Saturday, 6 March 2010

Highwalking in London 1

I don't know really what I'm doing here but I enjoyed it; it's a look at typography and architecture in a highwalk. I'm following a project set by London College of Communication, which has asked for some research by walking and collecting stuff as you go and so on. Though I found I was not so interested in the leterforms in this location (which do reveal a quite a bit about the area's changing history) but I was interested in the actual experience. For the uninitiated, Highwalks or Pedways are an elevation of pedestrians above the level of traffic - popular with Corbusian modernists - they creates a feeling of being in a computer game - say Flashback or Doom. I began at Moorgate and went west to the Barbican and then end up in circular route, including (briefly) the Museum of London and London Wall (aka Route XI).

N.B. The crude and less erudite comments are entirely my own.

Finsbury Pavement House on the east corner [of Moorgate], by R, Seifert & Partners, 1971-2, has aggregate faced floors and the trademark Y-shaped pier. (Pevsner, p. 566)

"Most large buildings designed in the 1960s and early 1970s therefore make provision for the walkway" Pevsner, p. 131.

"A large complex by Leo Hannen Associates, completed 1973. Seven storey slab to the street, its grey floor panels with jagged relief pattern. On the ground floor shops and the new Moorgate station entrance. Balcony-like abutment for an unbuilt extension of the ped-way." Pevsner, p. 561.

"Lots of pubs and shops were provided at podium level, in anticipation of the rebrith of pedestrian life on the upper level. The ensemble can still be appreciated, though its windswept upper level will appeal to few and the balance of buildings was upset by replacements from the mid 1980s." Pevsner, p. 131.

"Escalators lead to a paved upper court made over the station platforms connecting with the walkway along London Wall." (Pevsner , 561).

That jagged relief pattern.

"Slightly lower west slab with gloomy passage to a narrower court" (Pevsner , 561).

I think this is the Leo Hannen Associates build which has been recently (?) disconnected from Tenter House by some redevelopment.

London Wall high walk on the side of Fore Street.

I think this is a new build which replaced the 1961-2 Austral House by Gunton & Gunton, which was an attractive modernist built with green curtain walling, serpetine marbling and yellow-tinted glazing above the street entrance.

Those ridiculous London prices - another world - run back to the Midlands! But hold on, is that a dehumidifier is the bottom left hand corner?

I think this is the 1993-5 Pentagram signage?

"There is nothing quite like the Barbican Estate in all of British Architecture. It combines two favourite concepts of radical postwar planning: the traffic free housing precinct linked by elevated walkways, and the giant multi-functional 'megastructure', to use the jargon of the time...
(Pevsner, p. 281).

"The name Barbican records a seperate outlying fortification, demolished in 1267 after the Barons' Wars..."
(Pevsner, p. 286).

"The Barbican Hall is a pleasant space.... The Theatre is more innovative... complex access foyers to either side take the place of aisles"
(Pevsner, p. 285).

"Here, the combination of immensely high apartment blocks (at forty-three storeys they were the tallest in Europe) and enjoyable and usable open space really seemed to work." Inwood, p. 831.

The idea of precincts - as old as Cathedral precincts - was first worked out, in modern planning terms, in 1942, by Alker Trip.... In a small book, 'Town Planning and Road Traffic', Trip extended into the city the principle... of 'limited segragation' of the various classes of traffic.
(Edward Carter, 'The Future of London', p.158.)

Such boldness was made possible by wasteland left north of Gresham street by the Blitz, which allowed one to walk for half a mile without passing a single struture, and by the City's readiness to finance the costly new housing and building for the arts, which did not falter in the quater century from conception to completion (1956 - 81). "
(Pevsner, p. 281).

"the present, more monumental system, depended on the raw mass of in situ reinforced concrete.."
(Pevsner, p. 281).

Fairly recent signage designed by Cartlidge Levene and Studio Myerscough.

"More rounded forms in the cascade spout..."
(Pevsner, p. 283).

"The local entertainment was provided by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Symphony Orchestra and the well healed residents were there because they wanted to be, not because there was no where else to put them."
(S. Inwood, A History of London, p.832.)

"It was an estate, in short, on which even architects and town planners would have been prepared to live". (S. Inwood, A History of London, p.832)

"In the 28 acres of the [post war] plan, generous provision was made for the gardens and open spaces, in which remains of the city wall were displayed."
(Pevsner, p. 542).

"...the Museum of London completes the [1960s] sequence of tower on the north side (of London Wall)"
(Pevsner, p. 544).

"The roundabout by London Wall is closed off on the west side by Fitzroy Robinson Partnership's tall, boldly patterned and stagey development (No. 200 Clifford Chance) , proposed in 1983 and built in modified form in 1991-2. Two stepped blocks at right angles, the north one rising taller behind. An atrium floor joins the blocks with glazing stepped down ziggurat-wise from on high... The scheme erased a warren of small courts and side streets."
(Pevsner, p. 415).

This does perhaps resemble an old corner of the historic London wall, but I find the effect physically and mentally choking - especially when I have been at street level on the busy roundabout.

"Part of the [Alban Gate] development is the low residential west block, with playful, rather over articulated fronts of pleasent orange-red brick patterned with stone dressing. The struts decending diagonally where the walkway continues west teasingly suggest a giant drawbridge, as if the flats were a barbican to the main ' keep' behind."
(Pevsner, p. 544).

No real ale. Tut.

"The commercial part of the Barbican development, along London Wall, was less well received."
(S. Inwood A History of London, p. 832)

The second tower on London Wall is St Alphaege House, by Maurice Sanders Associates, 1960-2, very similar to Moor House, but with stilts around a recessed lower floor.
(Pevsner, p. 543).

"Now for the cuckoo in the nest: the enormous Alban Gate, two continguous towers by Terry Farrel Partnership (engineer Ove Arup & Partners) built for the MEP in 1988 - 92. The inspiration for its setbacks and broken profiles, no less than for the striped pink and grey stone cladding, is the Postmodern interpretation of the American interway skyscraper by Michael Graves (the architect also insists that it also derives from the idea for a giant gatehouse). The concept was to replace one tower block (Lee House, by Bernard Gold & Parters, 1961 -2) and to extend its envelope south west, bridging the cross roads of Wood Street and London Wall. The awkward juncture between the two alignments is the weakest feature. The best is the selectively dramatic structure: huge segmental arches bridge London Wall, their tympana filled in by glazed-in pedestrian suspended on raking steel rods."
(Pevsner, p. 544).

"So much for the unquestioning confidence of the 50s and 60s. Since then London Wall's planning and architecture have fallen mightily from favour. The anticipated rebirth of pedestrian life high up never happened, and the kiosks and upper entrances are mostly disused."
(Pevsner, p. 542).


  1. The old Austral House was a slightly slicker bit of design than the rest of the 60s low rise in London Wall but IMHO it was no great loss.

    If the Highwalk planned at its eastern end was ever built, I'm fairly sure that it went as early as the 1980s.

    The replacement for Austral House is the "Seifert Revival" 1 Coleman Street by David Walker Architects with Swanke Hayden Connell.

    David Walker's own website is being redeveloped.

    But in this promotional piece for using precast concrete there is a pic of the old building, and what looks like the original Highwalk layout plan for Barbican and London Wall/Route XI

  2. Nice - I trust your opinion and didn't realise there was so much to 1 Coleman Street.

    I was perhaps a little surprised that a modern building which had the accolade of having a photograph in a quite recent edition of the Pevsner guides would have been replaced. But that was probably just due to my experience of walking in areas which are less lucrative in building speculation.

  3. I recently spent a week in London, discovered the highwalks quite by accident on my first day, and enjoyed walking there so much that I went back again later in the week. It seemed to be the one area of London I went to that was not crowded, which surprised me, because the section I walked through was beautiful. Thanks for your photos and interesting info :-)

  4. Thanks and yes, it's strangely desolate at evening rush hour despite half a million or so people feeling the square mile below the pedways.