Yesterday, I was delighted to learn that Prince Charles and family – surely Britian’s most celebrated benefit claimants – were visiting his very own bejewelled architectural confusion, Poundbury. Three years ago, I visited the same town – a kind of Daily Mail wet dream of Middle England, to write about it for a special edition of the German magazine, Brand Eins. I found the place mostly deserted with a chill wind whipping through a stage set of architectural pastiche and folly. Charles, a fan of the work of Albert Speer, has overseen the creation of a fantasy land: a reimagining (from a lonely castle window) of a ‘former’ but entirely fictional Britain well suited to the Brexit generation (British homes for British people…) – an airbrushed past of classical architectural tropes masquerading uncomfortably as an (upmarket) housing estate.
You can read the piece called ‘The strange Death of the British Utopia – or how Britain live in her own past’ here (warning: it’s long…).
but I leave you with an image of a deserted street and a Neo Classical … errr bus shelter.
Britain has a housing crisis. The Queen’s speech yesterday underlined the current government’s commitment to develop Ebbsfleet as a Garden City – an idea ironically propounded in the early twentieth century by the Socialist-leaning Ebenezer Howard in Letchworth.
A year or so ago, I wrote a piece for a special edition of the German Magazine, Brand Eins (Brand Eins Wissen) where I traced the history of the British planned communities from the earliest industrial worker’s housing to Prince Charles’ architectural monstrosity, Poundbury. The piece, The Strange Death of the British Utopia (or how Britain lives in her own past) can be found on the writing section of my website here.
I’m delighted that one of the traditional Pie and Mash shops that I was privileged to photograph a couple of years ago has been given Grade II Listed status.
According to the citation, “The building, which was first opened to the public in 1929, has been given the accolade for its ‘beautifully preserved interiors’, which have never been replaced or modernised”
I wrote and photographed at length about London’s dying Pie and Mash shops (and jellied eels) on this blog last year. See here.
Here’s a small selection of images from Manzes in Walthamstow Market.
Very sad to hear of the passing of the extraordinary Modernist Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer this morning.
A few years ago, while on assignment for a magazine in Rio, I was told by my fixer about some young capoeristas that practised outside a wonderful modernist landscape in Niteroi. We took a ferry across the bay and sure enough found some young men sparring in front of these great blocks of colour and shape. I chose two lads to work with but could only spend an hour or so there as we had to be back on Copacabana beach to shoot some models at dusk. I am ashamed to say that I never really had a chance to look around properly but the buildings as a backdrop were breathtaking: swooping colour and line that were perfect for the fluid movements of the capoeristas.
Although I already featured a tearsheet of a recent assignment on London’s pie and mash shops (see here), I thought I’d take the opportunity to show some of the images that didn’t make the magazine edit. Although I’m certainly no interiors photographer, I’ve always been intrigued by the survival of period details in these shops – a palimpsest of past London lives. Crucially, none of the images that Effilee featured showed the interior of the Manze shop in Walthamstow market. I thought this had the best architectural details although, dating from the 1930’s, it wasn’t the oldest.
I saw the piece (and my accompanying text – a link that I will post soon) almost as a bit of visual archeology. Like the long closed Jewish Soup Kitchen that I photographed at the start of my career (see here) these places are disappearing year after year. As I’ve said before, the corporate, identikit British high street is a poorer place for the passing of traditional cafes and all manner of independent shops.
Whatever you’re preconceptions of this food – and I guarantee that they are likely wrong – I urge you to try it even if it’s just an excuse to rediscover something of the past that for now, is still with us.
“We are pleased to announce to Our People that on the advice of Our Ministers tendered after consultation with Our Governor-General in Council, We have decided upon the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient Capital Delhi….” (Quoted in New Delhi Making of a Capital, Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Roli Books, 2009)
With that on 12 December 1911, George V sealed Calcutta’s fate as British India’s capital city. Delhi, itself a city of seven (perhaps more) kingdoms became the new political centre of India.
Today, a forgotten, dusty patch of land is all that remains of the Delhi Durbar site; an obelisk marking the spot where George made his speech, Ozymandias like now in its echo. Most Delhi-wallahs know nothing about it, nor the park adjacent which holds statues of Imperial notables and a likeness of the King himself that, until the 1960s, stood beneath a Chhatri next to India Gate.
I first visited the place in 2005 and found, with some difficulty, a silent park off a minor road next to the main highway. Last week, in search of story about New Delhi’s first century as capital I drove out again only to find the place in ruins. Much to my and my taxi driver’s amazement the place was being demolished by hand by day labourers. It seemed to me that some of the statues had gone or were at least moved (although I cannot confirm if this is true or indeed how many) and certainly some of the plinths had been destroyed.
I am by no means a fan or apologist for the Raj – indeed as I’ve written before I hold very little truck with romantic India but I was dismayed that such a crucial piece of India’s history looked so … desolate. I haven’t had chance to ascertain exactly what the plans for this remote graveyard of empire might be but I sincerely hope that they are, as the foreman told me, to restore the place. If true, it is, like the Commonwealth Games building saga, a very furiously last minute – very Indian – job.
It could all of course be a dastardly case for Delhi’s detective extraordinaire, Vish Puri…
The first image was taken in 2005 – the rest are as I found the site last week:
Finally, the Chhatri that originally housed the statue of George V in the shadow of India Gate –
I first went to Chandigarh in 1996 to shoot a story for the Independent on Sunday Magazine. A fascinating place, it was chosen as the capital of the Punjab after India lost Lahore to Pakistan after Partition. Nehru famously said that Chandigarh should to be “unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation’s faith in the future.” The originally commissioned architect, Matthew Nowicki, died in a ‘plane crash and the rather difficult Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris replaced him. Jeanneret-Gris was better known as Le Corbusier. He made a bold modernist statement of concrete and angles and by the time I got there, it had started to decay nicely under the unforgiving Indian sun. It was however a rather wondrous if slightly odd beauty to behold: a thoroughly Indianised but planned city that worked. Recently it has transformed itself again into a successful metropolis of New India: plush bars, hotels and now has India’s highest per capita income. However, shortly after I left (and I had nothing to do with this, honestly) some enterprising wags started selling off anything that wasn’t bolted down to Western collectors desperate for anything Corbusier. Lamps, manhole covers and as much furniture as could be, ahem… ‘lost’ have been turning up in auction houses mostly in the UK. Andrew Buncombe in today’s Independent has a good write up on it and how many in the Indian government have been trying to lobby to stop this rather sad episode.