Travel Guide: London
By Martin Søberg
Former capital of an empire, nowadays still swinging, whether you’re up for big business or dig fashionable conversions of dingy industrial sites. London isn’t Rome, but playful provocations and a flair for unconventional contrasts warrant that trips to this sparkling metropolis are anything but dull.
This guide takes you on a tour to some of the most significant projects in contemporary London architecture, with a wink at some of the city’s classics and an exquisite selection of hotel and restaurant tips.
CONTEMPORARY AND POSTMODERN ARCHITECTURE
Open Air Theatre
Architect: Haworth Tompkins
Year: 2000 and 2012
Location: Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1
Step out of the smoggy London streets and into Regent’s Park’s Inner Circle to find Haworth Tompkins’ delicate wooden buildings for the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Britain’s only permanent open air theatre. The bucolic love affair between the theatre and its’ architects, Haworth Tompkins, arose already in 1999 with a major conversion of the existing premises. Recent additions include a new box office, entrance, changing room block, and administration offices, embraced by a simple timber facade of natural and stained larch, creating a subtle backdrop to the park’s many trees and bushes.
Visit Haworth Tompkins’ website here.
Visit Open Air Theatre’s website here.
V&A Museum of Childhood
Architect: Caruso St John Architects
Location: Cambridge Heath Road, E2
This museum truly is a collage: The original structure was part of the temporary Exhibitions Halls of the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington, but later moved and turned into the Bethnal Green Museum which opened in 1872. Architect James Wild added its ornamental red brick facades, typical of the Victorian period. The most recent renovation of what is now a Museum of Childhood also included the addition of a slender new entrance clad in delightfully contrasting red quartzite and brown porphyries.
Visit Caruso St John Architects’ website here.
Visit V&A Museum of Childhood’s website here.
Idea Store Whitechapel
Architect: Adjaye Associates
Location: 321 Whitechapel Rd, E1
David Adjaye’s architecture displays a particular kind of sensitivity towards material effect and contrasts between light and dark. His Idea Store Whitechapel is no exception. The design of this robust contemporary version of a library is building community by supporting the flows and interactions of its visitors and by opening for views towards the adjacent street market through a façade of brightly colored glass panels.
Visit Adjaye Associates’ website here.
Visit Idea Store’s website here.
30 St. Mary Axe – ‘The Gherkin’
Architect: Foster and Partners
Location: 30 St. Mary Axe, EC3
An instant icon, Foster and Partners’ ‘The Gherkin’ has landed in the City of London as a declaration of 21st Century optimism. Its design supports natural air circulation and features several other devices targeted at minimizing energy consumption. While its shape comes about as somewhat idiosyncratic, it nevertheless allows for associations not only to the realm of plants, but as well to the heroic techno-fetishist architecture of the 1960s.
Visit Foster and Partners website here.
Lloyd’s 1986 Building
Architect: Richard Rogers Partnership
Location: Line Street, EC3
Richard Rogers added a new dimension to scary, yet utterly fascinating architecture with his high-tech design for Lloyd’s of London. This massive structure with its intricate exterior of steel-clad tubes, pipes, and lifts seem to literally reflect the slickness of the 1980s, yet with certain hints at cold war dystopian paranoia. This surely isn’t business with a friendly face.
Visit Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners website here.
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Bankside, SE1
Few architects’ homes are as well preserved as this, but the design of John Soane’s house is also somehow out of the ordinary. Today a museum, Soane’s home actually consists of three townhouses joined together to house his vast collection of artworks, architectural fragments, and plaster castings. The interiors stand as a lesson in Georgian design vocabulary and spatial sensitivities, influenced by the Classical Antique, yet expressed through Soane’s highly personal and intense architectural voice.
Visit Soane Museum’s website here.
Architect: John Nash
Location: Park Crescent, NW1
Part of John Nash’s great plan for ‘Metropolitan Improvements’, these terraces form a typical London scenery in light cream and black with a few delightful ornaments such as the paired Ionic columns. This is the dream of the Palladian country villa turned into urban edifices. The geometric grandeur of the layout makes for metropolitan drama before entering the lushness of Regent’s Park.
Snowdon Aviary, London Zoo
Architect: Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), Cedric Price and Frank Newby
Location: Regent’s Park, Prince Albert Road, NW1
ZSL London is full of noteworthy architecture. One of these structures is the Aviary, large enough to house several trees. The triangulated geometric steel structure is clad in aluminum mesh and designed to appear as light and invisible as possible.
Visit the ZSL London Zoo’s website here.
Architect: Alison and Peter Smithson
Location: St. James Park, SW1
The Smithson’s architecture makes reference to pre-Modernist building typologies with picturesque quirkiness and material delicacy. This ensemble of office towers allows for a small, publically accessible space between the buildings. The façade is clad in greyish Portland stone panels, which help balance the architecture between the hearty and the sophisticated.
Architect: Denys Lasdun and Partners
Location: South Bank, Upper Ground, SE1
Brutalist Drama on the South Bank. In-situ concrete emphasizes bodily awareness as if this massive structure was an ancient geological phenomenon. The theatre may have problems in terms of connecting to its surroundings, yet its spatial diversity and rich formal contrasts truly makes this a chef-d’oeuvre of British 20th Century architecture.