Saturday, December 11, 2010


Vauxhall is a funny old part of town, love it or loathe it’s a typically London juxtaposition, seemingly unplanned and a tad ugly, saturated with traffic, snarled up around awkwardly tight Victorian sized roads all thrown together with a dash of MI6 and a satellite gay /club world extravaganza VOHO. It’s also incredibly well connected with overland train lines and underground with a station and bus interchange that could be construed as a bizarre communist like monument to the roundel logo.

River Effra site Lambeth Water Works ( far left) Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens ( above) and the Oval ( bottom right )
It’s also a bit of a mess. The traffic over the years as divided the area in two, the 19th century railway hasn’t helped either. New architecture has been somewhat deranged ,we have a bizarre fortress deco homage that is MI6 and across the road a truly gruesome collection of beige and green glass lacklustre ticky tacky Pomo apartments with virtually no redeeming features apart from the fact it’s just so incredibly wrong. There are the 60’s Eastern European style buildings along the river towards Lambeth and then a collection of iffy residential complexes replacing some actually rather nice 20th century buildings.
But dig deeper into Vauxhalls history you realise not a great deal has changed behind the soot stained railway viaducts. The street pattern hasn’t dramatically altered literally since the early eighteen hundreds most notably the Victorian railway is one of the only major physical changes to the area and that happened in the early 19th Century and of course the Albert Embankment.
Vauxhall Spring Gardens by Samuel Wale 1751
Open spaces are in essence virtually intact too but have changed purpose or lost their charm over the years. Vauxhall Gardens or Vauxhall Spring Gardens as it was once known, was originally the playground of the Glitterati in the Georgian era but has now become little more than another anonymous green space that seems to lack any purpose or presence a far cry from its hedonistic, rococo past. Down the road the Oval a cricket ground since the 1845 is still in place, gone has it’s quaint rural charm, I suspect it once evoked, replaced with a far more professional affair such is the passage of time and success of the sport.
Lambeth Windmills

Like most parts of London pre the industrial revolution Vauxhall and the surrounding area was little more than a villagy like place with small farm buildings ,windmill’s and scenery that would be an ideal chocolate box foray. Over the years as populations grew and London expanded Vauxhall has be swallowed up into the major conglomerate that the city has become today.
Building of the railway viaducts

Some of the lost features of Vauxhall are the river Effra a tributary that has long disappeared into the Victorian rationalisation of the embankment. The river still stretches from Upper Norwood but has mostly been hidden weaved into the sewers like most of London’s lost rivers. The River Effra today empties out into a spot not too far away from its original position. It is now a small opening in the Albert Embankment under the MI6 building only visible from the river in low tide.
The River Effra outlet under MI6

My earliest visions of the Effra Site as a child were of a massive concrete edifice, the nine elms cold storage facility. This enormous yet strangely evocative concrete building was austere to the extreme, purposeful as a colossal meat laden fridge would probably look like. It embodied probably all what was not right with London at the time, shameless planning of industrial sites placed with no care to the locality. The poor Effra site has been an unfortunate place for industrialisation and development.  In 1847 the site was designated a gas works called the Phoenix Gas Works much to public condemnation at the time it was expanded and taken over by the South Metropolitan Gas Co in the 1870s. The cold storage facility was built 1965 and closed in 1979. It lay empty up until the early 1990’s when St George developers proposed the overbearing cascading beige concrete development we have there today. I have always considered it to be a failure of the site. It neglects to link with the surrounding Vauxhall area, a fortress like development that ignored Vauxhall in favour of views down the river. There are token bland open spaces and strange passage ways but little has been done to try and link with surrounding street patterns transport or the fact that this really could have mended once and for all this important riverfront location.

When viewed from afar with its butterfly faux copper patented roofs and green glass upvc glazing I feel some despair about the nature of such developments and there long lasting legacy to London.
For it are residential developments that stay with us for longer than any commercial building will and surely this should be treated with some care and attention.

Thinking about this for a long time I thought about theoretically coming up with an alternative of ‘what could have been done’ a sort of unrealized vision if you like. My conceptual idea’s would bring back some of lost parts of Effra reinvigorating its riverfront, creating points of interest ending road alignments and vista’s with something more meaningful and more in line with traditional and successful areas of London. It would aim to bring a level of architecture from the monumental to the townhouse combining this with road realignment and rational Pedestrianisation. Open spaces too would take a precedent as such would views of the river. The mix would hopefully encourage business and residential to be more connected avoiding too much architectural hierarchy using smaller plot sizes to reduce the scale and increase the complexity of the area.

Since I wrote this a year ago the nine elms area has had some major redevelopment proposals which promise to be far more successful in urban terms compared to what we have now. It does have the potential I think to be a great showcase to urban renewal in London on an almost grand scale. Only time will really tell but I have hope.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

60/CH Wrist Watch

For more information follow the link ( 60/CH Wrist Watch )

Sunday, October 10, 2010


3 rug designs cross, afraid and rotor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What on earth happened to St Thomas’s?

Walking along the Thames from Westminster to Embankment one witness's some of the more successful and enriching urban parts of London’s rich architectural history.
It’s palatial like buildings a combination of government, hotels, offices and monuments really do show off some of the best achievements of this great city. The leafy enclosed parks offer places to breathe and contemplate overlooked by the imposing but attractive buildings in all their Portland stone grandeur.
It is what postcards of old London are made of yet really what we see today originates from the Victorian and Edwardian era with a spattering of art deco in the form of Shell Mex House and the Adelphi hotel.
Unfortunately this almost perfect composition of 19th and early 20th century architecture has not quiet been achieved on the other bank of the Thames, through no fault of its own.
The South Bank, the working side of London, used to house seemingly endless warehouses and cranes servicing London’s great industrial heritage. Today we see very little evidence of the warehouses cleared mostly by post war demolition.
What now stands is really a homage to brutalism and 1950’s optimism.
It is has now been re branded ‘the south bank’ or what is sometimes called the largest ‘arts complex in the world’ fully justified in regard to the sheer concentration of cultural institutions residing there.
The place works though and its recent attempts to clear up the odd circulation problems and refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall have resulted in a renaissance of sorts.
Leaving the cultural epicentre towards Westminster Bridge past the London eye you come across the County Hall, an impressive Edwardian Baroque building that used to house the Greater London Council abolished in 1986. This grand old building achingly underutilized is mostly empty and in need of a proper restoration especially the public realm which is insanely busy and looking a tad on the tatty side. Recent building work to the rear of the complex is not very successful, strange pomo type residential complexes trying so hard to fit in have been built and an island block dubbed the worst eye saw in London (although I could think of worse) that looked like a soviet concrete bunker/carpark has been replaced with what some would call another modern day eye saw.
Across the bridge we come across St Thomas’s hospital. This is where I get most frustrated. What we are witnessing is how 1960’s planning just didn’t get it. It’s a place no one really wants to admire or notice mainly because it’s so anonymous and bland. Access is difficult and sunken car parks replace the long lost Victorian buildings. It’s a sad place that feels damaged and degraded, perhaps an analogy for the NHS. The confusing plan is a collection of woefully dull buildings obviously built to a budget post war could afford. But now as the NHS has realised the need to improve we get more ad hoc reclads and additions becoming more confusing and messy by the day.

Early engraving of St Thomas's

The history of St Thomas’s goes as far back the 13th century but the buildings we see today are mostly post war and Victorian. In the Second World War St Thomas’s was badly damaged ,4 of the pavilion type buildings closest to Westminster Bridge were demolished in the 1960’s to make way for a new masterplan. The new hospital would realign the Lambeth Palace Road to the rear of the site to increase the functionality and size of the hospital and provide much needed space for expansion. What was built on the river was a large completely out of scale white tiled box, probably perceived as modern at the time but completely wrong for such a location opposite the palace of Westminster. We lost what was one of the most wonderful compositions of architecture of the age.

View from Victoria Tower Gardens

The hospital pavilions were designed by Henry Currey built in 1868-71and very modern in thinking for their time. Looking like a collection of classical villa’s in an Italianate Style with French Renaissance detailing the intention was to allow natural light to permeate the buildings allowing fresh air throughout separating patients from infectious diseases and connected by low colonnaded corridors facing the river. This type of hospital was endorsed by Florence Nightingale as a model for modern hospital design. It not only combined the elegance of the classical style architecture but was a befitting backdrop to the Gothic styled Westminster across the river.

View from Victoria Embankment

View today from Victoria Embankment
It’s sad today because this rather unplanned and ugly part of London was once actually a rather beautiful site and I am passionate it could be again if the will by government was there to once again bring back some elegance and beauty to this stretch of the river. If St Thomas’s was re planned resulting in a new hospital to the rear in a staged development, bringing back the pavilions could be a viable proposition. This rationale could implement a new hospital that's properly suited to the needs of modern medicine yet respect the history of the site in a far more complimentary manner. I’m of course not advocating that modern architecture could replace the existing hospital with something better but sometimes we could be courageous and actually repair to reinstate the splendor so deserved in this part of London and hopefully someone might actually notice it again.

For more information on the architecture of St Thomas's go to:

Images courtesy of English Heritage

Friday, July 23, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

If humans are getting taller why are ceilings getting shorter?

Perhaps my title is somewhat dogged with anomalies but I will press on.
In fact there is evidence that we as humans are not as tall as we may of previously believed compared to our ancestors. For example in the middle ages humans were nearly as tall as we are today due to reduced populations and a generally healthier lifestyle void of those contactable deseases associated with dense populous, like cities. Many factors have influenced height be it population, disease, hygiene,food consumption, climate and population density.

So in our super dense cities are we right to believe that we may get smaller due to our more compact existence or bigger due to our improved longevity and health? I cannot predict anything of the sort but in our mass consuming carb fuelled world where obesity is rife and climate change on the horizon could we be on the cusp of another transitionary period. Are developers onto something?

Getting back to the point..... ceiling heights are often the curse of the new build. We often aspire for high ceilinged spaces, they somehow evoke a sense of freedom spatially and make tiny rooms look wonderfully proportioned. Unfortunately in today’s world we are in most cases given the standard 2.25m more akin to a utility room than a living space. This height reduction has many reasons behind it, primarily cost. But there are other factors such as our change in lifestyle, building height restrictions, cost of land, furniture and generally the way we live as well as the cost of heating such a space. Of course they are all valid reasons but haven’t we lost something that our predecessors so relished.

From an interior design perspective low ceilinged interiors can pose many problems one being how to make a room look liveable without looking cramped and overbearing. Try and put a chandelier in a low ceilinged space and immediately a problem arises. Its almost as if our preconceptions of design and furniture have to be reassessed and all those relics of the past thrown out or miniaturised which infact has happened over time. The tall Rococo inspired wardrobe has been replaced with a inbuilt and anything taller than 2m is obviously is never going to happen. Not only are we given limited choice vertically but this restriction leaves very little opportunity to be truly expressive or adaptable for future use which in terms of sustainability is a rising concern.

Another problem with low ceilings is the sense of space. Proportion is often improved when higher ceilings come into play.The reason why period homes look proportionally correct is space and height; start altering one of these factors and it’s lost. You may for example have a large apartment but without height it will give the appearance more akin to living in a long enclosed corridor. I suspect this is a reason why a lot of furniture you buy today is so low. If you don’t have everything at the height level of a small pet to give you a sense of space, anything slightly higher just looks ridiculous. Our compressed world dictated by this spacial fascism is acceptable to a degree but it's incessant abundance almost seems a lost cause amoung developers flogging us 'luxury' but to be honest it's more like 'basic'

Recently researching the subject of ceiling heights I came across evidence that low ceilings do not provoke heightened conceptual thinking more so that it suppresses such thoughts. An interesting concept that probably has some truth. Would you go to an art gallery if it was the size of small cupboard and subsequently get the same thought processes in a large lofty open space? probably not.The same should really be applied to where you live. I’m not arguing that we should all be living in 3m and higher ceilinged homes but a little more than the average could have a positive socioeconomic effect as well as enlightening and freeing our interiors and quite possibly our minds.

So should we increase the height of our ceiling or not. Morally I would say yes, there has to be an increase on the pitiful 2.25m we often encounter but is there the will or the economy to do so.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Default Street

When walking down ‘Default Street’ with its countless often irrelevant signs, the ad hoc appendages to lampposts, the mismatched and usually ugly street lighting, you do wonder what’s actually gone wrong here. It’s often a question I ponder about and usually provokes me to imagine what it could be like. But really why are our streets so damned incoherent, almost devoid of beauty at street level?

Since the explosion in personal transport modes i.e. the car, our streets have become more traffic gyratory systems than places we actually like to walk along and inturn the pavements have been reduced in width, lighting degraded to a utilitarian motorway standard and the road signage increased to confusing proportions.

Sometimes you do see pockets of sense where the power’s that be have seen the light and understood the importance of visually clean coherent street. Unfortunately this usually is more than often a token effort targeted at tourism infused areas rather than a wider ranging all encompassing urban design approach.

What is distinctly lacking are robust higher quality and better designed systems. This applies not only to its street furniture but the quality of the materials and execution of the design intent. Landscaping issues are often overlooked too or seen as an unnecessary ‘ luxury’ expense , instead we just get a few random tree’s and hope for the best. It is this lack of conviction that find most frustrating yet other European countries have a much better understanding of urbanity yet we still carry on churning out ugly lampposts, horrible railings and terrible footpaths blanketed without care or attention to our poor streetscape.

To be fair though things are improving 'a little' and I do believe or have faith that our rather ad hoc off the peg approach is becoming less prevalent but still walking down ‘Default Street’ you can see what I mean when it comes to bringing things together, the lack of finesse and clumsiness of it all and distinct lack of pride.

Some would argue that this ‘urban grit’ is our culture, that in some way’s its ugliness breeds beauty but then you could say that where has the beauty been personified? The real reason the stagnation in design of our streets is lack of investment and lack of drive or desire to design decent spaces and objects that enlighten our senses. We are given an economical answer to a lamppost for example but is it a thing of beauty? No. We need to work harder to build an environment that approaches design again as a saviour of our streetscape and our architecture and we need to invest in proper master plans that understand locality and to find the best solution , banishing the term ‘acceptable’. It’s very simple really.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Where is the love?

I'll keep this short but my concern is that architect's should perhaps think about the architecture before the science experiment.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Space Sky/Architecture/Christian Harrup Design

Spacesky is a novel approach to public space that envisages a public amenity in the sky that inturn will give back to the local community a new park containing various functions for local use.More to come..
spacesky by christian harrup design

Saturday, April 24, 2010

SL01 stack link chair by Christian Harrup Design

SL01 chair by christian harrup design

This is the sneak preview of the SL 01 chair stack link chair which is  based on an old concept of mine but has been reworked. The aim of the project is to have a chair that is ultra minimal in appearance yet designed to be functional and elegant institutional stack/ link chair in it's  form and construction.
It features a unique feature in the armed version inspired by holding hands. This application allows for the seating to be arranged and rotated in a multitude of variations and arrangements not possible with fixed solutions while still adding an element of control to the user.
The polyamide fibreglass seat features a flat steel frame in chrome or lacquered epoxy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Roller Deck Design

Meaning ;

1.The way that designers pick and choose from the vast array of information and imagery to come up with an ‘idea’ but try to change it slightly to fool themselves into thinking it’s original.
2.Lack of imagination
3.Very Common.
4. I hasten to add we all do it but we are all in denial.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Emerald City?

This is my first Blog about issues that interest me in design and architecture. With architecture being one of my primary interests in life, I am passionate about its ongoing evolution and the impact it has so many aspects of our everyday lives. My first foray ( or rant ) will be on some issues that perhaps people have overlooked or not noticed in our towns and cities and something to possibly think about the next time you walk around where you live.

The built environment is at the moment going through a change.
The architectural professions tirelessly working towards a more sustainable future are trying to make our buildings more intelligent, in a sense worthy of this planet if you like. Of course sustainability is definitely a worthwhile cause and I will not deny that, but are we neglecting or even defacing our cites inadvertently in the process while searching for this unknown nirvana.
What I am writing  about is the rather worrying trend and over use of green, blue and minty coloured glass that our architects are for some reason specifying in abundance in virtually every sector, every use you can think of. I have noticed over the years that this is becoming the norm yet really, is it necessary and why are we doing this?
Call me old fashioned if you will but when I think of glass in buildings I think transparency, clarity. I think of great glasshouses, crystalline clear glass office and public buildings. I really don’t think of Green minty profusions used in a blanket, almost all encompassing manner across our cities.
So disturbing is this trend that even on structures where I see no need for green glass ie a lightbox for example we get it again! it's almost as if colourless glass suddenly doesn't exist any more.

Glass is naturally green through impurities in the form of iron oxide that is used in modern day glass to reduce glare and heat absorption. But these 'impurities' should be seen as just that, an impurity.
In the planning process elevations and renderings usually depict glass to be a transparent almost colourless shiny material, ideal images usually with a rather large dusting of artistic licence.
But then something goes wrong. What we were tricked into believing was a rather lovely glass building has now transformed into something else. This amnesia among architects and planners shows that they have fundamentally missed the point that the glass we thought we were getting is infact green Shock/Horror!! Surely this isn’t right?
 Would we accept it if a white wall was a lurid colour? I doubt it, so why is it acceptable when glass changes colour from originally perceived. It’s a sort of denial that I suppose is something most people choose not to think about or notice, well not yet anyway until perhaps it is too late.
My fear is we are so in love with the fully glazed office building that we are forgetting the big picture in that what it actually looks like in our cities as a whole. Their composition within the rest of the urban fabric and perhaps the damage it is causing especially when it's not quite what we were expecting. Would it not be sensible to set guidelines and rules that control the colour pigmentation in glass or or at least keep it to the bare minimum to reduce this unnecessary visual jarring. I do believe that this has to be addressed not only to save historic views and buildings but because I do believe that it will deface many of our cities and towns for generations to come. Glass technology already has glass that performs in the same manner as its greenish counterparts so an argument otherwise is fairly weak yet we still keep getting it again and again and's becoming a broken record.
Are we turning into an emerald city, perhaps we are but is that really what we want?