Ruth Slavid talks architecture

Decoration or desecration?

Posted in streets by ruthslavid on March 28, 2012

This building in King’s Cross wasn’t anything special, just an anonymous part of the streetscape.
But, according to the Kings Cross Environment newsletter, that wasn’t good enough for its owner Tony Megaro. He wanted a bit of a wow factor for visitors coming out of St Pancras – and he has certainly provided that.
He said, ‘When you go to Barcelona you see all the coloured tiles and things like that. I think in this country we tend to be a bit conservative…it’s an impressive building, not an ugly building that we want to camouflage.’ But Barcelona’s tiles work with the building not against it. Imagine this as a light show – it would be great. But do we want it forever? I think not. Seems we are stuck with it though.

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When is it right to demolish?

Posted in housing, planning by ruthslavid on February 22, 2011

Here is a tricky one. An appeal inspector in Islington has refused an appeal against the demolition of ‘Choudhury Mansions’, a block of flats that differed  substantially in execution to the scheme that had planning permission.

You can read about it on the website of the local labour councillors. Doubtless the flats were as unsatisfactory as the campaigners against them argue. But, in sustainability terms, is it right to demolish this building? And with a shortage of housing, is it right to take some away? The answer to both appears to be no. But an action like this is not just about the individual case but about the messages it sends out. If developers are allowed to get away with it, what then? Tricky indeed.

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Best of Wood

Posted in retrofit, wood by ruthslavid on October 22, 2010

It was great fun to compere the Wood Awards last night, and to see Hawkins\Brown take top prize for their work at Stoke Newington Town Hall.

I love this picture of people ballroom dancing on the new sprung maple floor, and feel that the awards organisers missed a trick – they could have cleared the floor of the Carpenter’s Hall for dancing after the presentation! Apparently however, it is too slippery.

Unusual beacon in education

Posted in education by ruthslavid on July 9, 2010

Amidst all the gloom about education, it was encouraging to go yesterday to the opening of a small building, The Courtyard, at Langford Primary School in Hammersmith.

Designed by Surface to Air, it is a centre for excluded children, adapting and extending an existing nursery building. Light is plentiful, there is a private courtyard, and spaces included a circular, carpeted ‘pod’ for cooling down.

Decima Francis, of The From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation opened the school, and both she and the head teacher emphasised the importance of good design for children and the fact that, like adults, they benefit from being in well-designed spaces.

Doubtless digs like that at Michael Gove and his blunt axe are happening around the country. It will be interesting to see if a more slimline and effective approach to schools provision can rise from the wreckage of BSF – but I’m not holding my breath.

Rat tales

Posted in housing, landscape design by ruthslavid on June 26, 2010

Noel Farrer of landscape architect Farrer Huxley was telling horrific stories, using a phrase that is new to me – ‘rat bloom’. This is what happens when conditions are so favourable, that the rat colony expands to occupy all the available space. When he worked on Broadwater Farm estate in north London, they poisoned all the rats which then filled several skips. And on Abbey Orchard Court development, a Peabody estate in Victoria, he opened a 10 foot deep inspection chamber to find it solid with rats – yuk.

But it was the need to redo the courtyard that led to Farrer persuading Peabody to banish the cars and create an entirely new and very successful environment.  He led a tour round the estate and its neighbours as part of the London Festival of Architecture, and I will be writing about it in Specification Magazine’s Hotels, Sport and Leisure supplement.

Ralph Erskine hit me

Posted in housing by ruthslavid on June 21, 2010
Ralph Erskine

Ralph Erskine - a bruiser?

I was talking to Ben Derbyshire of HTA about materials for house design, and he reckons brick will disappear pretty quickly. It won’t be used on new construction, and existing brick buildings will be ‘wrapped in overcoats of insulation and rendeer.’ The reason? Derbyshire said ‘You can’t build a zero-carbon house using brick.’ Then he thought for a minute, and added ‘Mind you Ralph Erskine hit me when I said that.’  Luckily, by the time the two were working together, on the Millennium Village at Greenwich, the hero of the Byker wall was past his first youth, so Derbyshire emerged unscathed. Erskine had the look of a man who could have packed a mean punch when he was younger.

Stadthaus on shortlist

Posted in housing, wood by ruthslavid on June 10, 2010

I was delighted to see that Andrew Waugh has been shortlisted for an RIBA research award for his innovative Stadthaus. This is what Andrew describes as ‘the tallest timber housing in the world’ built very fast and very effectively from cross-laminated timber. It would be great if they could get some more work like this – possibly with a client who is brave enough to expose the timber.

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Good SAVE for Spurs

Posted in heritage, Uncategorized by ruthslavid on May 21, 2010

I was delighted to see that SAVE’s campaign to save buildings on Tottenham High Road has been successful. When I spoke to Will Palin at SAVE he was keen to persuade Spurs football club that it didn’t need to knock down existing buildings, but could incorporate them in its redevelopment plans.

The street isn’t beautiful, but that is the point that Palin was making. It is part of the texture of everyday life, and also can be made into something more lovely than a superficial look at its rundown state suggests. This is not an argument against the new, but for the fact that cities do best through accretion rather than wholesale redevelopment. And it’s greener!

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Off your bike

Posted in housing by ruthslavid on April 15, 2010

When I saw Johnny Manns of Urbanest yesterday, he talked about the problems of cycle storage. Sadly little of this is as elegant as Ai Wei Wei’s art work, shown here:

Urbanest is a developer of student housing in London. Along with many other building providers, it is increasingly asked to provide cycle storage for one bike per user. Yet, says Manns, most of this expensive space stands empty. After all, his buildings are deliberately placed close to public transport. His solution, on his first building near Old Street, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios? Give every student the chance to lease a folding bike, and cut down on storage.

Underground magnificence

Posted in film by ruthslavid on October 24, 2009

I saw the restored print of Anthony Asquith’s silent film Underground at the London Film Festival last night.


It was rather melodramatic, but marvellous shots of the city, of people using the underground, and in particular Lots Road power station looking truly heroic.