Tag Archives: London

THE BARBICAN – A BRUTALIST MONUMENT

Nestled in the heart of the City of London, the Grade II listed Barbican Estate is one of Britain’s finest examples of Brutalist architecture. The estate took no less than a decade to build and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1982, who declared it to be ‘one of the modern wonders of the world’.

The post-war complex, designed in the 1950s by British architects (and Le Corbusier devotees) Chamberlin, Powell and Bond, represents their utopian ideal for inner-city living. The 40-acre site, previously devastated by the bombing during WW2, provided an almost unparalleled opportunity for redevelopment. The result is an extraordinary accomplishment that manages to combine schools, museums, shops and restaurants within a high-density residential neighbourhood.

Architectural Merit:

Formed with a vision far beyond its time, the architects’ unique approach not only provided London with a landmark, mixed-use development but one that defined a clear distinction between private, community and public domains. In today’s world, it is hard to fathom the significance of their achievement. Celebrated architect, Piers Gough explains that the timing of the project has been a major reason for its  iconic status: “From a civilisation with apparently no word for dimensions of less a foot, came a totally complete, stonkingly powerful, three-dimensional city wrapped around a sumptuous landscape of green squares and lakes.”

Constructed in the iconic Brutalist architecture that defined the era, the Barbican style remains divisive amongst critics and Londoners alike. The word ‘Brutalism’ is derived from Le Corbusier’s term ‘beton brut’ and translates literally as raw concrete. The style and form of the building are drawn from its intended purpose, doing away with the ostentatious and unnecessary design features popular in the pre-war movements. The result is a complex of unapologetic coarse concrete surfaces (purposely bush hammered to reveal the rough texture of the aggregate), elevated gardens and a trio of high-rise towers. 

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While many consider this style to be gritty or gloomy (the Barbican has been ‘awarded’ the dubious title of ‘London’s Ugliest Building’ multiple times) others have more favourable views. Long time resident and previous Guardian critic, Jonathan Glancy commented that “The sheer number of ramps, decks, stairs, handrails and balconies here, plus the overtly nautical detailing, makes the Barbican feel, particularly on rain-soaked, windswept days, like some great concrete ship that has come to berth in the City of London.” Similarly, Architect Ken Mackay, who lives in the Estate’s converted development office, describes the whole complex as “a brave new world.”

Whichever side you stand on, there is no denying that there are many who aspire to live there. Amongst the noted residents are: architect Adam Caruso, artist Martin Creed and Wallpaper editor-in-chief Tony Chambers. While many of the 2,113 apartments are relatively modest when compared to modern day living standards, it is the attention to detail that still sets it apart. Floor-to-ceiling windows, mahogany interior features and suspended staircases all demonstrate the architects’ attention to detail. Each unit also boasts a private balcony with views of the centre of the estate. The landscaped gardens and lake remain truly unique to the Barbican and grant residents a sense of peaceful seclusion that remains so rare in our city.

At the time, their system was considered revolutionary, it has since been replicated the world over and arguably represents one of the UK’s finest architectural achievements to date.

A Symbol of Social expertise and Cultural Cachet:

One of the most significant roles of the Barbican is in its position as Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue. Built with the aim of creating a complex to rival New York’s Lincoln Centre, the Barbican Centre boasts ten floors, a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, and an art gallery. Owned by the City of London, the Centre acts as the headquarters for several landmark creative bodies, including The Royal Shakespeare Company, London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

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Over its thirty-four years, the Centre has established a long-standing reputation for presenting outstanding architecture and design exhibitions and experiences. From regular architecture tours of the iconic building to presenting exhibitions by leading international figures from the worlds of architecture and design. Amongst the most significant include: Le Corbusier’s ‘Art of Architecture’ (2009), Alvar Aalto in ‘Through the Eyes of Shigeru Ban’ (2007) and Daniel Libeskind in ‘Space of Encounter’ (2005).

Today, the Barbican stands as a testament to progressive architecture but also acts as a beacon of the future. With ongoing improvements and a host of landmark exhibitions lined up, this extraordinary complex is sure to retain its iconic status for generations to come. 

Thomas Cubitt: London’s Master Builder

It is almost impossible to conceive an image of London without the work of Thomas Cubitt. As one of the most prolific master builders during the 19th century, Cubitt was responsible for creating huge swathes of our city. From the stuccoed garden squares of Belgravia and Pimlico to the literati populated corner of Bloomsbury, Cubitt’s legacy can be seen throughout London. Even today his terraces and garden squares are among the most coveted residences in the world.

Born in 1788, Cubitt’s early years were spent as a ship’s carpenter and after undertaking a long voyage to India, he returned to England with enough money to establish a building firm in 1810. Based in Grays Inn, Cubitt’s company swiftly gained an exceptional reputation that culminated in his first significant commission in 1815, The London Institution in Finsbury Circus. Amongst his peers, his methods were considered unorthodox for the time. Ignoring traditional building practice, Cubitt pioneered a fully comprehensive management style that employed an in-house team of builders, roofers, civil engineers and specialist artisans. At its peak, Cubitt’s workforce numbered in excess of over a thousand with almost 11 acres of workshops in Pimlico.

Following the success of The London Institution, Cubitt turned his focus to the residential market. Concentrating on the areas surrounding his workshop, he began to develop his now highly regarded stucco style of housing. Some of the best examples of his early work remain on the Albion Road in Stoke Newington.

In 1824, Cubitt received what was to be his most significant commission: the development of Five Fields, an area of London owned by the Duke of Westminster. Located between London and Knightsbridge village, this region had become a rural swampland with high levels of crime and banditry. Working alongside Grosvenor’s Estate Surveyor, Thomas Cundy, Cubitt’s vision was both ambitious and unprecedented earning him the nickname “Cubittopolis” by prominent novelist, Lady Margret. 

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The centrepiece was to be Belgrave Square The original scheme consisted of four terraces, each made up of eleven white stucco houses, with the exception of the east terrace, which consisted of twelve. Detached mansions were initially built in three corners of the square, with a large private garden in the centre. Intending Belgravia to be a prime residential area above all else, Cubitt restricted building to exclusive private houses only. Shops and public houses were confined to the mewses and smaller streets located on the outskirts. This still holds true with many remaining to this day on Motcomb Street, Elizabeth Street and Wilton Row.

In 1843, his name and fortune now secured, Cubitt turned his gaze towards Pimlico – or what he termed as ‘South Belgravia’. This area had previously been purchased by Cubitt in 1823, but due to complications with the land two decades of farming were required before development of the land was feasible.

Belgravia’s northwestern and south eastern axis were extended across the canal to form Belgrave Road and St Georges Drive. The finest addresses, Eccleston Square and Warwick Square, lie in-between. Cubitt continued with his Italianate Stucco terraces but refined the design further, creating what became known as the Pimlico Porch: a Doric Portico with the addition of a balcony atop. A renowned stickler for consistency, Cubitt’s unfailing attention to detail has resulted in Pimlico boasting one of London’s most architecturally consistent areas to date.

Belgravia and Pimlico, whilst remarkable in scale and scope were by no means Cubitt’s only achievements. Even during his embarkment upon Belgravia in 1824, by the mid-twenties, Cubitt was already ‘in almost every other expanding metropolitan district’ (White, 75). In addition and as a result of his collaboration with Prince Albert, he had become a close confidant to the Royal Family. Together they built Osborne House, which became the Royal retreat on the Isle of White. This lead to further commissions principally the eastern facade of Buckingham Palace and the remodelling of John Nash’s Marble Arch. In appreciation for his work, Queen Victoria offered Cubitt a title. However, the notably humble man refused this generosity.

In fact, not only did he refuse this opportunity but he also referred to himself throughout his long and illustrious career as a ‘builder’ rather than the more socially acceptable ‘architect’ or ‘land surveyor’.

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When he died in 1855, Cubitt had achieved more than any man before and arguably, any man since. From celebrated designs on Battersea Park, Pimlico and Belgravia; he was also responsible for personally funding 1km of Embankment. This is all of course in addition to his early projects in Bloomsbury (Gordon and Tavistock Squares) and Stoke Newington. Upon his passing the impact he had upon London was perfectly encapsulated in the words from Queen Victoria, who remarked, “…in his sphere of life, with the immense business he had in hand, he is a real national loss. A better, kindhearted or more simple, unassuming man never breathed.”

Today with London undergoing such momentous regeneration, it is apt that we should remember his enduring influence on our city. If there was ever a mantra that perfectly encapsulates his legacy Massimo Vignelli’s famous quote seems remarkably astute, “If you do it right, it will last forever.”

Savile Row’s Architectural Rebirth

Returning to the helm of Kilgour, one of Britain’s oldest and grandest tailors, Carlo Brandelli may achieve what has eluded many before him: the modernisation of Savile Row. Whilst many have attempted to bring this hallowed institution into the 21st century, Brandelli’s background as a designer, rather than a trained tailor, may grant him the unique perspective needed to succeed. 

The primary difference between Brandelli and his contemporaries on Savile Row is his lack of formal training in fashion and traditional tailoring (he twice failed to get in Central St. Martins). Whilst the old guard may view this lack of experience deems Brandelli unsuitable to lead such an esteemed house as Kilgour, others see his decidedly modern approach as the tonic required to reinvigorate the proud and celebrated stretch of London that has been the home of tailoring for over 300 years. 

Throughout these three centuries the row has withstood those who have sought to modernise their time honoured techniques and for the most part, succeeded. 1969 saw newcomer Tommy Nutter who along with partner Edward Sexton ushered in a new era and with it fashionable clients from Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Sir Roy Strong. 

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Whilst this did much to raise tailoring’s profile, both in the UK and abroad, the fairytale only lasted until 1976 when Sexton bought Nutter out. Curiously Nutter went on to run Kilgour French Stanbury where he ran his own workshop. He returned to the row later though with a ready to wear venture: Tommy Nutter, Savile Row. After Nutter’s death in 1992 and a four year legal case over the ownership Sexton moved to Knightsbridge ending a golden era for the industry.

More recently newcomers Oswald Boating and Richard James have tried their hand at reinterpreting the timeless designs on which the Row is famed and although successful, their approach hasn’t resulted in the complete modernisation needed. This being said, the physical transformation of the street has changed significantly: no longer comprised of faceless doors with titled doorbells, today visitors to Savile Row are greeted with window displays presenting each tailor’s unique cut and approach to their craft.

Brandelli brings a broad range of influences to his design approach. From art and sculpture (he presented his range of glass crystal vases at Paris’ Maison Objet to high acclaim) his work is formed from a range of authorities and an approach that falls very closely in line with modern architecture. Whilst this may raise eyebrows, architecture and couture have long held a deep connection. At their most basic forms, both disciplines deal with satisfying life’s most fundamental necessities – clothing and shelter. 

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Over time the relationship between the two industries have narrowed, each influencing one another and increasingly providing opportunities for collaborations and overlaps. Couture has leant more to the aesthetic qualities and today this relationship has developed into a trend. Prada’s 2016 A/W collection displayed a decidedly Art Deco influence whilst Claire Wright Keller’s line channelled Le  Corbusier via alternating blocked and strained textures – a nod to his famous Villa Savoye architectural lines.

Brandelli offers a unique position as the middle ground between couture and tailoring. His previous company Squire allowed him an insight in to the world of fashion, where trends are arguably more integral to the success of a company than handcrafted processes and subtle detailing. 

This experience helped mould his contemporary approach to menswear. Brandelli explains: “I like angularity”, and his work in the medium of sculpture and art is clear in his approach to fashion. “I don’t hold with the thought that a man’s wardrobe should have soft, flowing lines in it. I think men want those angles to give shape and structure. It’s about keeping the lines as clean as possible and symmetrical”.

Traditional tailoring, the foundation of Savile Row’s pedigree, also holds many parallels with architecture, although this is only really evident in the attitude and process. The composition of a handmade suit uses the same approach as an architect uses to create a building. Beginning with structure and shape this  precisely relating to the form and function of the human body. Take working cuffs: a quality that for many signifies a garment of the highest quality, however the true purpose bears almost no relation to the modern lifestyle. Originally designed to assist wealthy surgeons in the late 1800s whose work required them to roll up their sleeves without removing their jacket. Similarly the double vent, whilst in itself a flattering design feature was first created for horsemen – engineered to allow a greater freedom of movement when riding. By contrast the traditional dinner jacket has no vents – producing a cleaner and more elegant line. 

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Clearly when these beloved details are analysed it is increasingly apparent that many of these traditional features are now outdated and although originally served a specific purpose, are increasingly signatures of a bygone era. 

Brandelli designs with a similar determination, although he holds no desire to conform to  these antiquated eccentricities. He explains “The references to architecture that people see in my work are a response to seeing something that not only has an aesthetic value but also has a “measured” quality. Men like beauty but also appreciate the data in construction; they need to know that there is theory in the proposal. And the orderly way in which you design a piece of tailoring and question why a detail is there and the proportion of it, or where anything extraneous or without function can be left aside, is very close to an architectural sensibility.”

His ability to juggle the same tailoring philosophy and ambition as his predecessors whilst combining a decidedly contemporary perspective is exactly why Brandelli is making waves. Crafting designs fitted to satisfy the modern lifestyle, he is not afraid to do away with details he considers surplus to requirement. He is not afraid to be a beacon for change and his approach across all areas is refreshingly avant guard. From being one of the first Savile Row tailors to present a collection of ready to wear on the runways at Paris Fashion Week, he hired celebrated Photographer Nick Knight to shoot a promotional video inspired by Gerhard Richter’s sculptural work and complimented by a Tara Ferry produced soundtrack. Astoundingly it featured no clothes at all, Brandelli explains ‘“The glass layers represent layers of thought…..reflection meant as contemplation, not actual reflection. It’s deliberately slow, it’s elegant. It’s not about brash images of fashion and all that stuff.”

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Kilgour’s flagship store is testament to this. A world away from the richly panelled rooms of Huntsman or  Chester Barrie, Kilgour’s revamped premises is decidedly minimalistic, “Everyone lost their minds,” Brandelli recalls. But updating and redefining is just the beginning: his latest collection seeks to reinvent the lapel. Whilst this may not seem significant for the last few centuries there have only been 3 variations used in menswear notch, peak and shawl. He combines this ambition with his one of layering – producing designs that half reveal glimpses of material – a subtle feature that nods to the architectural structure of the suit. Always keen to continue the architectural theme throughout his work, the tracing paper on which the clothes are designed are the same used for architectural blueprints, a reference to the level of engineering that goes into each of Kilgour’s creations.  

Whether Brandelli is successful in making Savile Row the cutting edge home of bespoke menswear he desires it to be, is yet to be seen but one thing is clear: Kilgour is leading the charge and the world is paying close attention to his next move.

www.kilgour.com