Friday, 4 June 2010
Working late one night at the O2 in Greenwich, I came out to be confronted by the setting sun hitting Foreign Office Architects new building for Ravensbourne College. A cool and interesting building covered in tiles inspired by gothic rose windows and flower patterns interpreted as an abstract mathematical construction. Too good an opportunity to bypass I got the camera out and took a couple of quick shots. A fitting location for a digital media and design college with seven different shaped windows created using only three tile shapes. To my eye the building reminds me somehow of Gaudi and his work in Barcelona. I’d love the opportunity to spend more time photographing the building properly once all the hoardings are down and be the photographer responsible for all the marketing shots.
This month I was lucky enough to photograph Renzo Piano’s first finished UK building, Central St Giles, located directly behind New Oxford Street in the shadow of Richard Seifert’s Centre Point and opposite the historic Angel pub and Henry Flitcroft’s Palladian church on St Giles High Street in Central London. Built on the site of an old MOD office block, the new building is incredibly bright, multi-coloured and designed to rejuvenate an area that previous had only two contributions to popular culture, leprosy and alcoholism. In 1101, Queen Matilda founded a leper hospital and colony at St Giles, causing a social stigma that plagued the area for centuries. The term “off the wagon” meaning someone returning to drinking was coined when the condemned on their way from Newgate Prison to be hung at the Tyburn Tree were allowed off their prison wagon for a last beer at the Angel Pub and William Hogarth’s famous engraving Gin Lane depicting a drunken mother in the squalor of an 18th century London slum was also set there.
After such a chequered history Central St Giles couldn’t be more different, the external facade of the building is broken up into 13 vertical colour-coded panels. The idea being to break up what would otherwise be a very large and boring mass by creating fragments rather than a single whole. This idea has defined many of Piano’s large buildings including the Shard, whose very name is derived from the vast sheets of glass that are to be overlaid onto its surface.
Each coloured panel consists of 134,000 prefabricated glazed terracotta tiles hung, by an internal chassis carrier system, as a decorative veneer. The tiles are incredibly durable and are expected to retain their bold colours forever. The colours themselves were chosen from hundreds of options to work well with each other but also with the local buildings and trees. A full-size panel mock-up was erected on site to test the colours before the final six were chosen.
The building was a joy to photograph being beautifully detailed with Piano’s trademark fluency and precision. The external colour scheme and tiles are also echoed inside. The rear wall of the entrance lobby, lift doors, handrails and even the lift displays are colour co-ordinated. The building might not be to everyones taste, but after photographing and studying it extensively I find it amazing.
Needing to access the roof of Centre Point for another commission and managing to charm our way to the very top I found myself on a small walkway just behind the huge Centre Point lettering at the top. Not the most secure location and with the wind blowing us around, my heart was certainly in my mouth, but the opportunity to get shots from this height don’t come along every day. The easiest way to handle the ordeal was to focus 100% on the camera and the shots. I have to say I was glad to get down, but once down wanted to go straight back up!
As much as I love London, sometimes I need to go for a long drive and get away, clear the head and see something different. Dungerness is certainly different and about as far removed from the centre of London as you can get. An endless shingle beach lined with derelict beach sheds and quaint wooden cottages are all overlooked by the ever imposing nuclear power station. Guglielmo Marconi, best known as the ‘man who invented radio, used a structure on the beach for research and development in the transmitting of radio signals – and in 1899 he became the first person to send a message across the English Channel.
The most famous resident was the author Derek Jarman who built the black tarred timber Prospect Cottage which has raised wooden text on one side taken from the John Donne’s poem, The Sun Rising. The shingle cottage-garden famous in it’s own right has been the subject of many books and photographs. An interesting house and well worth a visit. Dungerness is a popular location for photo shoots and tv programmes, the light and scenery are amazing, but a visit to Dungerness wouldn’t be complete without a fish and chip lunch in the Britannia pub.
There are few things are as visually impressive as a full on Hells Angels funeral and judging by the numbers present at this one, the deceased was a beloved and highly respected member of the original UK chapter, issued in 1969 in London’s East End. Charger who died in an accident on the A1 on his way to a party had been a member for 38 years. Clearly a popular man attracting mourners from all over the world to show their respects. RIP Charger.