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More about the City…


This week has been less about architecture, more about the City.  Not the Square Mile, but how people live in the couple of miles between Tate Modern and Waterloo.

Step up, first, U + I for Platform ( SE1) Now Here Saturday 4th June which double-tasks former British Rail outpost and a platform for new creativity. With just-about-surviving 30’s metal framed windows, this is at the blink-and-you-miss-it side of Southwark Tube with a rehearsal room, artists’ space and an exhibition area. U + I made the building available. The people inside make it happen and have a commitment and vision to this emerging Platform, which looks like its having a growth spurt like the runner beans outside in the recycle window boxes.I thought I’d know the stories Sunday 12th Behind the South Bank ( walk ).  I didn’t know that we would have not one but three storytellers for the walkabout. Will, who has architectural background and encyclopaedic recall of detail of the Garden Bridge‘s back story ; Michael, who must hold the folk memory of all public enquires within this area of North Lambeth and Southwark and Merlin Fulcher who has written for AJ and AR –  3 different viewpoints who really gave a ‘3- D’ view of past, present and ( possible ) futures without flagging over the 2 mile course.

I’d expected to hear about Coin Street and the story of The Roupells. We passed through Whittlesey and Theed Street.  I quoted Nairn (only to myself, and not out loud… ). From my father’s 1966 ‘Nairn’s London’ I’d long been fascinated by this diagram of street junctions which made no sense to me until I turned those corners myself.

Light on our feet, we dodged the rain and barely needed to see the inside of an umbrella. That wet cityscape, at street level was often the backdrop to Ian Nairn’s travels, even though his films for television ( Monday 13th Nairn’s Journeys, Architecture on TV, bfi) were created in the age of the car. His exploration of Halifax and Huddersfield showed car parks ( not there by design but where something else had been, or was about to appear).

Looking at these town centres there was a renounce of the day before :  that Jubilee Gardens was for many years a car park. And of Nairn’s comment that a view is a 2 way responsibility. Look at, not just looking from.  He comes back to the human scale of things, what it feels like to walk through wide streets, narrow alleys, how the visas impact.

Jonathan Meades, even on Skype a larger than life presence in NFT3, revealed a ‘junior flaneur’ experience: left to own devices by his biscuit rep father, he explored the towns that Meades pere visited.  The other film, a comparison of the University cities of Padua and Oxford, drew attention to outside of the mediaeval centres, and how town and gown ( one like a ‘clenched fist’, in the case of Oxford ) do or don’t integrate. He’s not talking about pavements and elevations here, its about people – the theme that came through loud and clear for LFA so far – stay local, focus on the communities and the people.

Ps  …. Apologies to the lady who had a different sort of walking tour experience –  when the tour was rained off at the National Theatre. I do hope we can welcome you back to re-run. Or rather, a dry run.

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