Wednesday 9 July 2008

Saturday 5th July 2008 - Architecture in Holborn - Then and Now

Today's walk, was on a Saturday, (Wimbledon Ladies Final Day no less) which having started out rather damp, became warm and sunny. I was here in Holborn for a summer party, so I was able to sneak away for a couple of hours to go on this walk. Accompanying our usual guide Aly, was local architect Mary Thum. Todays walk was an official part of the London Festival of Architecture programme.

We set off as usual from Holborn Tube Station - a huge group of 85! This is a record for any of the walks and any further Saturday walks will have a lot to live up to. We walked down Kingsway then turned into Keeley Street to a new building designed for CityLit, (1-10 Keeley Street)which was completed in May 2005 and is the largest Adult Education Institute in Europe. CityLit has been operating for 88 years supporting adult education. The building designed by Allies and Morrison was designed to meet today's needs while still blending into the area and forming a bond with the local community. CityLit had been based ina number of properties scattered around the area. The large window visible in the picture below is the Dance Studio. There are 56 modern teaching rooms, a multi purpose theatre which seats 120, and a cafe with displays of art. The proportions of the building are cleverly staged so that on one side the height of the building is the same as the Masonic Temple and while on the other it is higher to reflect the tall building to the right on Kingsway.

We now returned to Kingsway to look at No.24 . This building is being redeveloped by the London School of Economics in a £46 million redevelopment by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, architects who have also designed the Eden Centre and the Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo. The design aims to incorporate modern teaching facilities in an historic facade. When finished it will allow double the number of students and includes an Atrium and a roof pavilion to reflect the open space of Lincoln's Inn Fields (as the building stretches down the length of Sardinia Street into Lincoln's Inn fields). Two huge red steel boxes eleven storeys tall were installed for the lift shafts - the first time something this large has been installed. Previously such structures were installed in sections on site. There is also a Roman artesian well deep beneath the foundations and this will be used to provide water for the building.

24 Kingsway

We now walked down Sardinia Street and into Lincoln's Inn Fields to look at a building I am very well familiar with - Nos. 59-60 Lincoln's Inn Fields, the site this sunny Saturday of our Chambers party which I had snuck away from. Bouncy castle, rodeo bull and ball pools and giant lego were being enjoyed to the full by the children and a steel band and a barbecue were also there, but hidden from view behind a tent. As I have talked about this building before, I will be brief. Lincoln's Inn Fields was London's first garden square and is the largest. No. 59-60 is the only remaining example of the original houses built here, and may have been designed by the great Inigo Jones, an early English renaissance designer. Aly pointed out the two stone vases atop the gateway. The front is stuccoed and painted, at present a pinkish colour. It is not original however, but dates only from 1975. English Heritage are now giving consideration to Garden Court Chambers request for permission to repaint the front in an appropriate colour which is historically correct.

59-60 Lincoln's Inn Fields

We now walked into the Fields and over to the bandstand. This is in fact part of the original Chinese Pagoda which once stood here, and again English Heritage are considering restoring the original design in full. In the past, the fields were home to grazing cattle, jousting and executions, and were laid out by Inigo Jones in the late 17th century.

The Bandstand
We then crossed to Sir John Soane's Museum, which covers Nos. 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields and has a neo-classical style. Soane was a professor of architecture and a contemporary of Robert Adam. He also designed the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the old Bank of England. Soane purchased No. 12 in 1792 and over the next 32 years purchased Nos 13 and 14 which he demolished and rebuilt to provide not only his home but the office for his architectural practice.

Sir John Soane's Museum
The four column capitals on the front are 14th century, and there are two stone caryatids which are modelled on a temple next to the Parthenon in Athens. The roof lights have been restored to allow light to pass through all the way to the basement, and replaced coloured lights. The breakfast room has a ceiling domed with convex mirrors. There are even decorative coal hole covers at the front of the house.

One of the column capitals

A decorative coal hole at Sir John Soane's Museum

We now walked back towards Gate Street, stopping to look at Little Turnstile, which together with Great Turnstile were just that - turnstiles to stop the cattle from wandering. We walked through Little Turnstile onto High Holborn to our next stop at the Chancery Court Hotel. This wonderful 5 star hotel kindly allowed us inside to look at some of the wonders inside. But first we stopped to crane our necks and look up to the cupola at the top of the building. From a distance this has been known to fool people into believing it is the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. The hotel was originally built as the headquarters of the Pearl Assurance Company, and was vacated in the 1990s. The building was designed by H. Percy Monkton, of whom little is known, and begun in 1912. In fact the whole frontage was only completed in 1962 because, following bomb damage during World War II, buildings on either side were destroyed and damaged and these spaces were incorporated into the original building. The frontage is made of Scottish grey granite to first floor level and thereafter pearly grey Portland Stone is used throughout the remainder of the construction. These are solid blocks not just facing stones.

Looking up at the Cupola-The Chancery Court Hotel

The inner courtyard at The Chancery Court Hotel
We now walk through an arched entrance way into a courtyard. To our right as we enter is the main entrance and to our left a bar with tables and umbrellas. We then stop and turn to look back. Now to the left of the entrance arch stood the West Banking Hall - this is now a bar. On the right of the entrance arch stood the East Banking Hall - this is now a lovely restaurant. We now turn to our left and walk into the lobby through the main entrance. This is the largest hotel lobby in London. There are eight columns with bronze plinths and the floor is made of Portugese limestone inset with Scottish slate which has all been restored. The building is listed so of course everything must be done to preserve the original building as much as possible. We now turned to the right and through double doors to see the staircase. Frankly I was blown away! Up a flight of carpeted stairs and then left through more doors we come upon the most stunning staircase which leads eight floors to the top of the building and to the inside of the cupola. The staircase is made of Italian white marble with black staining from Pavanazo. Six years ago the staircase alone was insured for £40 million! The photo below can't really do it justice - if you ever get the chance you must visit this lovely hotel and see that staircase. I wandered back into the lobby by myself to get some more photos and I took these photos of the very helpful porters on duty. By the way, the restaurant serve the most gorgeous cupcakes for tea!

The Lobby(1)-Chancery Court Hotel

The Lobby(2)

The Lobby(3)

The Lobby (4) - The Porter's Desk

Gazing up the marble staircase to the interior of the Cupola
We now wended our way back out into the sunshine and on to High Holborn to look briefly at Mid City Place which was designed by Kohn Pederson Fox and completed in 2001. At the end of the 1990s Holborn was not the most desirable place to work, but with the Chancery Court Hotel coming to High Holborn property prices began to revive with Turnstile House at No. 90 High Holborn and then Mid City Place, suddenly the area became revitalised.

Mid City Place

We now turned down Great Turnstile. Our next building is another modern one - Great Turnstile House designed by Mary Thum Associates and developed by her company Cube City Properties. Great Turnstile is only three metres wide, and the building, which received a Camden Design Award, with high performance windows and insulated stone render, painted a bright yellow. The penthouse affords a wonderful view apparently.

Great Turnstile House

We now walked back to High Holborn and walked east crossing over Chancery Lane and stopped to look across at the Prudential Building at Holborn Bars a Grade II listed building, which fronts Waterhouse Square. The square was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and was built between 1879 and 1906, as they gradually acquired additional land to extend the square. The design was part of the Victorian Gothic Revival, and Waterhouse also designed the Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall. Waterhouse used moulded brick and unglazed terracotta, with glazed terracotta inside. Prudential moved away in 2002 and various companies including English Heritage are now based there.

The Prudential Building

We then walked on to No. 33 Holborn - This building was completed in 2001 by Foster & Partners, and is now the headquarters of J. Sainsbury. There is over 328,000 square feet on the ground floor alolne. There is a huge atrium and eight upper levels. If you look to the left of No. 33 along New Fetter Lane you can see a number of new developments which have contributed to the property boom in Holborn.

J. Sainsbury at 33 Holborn

Crossing over Holborn we walked back past Waterhouse Square and headed west along Holborn and eventually turned down Red Lion Street, turned left into Eagle Street and right into Dare Street and then down to Red Lion Square, to No. 12 Summit House. Now the home of top solicitors Mishcon de Reya who moved there in 2002 and restored and maintain the beautiful Art Deco building, which was designed by Westwood and Emberton who were one of the first firms to build in this style. The first occupants were a tailoring company and two of the original wood panels which decorated the old front doors still remain, a reminder of the origins of the original owners.

Summit House
Details of the remaining panels

Red Lion Fields was developed as a square and laid out in 1684 by Dr. Nicholas Bourbon. Nos 14 and 15 are part of the original 1680s development. The members of Grays Inn were very unhappy at the prospect of building taking place, as it would impinge on their views and a number of the lawyers came down and attacked the builders with bricks, in an attempt to prevent the development going ahead.

We now headed across the Square and up towards Theobalds Road and then along to Southampton Row to see our final building Victoria House. This magnificent Beaux Arts block was designed by Charles Williams Long and completed in 1932. It was originally the home of the Liverpool and Victoria Insurance Company. The columns at the front are three storeys high and the pediments describe industry and navigation. On the rear of the building there are similar sculptures depicting nature. The building was considered as a possible home for the Greater London Assembly, but in the end they chose Norman Foster's design on the south bank opposite the Tower of London. However the scheme for the interior by Will Allsopp did go ahead the main feature of which are gigantic hanging pods inside the mainn entrance hall. There is also an Art Deco ballroom and a fine staircase.

Victoria House
As we made our way back to Holborn Tube Station, we took a brief detour to look at Sicilian Avenue. which was built in 1905 from yellow terracotta and is lined with Corinthian columns, and is a delightful place to stop for a coffee.

We finally arrived back at Holborn Tube a little over two hours after we began, rather footsore and in need of a long cool drink, which I was quick to partake of on my return to Chambers summer party.


Kevin said...

Very nicely done. I have been walking around and had questions on two of the buildings you visited. Your commentary and pics are most informative and useful. Thanks, Kevin Castner

Kevin said...
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