A is for Architecture
Being an architect, this would be the most logical way to start my A-Z. But I will try not to write too much.
For anyone with even a minor interest in architecture, the UK is an amazing place. It is possible to find a diversity of buildings dating from Roman times to modern, living side by side, in an improbable harmony. It may be the wealth, or the need to show the greatness of the empire, or simply the creative minds of someone living in a quite-grey-and-not-that-warm place but the fact is that throughout times the UK has had some different ways of looking into the architectural trends. Every year, the London Festival of Architecture and the London Open House are great opportunities to learn a bit more about these.
I did not study British architecture in detail so I will only talk about my feelings towards what I see around me.
Industrial Age Architecture
Before moving to the UK, I used to see this “glass and steel” architecture as the trademark of British architecture. Made famous worldwide by the Crystal Palace over a century ago, industrial age architecture has a somewhat futuristic feeling that has been reinforced by the rise of skyscrapers (also in glass and steel).
I also later came to notice the Victorian railway stations. Not as spectacular as the Crystal Palace, but beautiful architectural constructions where elegant steel columns support a light roof structure.
Being from a country that did not take part in the war, I have never realised the impact and devastation that some countries went through during that period. Several areas of the UK were completely flattened by the Blitz, creating the need for new and quick construction. Brutalism became the new architectural style. With its exposed concrete and pure forms, it generated love-or-hate feelings in people. Ian Fleming disliked it so much that he named the villain of his famous 007 novels – Goldfinger – after an architect from that period. Personally, I really like the Barbican complex. Despite its brutalist nature, it has some amazing inner courtyards where you can spend a lovely sunny afternoon with good company.
Some interesting situations that we often come across in the UK are the conversion of spaces. From old churches that become apartments to abandoned factories converted into artist studios, there is an interesting approach to the re-use of buildings. Most times this is achieved by maintaining the building’s original shell and modifying the interior and eventually expanding it. The way this expansion is done is quite remarkable. While there is a desire to preserve the original building intact, any additions are made in a very contemporary fashion, in order to clearly distinguish the two.
One of my favourite TV shows, this programme is about unique domestic architecture. People – not necessarily from a construction related background – building their dream house. Some are conversions, some are built from scratch but they are all exquisite and their owners tend to get involved in the entire process, from the first sketch to construction. Some interesting architectural solutions are tested in these houses, and creativity and experimentation tend to be taken to the extreme.
And the most amazing thing? This TV show has already had 11 seasons, goes on at prime time after the evening news and has even got its own live event. Architecture is definitely seen in a very different way here…
I could not talk architecture without mentioning the type of buildings that I work on. From Canary Wharf to the City of London, tall buildings (or skyscrapers) are becoming more and more common in London. The reasons are simple: small plots, prime real estate prices, big companies with the desire to be in the heart of the city and some visionary developers. For offices, hotels and other types of commercial buildings this is a great solution. Personally, I cannot see myself living in one of these, but I cannnot afford it anyway…
Contrary to what many people think, these buildings tend to be extremely efficient regarding their use of space, relationship with their surroundings and energy saving. This is probably not what is seen by everyone, but there is definitely much more to it that just wanting to have a “superstar architect” designing some “crazy thing”. These are just a contemporary approach to the “glass and steel” architecture that I have mentioned before.