the judiciary was separated from the church, and has slowly coalesced into an essential legal hub. The public are welcome to filter through the grounds, weekends and evenings excepted, so you may well have experienced some of the collegiate ambience. But unless you're of a legal bent you're unlikely to have explored inside the main buildings (or perhaps if you went for Open House last year, which I think is the first time they'd participated).

A nice little fold-out colour map was provided, not the unstapled photocopies other less-well funded venues offered, presented with a glee which suggested the Inn was happy to welcome visitors rather than shuffling you round under sufferance. And because it was a self-guided tour you could spend as long as you liked nosing in each location, which a lot of people were doing, indeed this was pretty much the perfect venue for a one-off Open House saunter with older relatives averse to queueing.

The oldest building at the Inn is Old Hall (not its original name), a beam-topped space where medieval students learned and dined. These days it's lit by electric candelabra and has a lift of sorts in one corner, and the dining option is now generally for grander occasions. The Chapel is exactly 400 years old and is celebrating its anniversary with a slew of scaffolding designed to make the interior look better later. But the real treasure is the space beneath, the Undercroft, because the Chapel is propped up on squat fan-vaulted columns creating a unique covered space. This used to be a favourite spot for perambulatory exercise in damp weather, and were it more public today it'd no doubt be the backdrop to a slew of professional lovey-dovey photos.

The Great Hall was deliberately designed to look old - Tudor in fact - but once you've seen the exterior it can't possibly be anything other than early Victorian Gothic. The walls are covered with memorials to past justices, with an attempt to highlight recent women to counterbalance centuries of male exclusivity. One of the Harry Potters was filmed here, obviously, along with an episode of Downton Abbey and the recent Wonder Woman movie. Processing through the vestibule brings you to the library, a long space with heavy Oxbridge vibes, where the librarian was patiently explaining to yet another guest that no this isn't a college it's a professional organisation. Legal texts can be purchased (rather than just scrutinised) at Wildy's, the 193 year-old bookshop in the far corner of New Square.

Extending a complex of listed buildings is difficult, a problem the Inn solved by burying their annexe under the terrace outside the Great Hall. The only obvious clue is what looks like a long reflective pool but is actually a skylight providing natural illumination at basement level. Underground it's all screamingly ordinarily modern with lecture rooms, a cloakroom and a plaque saying the Queen came to open it in 2018. Should you fancy a sexacentennial souvenir they're still offloading cufflinks, lapel pins and Lincoln the Lion mascots, the latter stuffed and wearing a jaunty barrister's wig. £37 for a cuddly toy is easily afforded on a lawyer's wage I'm sure, but perhaps not while you're studying here on your way to the bar.

Open House: LSE - Marshall Building

Still in the realms of higher education, but more accessibly, the London School of Economics occupies an ever-expanding campus on the southwestern corner of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Their latest outpost is the Marshall Building, a chunky newbuild named after the hedge fund boss who wanted his office to be on the top floor, but we'll get to that. The ground floor is publicly accessible, should you ever want to nip in for a coffee or a gander, and also slightly sloped so that the three entrance points can all be step-free. It's here that the signature helical staircase begins, uniquely cast in situ, providing student access to the teaching areas on the first and second floors.

For Open House weekend an efficiently-run series of hour-long tours set off up the spiral, the lengthy duration because participants were about to see more than the students normally do. Lecture rooms of various sizes they can access, all of them laptop-friendly, plus study niches and breakout tables for mid-timetable study. But you need the right card to get any further, the higher floors being departmental areas for all things Finance, Accounting, Management and Risk. Every exterior room has an openable window because this isn't some miserable self-contained system, and the higher you go the thinner the branches of the concrete tree holding up the building, as you can see if you look up (or down) the central atrium.

The top floor isn't proper uni, it's home to the Marshall Institute, who are described by some as venture philanthropists and by others less politely. They have an outside roof terrace for schmoozing clients, although there are hardly any landmark buildings to admire because this isn't the City so not much around here climbs above the eighth floor. What can be seen clearly is Lincoln's Inn Fields itself, or at least the leaves in the canopy which currently shield it, plus of course the turrets of the Great Hall at Lincoln's Inn. Richard Seifert's Space House might be marginally more impressive were it not part obscured by scaffolding and a rooftop ventilation unit.

At the bottom of the building the architects got lucky because the original building on this site, a cancer research lab, already had a double basement. That allowed them to hide numerous useful Student Union facilities underground, the highlight being a much needed multi-sports court. We also passed two squash courts, the obligatory gym and some soundproofed music studios which might or might not have been in use, that's how good the soundproofing was. And we were finally released from the building via the cycle park, because of course there's one of those, where our tour guide rightly received a small round of applause. LSE aren't finished yet, their next project is to transform the building at number 35 on the other side of the Royal College of Surgeons, so maybe pencil that in for a tour in 2028.

Today's 12 Flickr photos are at the bottom of my Open House album, plus I am honestly going back to add the paragraphs I failed to write on Sunday and Monday, and brace yourself for far too much more of this stuff next weekend as Open House continues.

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