Every three years Folkestone orgnises a Triennial, commissioning a couple of dozen artists to showcase some fresh creations somewhere unexpected around the town. Nine years ago Tracey Emin cast a baby's bootees in bronze, six years ago Martin Creed composed a soundscape for the cliff lift and three years back headless chickens spun around on rooftops. 2017's Triennial runs from 2nd September to 5th November, with Hosts on hand at the various exhibits from 10am to 5pm, and it's always a grand day out. Grab a free map from the station and you should be able to track down the whole lot by following a long and sinuous walk around town.
Here are six of my favourite installations this year.
Holiday Home: Richard Marks has created six one-third sized houses, in a variety of dayglo colours, and plonked them around Folkestone in unlikely places to live. One's in the middle of a roundabout, another in the middle of the harbour, another skewhiff on the shingle and another on a clifftop facing France (which was actually visible, how splendid). It's an idea that's been tried before, but here the emphasis is supposed to be on the invidious nature of second homes, and our increasing willingness to cram housing anywhere it'll go. Plus the mini-bungalows are really terribly photogenic, if your aim is collecting Instagram images nobody else will have seen, and isn't that what most people want from a trip to the seaside these days? [6 photos]
Halfway to Heaven: Emily Peasgood's contribution is a musical intervention in a graveyard. The Baptist Burial Ground on Bradstone Road is a tiny elevated scrap of land left behind when the railway viaduct was carved through. She's recorded a six-part choral work based on the lives of some of the interred, then installed speakers in the form of "those stone blocks with holes you normally stick flowers in". Stand in front of one of these and the music plays, move away and it stops. I was fortunate to arrive at the same time as a large group of pensioners, and between us we managed to set off the full sextet, which made for some delightfully evocative harmony. After they left and it was just me, a rather more mournful experience. [photo]
Wall: This is the artwork the furthest out of town, which seemed to have deterred a lot of people from walking a mile to see it, which meant the Host sat alongside was having a relatively easy time. Alex Hartley's wall isn't Trump-related, but a site-specific intervention dangling partially off the cliff. It's made from a cage evocative of the barriers at The Jungle in Calais, and weighed down by hundreds of Iron Age querns, or millstones, recovered from the slump of material down below. The structure's not going to topple over any time soon, which might well annoy those residents in the bungalows immediately behind, whose clear view of the White Cliffs is now part-blocked by a white box. [2 photos]
Jelly-Mould Pavilion: Art doesn't always have to have a meaning. Lubaina Himid has collected jelly moulds for years, so for her pavilion she imagined a particularly large one upturned on twisted golden poles. Seats provide a nice place to stare up at the shell design swirled into the ceiling, whilst perhaps reflecting on the amusement park that once covered this site, back when seaside fun was something Britons embraced. A new twisty timber boardwalk leads down the beach towards another temporary pavilion, Sol Calero's bright cross-cultural shelter, but I wasn't able to get too close without disturbing the outbreak of yoga taking place inside. [4 photos]
Lamp Post (as remembered): Here's an interesting concept beautifully realised. Artist David Shrigley was inspired by the lamp posts strung out along The Leas, Folkestone's demure clifftop retreat. He invited along Scottish student Camille Biddell to look at one of the lamp posts for precisely 40 seconds, then to go away and attempt to recreate it from memory. Her 'replica' is the wrong height, a bit different up top and much more ornate down below, but more than holds its own on the elevated promenade. [2 photos]
Folkestone Harbour Viaduct: This isn't a Triennial artwork as such, but the latest stage in the redevelopment of the harbourside. When Folkestone was a thriving ferry port trains used to run down a viaduct and across a listed swingbridge to the maritime station on the waterfront. The viaduct's been disused for years, but has just been converted into an elevated walkway across the marina (commercial reason: to provide a direct link to the new foodie destination on the harbour arm). Access is still via a temporary set of stairs, but the renovation is very nicely done, with hardy plants alongside footpaths curving across the points. Normally one of the Triennial's artworks is located in the former station, but this year that's a building site as the canopies are refurbished and an access path driven through. Expect to find three railway carriages plying food and drink by the time the whole thing's complete, maybe next year. [5 photos]
Meanwhile here are three installations that didn't quite work.
Another Time XVIII 2013: Antony Gormley's loaned two of his cast-iron effigies to the Triennial, one of either side of the harbour, but underneath the main promenade where they get drowned by the tide. As such you can't see them either side of high tide, which proved problematic when I visited on a day with a lunchtime peak. One I finally reached, staring white-cliffward beneath the harbour arm, but I had to pass on the more evocative body under Coronation Parade, dammit. [photo]
Folke Stone Power Plant: We've had this great idea, said the Urbonases. You know that dodgy streetlamp round the back of the Museum? We'll power it using an organic battery, and hide the apparatus inside a fake walk-in rock. The Triennial board must have been impressed, but unfortunately the technology doesn't yet work, and even then 60 mushroom-sourced cells would be needed to illuminate the bulb. [photo]
The Ledge: Bill Woodrow's concept was an Inuit on a thin snowy shelf supported above a big black puddle, a perilous balancing act with climate change connotations. Unfortunately the "independent fabricators" haven't yet delivered, so a blank pedestal sits at the foot of the western cliffs between the beach huts, and might or might not be filled soon.
And that's only about half of the works. There's a big yellow horn up on the cliffs redolent of a sound mirror, an outstanding geospatial history of Folkestone on display inside the restored Customs House, and a lovely set of 3D-printed golden boats on poles down one of the shopping streets. If you fancy a treasure trail there's a collection of gnarled mini metal sculptures resembling seashells scattered across buildings and businesses across the entire town. One timber-vaulted work has been squeezed into the Triennial's visitor centre, which is normally a cafe, in the hope you'll stop for some tea and cakes and something from the shop. I didn't. There are also a few installations which can be best summarised as "oh, I seesomebodypaintedsomething", and which are often more interesting as a concept than as somewhere to linger.
Whatever, I can unhesitatingly recommend the Folkestone Triennial as a fascinating day out, particularly if you enjoy combining urban exploration with a splash of thought-provoking culture. It's also really pretty in myriad ways and styles, as I hope my set of photos will convince you. You can bone up on the basics on the website, or by downloading the free app, or take a look at the map before you go. I'll remind you that Southeastern are offering £10 off-peak return fares from London, so long as you book before 6pm the previous day - this offer finishes next Sunday. What's more you'll also be able to see 28 works left in place after previous Triennials, as Folkestone slowly accumulates a world-class anthology of outdoor art. Remember to get there before November 5th. I have 2020 pencilled in already.
Users of Bow Road station might appreciate an update on how the westbound Next Train Indicator is doing.
In good news, it's stopped doing this.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
2 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
3 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
In better news, it's started doing this, and being generally correct.
1 Richmond via Earl's Court
2 Hammersmith via King's Cross
3 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
Generally speaking, the first train is going where it says it's going, and will be arriving in approximately the time it says it will. That's progress.
Even better, the second train is also going where it says it's going, and will be arriving in approximately the time it says it will, and so is the third. That's unheard of.
There is a but, which is that trains aren't necessarily arriving in the order they say they are. The system appears to have a blind spot, around 8 minutes distant, at which point trains silently blip out on the display allowing those coming up behind to appear instead.
For example, this happens.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
2 Wimbledon via Earl's Court
3 Richmond via Earl's Court
Looks convincing. And all those trains are in fact on their way, in that order, at those times. But suddenly the display changes to this.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
2 Wimbledon via Earl's Court
3 Hammersmith via King's Cross
The Richmond train has entered the signalling black hole, and disappeared, allowing the Hammersmith train to nudge up into third place. Then, less than a minute later, the Richmond train reappears.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Court
2 Wimbledon via Earl's Court
3 Richmond via Earl's Court
The Hammersmith & City line train is still on its way, and still around 10 minutes distant, but is the fourth train on a three-train list so no longer registers.
I watched for a while, and four consecutive trains disappeared briefly when they were around 8 minutes away. Eight minutes away would be somewhere around Upton Park. I wonder what that's all about.
There are also issues, as you'd expect, as trains are brought into service further up the line at Barking. Any train over 12 minutes away probably isn't in its correct position in the sequence of trains that'll eventually turn up. But it is probably as far away as it says it is. So that's reassuring.
Anyway, in summary:
• Trains are disappearing briefly from Bow Road's westbound display when they're around 8 minutes away.
• All the trains you can see on the display are on their way, but other trains might be arriving sooner.
• If all the trains on the display are less than 8 minutes away, then everything's probably correct.
• This is what I've seen happening recently. Other things might be happening. Things could change again.
• The display may be a bit wrong, but it's fantastically better than we've had for the previous 50 years.
Building:Trinity House is the UK's General Lighthouse Authority, and has been based in a Georgian building overlooking Tower Hill since 1796. The interior was gutted by an incendiary bomb in 1940, then painstakingly recreated using photographs from a spread in Country Life. [take a tour] A look around: It all looks lovely today, with history reverberating from every surface, as befits an organisation with deep naval pockets. A huge collective portrait dominates the loftylobby at the top of the main stone stairs, beyond which are rooms with even more impressive painted ceilings and maritime memorabilia. The postwar extension is rather more functional, featuring stained glass removed from Mile End and windows commemorating royal patronage, plus plenty of space for hosting receptions or ceremonial. I'm guessing nowhere else in London boasts a huge silver lighthouse, on silver rocks, locked securely in a silverware case.
Building: Not to be confused with the Newham suburb, this lengthy building faces the Thames waterfront between London Bridge and the Tower, and is where ships' captains would have come to pay duties on their cargoes. The current building is about 200 years old, its warehouse interior mostly modified into austere government offices, but the Long Room where the counters for payment used to be survives intact. A look around: Custom House is still used by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, so when you visit for Open House what you're really coming to is an HMRC Roadshow. Chirpy geezers will explain how they spot cigarettes being smuggled through airports, how they crack down on under the counter laundering and how they fly abroad to nail tax-avoiding fraudsters. Trained dogs will practise suitcase sniffing in the courtyard. And when eventually you reach the Long Room prepare to doubletake when you see rows of drab government desks squished in beneath a historic ceiling. My thanks to the dozens of civil servants who turned out at the weekend to smile and nudge us round, in what to them is simply their daily place of work.
Building: Not Lloyd's of London, but from the same coffeehouse roots, Lloyd's Register was founded in 1760 to serve the needs of merchant shipping. Their Renaissance-style HQ in Fenchurch Street dates from the turn of the 20th century, and is the very building used by Monty Python in their swasbuckling skit The Crimson Permanent Assurance. A century later Richard Rogers added a twin-towered steel and glass extension, bolted onto the side behind a churchyard garden. A look around: They've got the Open House experience nailed here - first a chat from someone knowledgeable in the glazed atrium, then directed off round a self guided trail so the next batch queueing in the churchyard can troop in. Follow the arrows to meet an archive conservator and peruse a model oil rig, then move on into the serious palazzo with its OTT decoration. The Old Library boasts barrel-vaulting and bookcases with rosewood inlay, but the main event is the General Committee Room up the marble staircase. An Italianate saloon embellished with nautical symbolism, beneath a painted ceiling echoing the Sistine Chapel, this dizzying space is proof that trade pays.
Building: You've likely seen the building at the head of the approach to the Millennium Bridge, a plain glass box on the corner of Queen Victoria Street. The Sally Army's nerve centre is the result of downsizing in 2004, with the majority of the site rented out to a hotel to help pay for the missionary upgrade. The architects' brief was "Modern in design, frugal in operation and evangelical in purpose", hence the chief features are external and internal glazed walls stencilled with quotes from scripture. A look around: First expect a ten minute film, in part recalling how this site was firebombed out of existence in 1941, followed by a soft soap account of the organisation's good works around the world. Then expect a tour of the building, from the glass walled conference rotunda to the General's glass walled office where his desk can be seen by every passer by. The chapel space is beautifully simple, a small room leading down to louvred windows which reflect the sky and clouds rather than the uglier buildings opposite. Expect the tour to end in the cafe, of course, and there might even be a brass band to entertain outside.
Building: Escaping the City now, here's an unlikely survivor that probably merits an entire post of its own. Victorian passengers waiting for trains at Peckham Rye luxuriated in a huge room above the ticket hall, which eventually fell out of favour and became a billiard hall, which eventually fell out of favour and was closed. A few years ago the windows facing the platform were unbricked and a major restoration began, which still has some way to go - the floor is still imperfect in parts and the walls and roof very much looking their age. Most recently the main stairwell has been reconnected, topping old with new, and fresh access permits many possible future community uses. A look around: It wasn't just Open House luring visitors inside, the walls of the waiting room were also emblazoned with historic photos of Peckham Streets from the 1890s to the present day sourced from Southwark council's collection. These were wonderfully evocative, especially so if you actually live here, hence the room was packed out, not just with older history buffs but with trendy bearded youth. Many paused for some tea and cake and a sit down, which was apt, as this marvellous room briefly reverted to its original purpose.
Buildings: Beside the Regents Canal in Hackney, this unique rooftop project hosts a series of experimental architectural structures with a focus on innovation, sustainability and recycling. Four different eco-buildings perch atop Columbia and Brunswick Wharf, the kind of complex rooftop cityscape a rogue TV detective might normally chase a criminal across. This year's addition is a scaly silver framework resembling a ventilation duct, encased in stapled cardboard 'tiles', which conceals a tiny sheltered garden at its upper level. A look around: Poking around old warehouses is fun enough, but exploring roofspaces via diverse atypical stairs was quite an adventure. The only way to reach two of the houses was to descend a long external ladder from one roof to another, while temporary wooden stairs in a separate building eventually narrowed to a tiny vantage point within the aforementioned silver twirl. Yes, of course there are beehives up here. Yes, I bet the parties hip Hackneyians throw up on the roof are quite something.
Building: I'll finish off with one near my home, a former dog biscuit factory beside the Limehouse Cut converted into residential units long before this was cool. The conversion was done poorly, or so the latest owner of Unit 4 Block B believed, so he brought in architects to spruce up his cavernous warehouse-style space. They did a proper revamp using a lot of reclaimed materials, adding a master bedroom above the living space, which doubles up as the perfect shooting gallery when TV crews or Hollywood directors come to visit. A look around: It's surely obligatory to poke round someone's home on Open House weekend, if only to go "ooh, I like the way they've done that, I wonder whether it would work in my place?" or to erupt in a seething fit of jealousy. For the majority of the group I walked round with it was definitely the former, ogling the rough surfaces, eyeing up the bathroom sinks and coveting the Crittall windows. Divided up differently you could easily squeeze four pleb-sized flats into the same space, and the heating bill must be on the high side, but it's amazing how desirable a dog biscuit bakery can become.
It's always illuminating on Open House weekend to visit one of London's town halls. One year I deliberately visited six. These bastions of democracy regulate our local lives, but most of us would never dream of venturing inside, let alone scrutinising their role. Several were participating this year, but I only made it to Hackney Town Hall, picked pretty much at random because it was near somewhere else I wanted to go. And I hit the jackpot, not only because the interior's an Art Deco gem, but because a decade of major renovation has (just) finished and one of the architects was available to guide us round. [restoration pdf]
Hackney's first town hall is now a Coral betting shop on Mare Street, abandoned for a larger site in 1866, then rebuilt in 1934. It's this Neo-classical rebuild which still stands, facing the palm trees in the main square between the library and the Hackney Empire. The architects were Lanchester and Lodge, their brief to design something grand but cheap, hence a surfeit of plasterwork behind the Portland stone facade. Here's a photo of the frontage in which I have carefully cropped out the worldly goods of two homeless men arguing loudly about which of them detests the other more.
I wish I'd been inside previously to be able to compare the scruffy octogenarian look to this latest spruce up. The marble across the floor of the entrance passageway has been given a painstaking polish, and the space opened up by knocking through a couple of unnecessary walls. Chiselled letters on the lintel declare HACKNEY TOWN HALL with élan, and beyond is the REGISTRAR OF BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS, a function long since displaced to the glass warren across Reading Lane. I would have taken a photo of this handiwork to share, but a row of Hackney personnel were lined up underneath and that would have felt wrong, so I made do with grabbing a bit of elegant staircase as the tour began.
The main public spaces are a bit wow, thanks mainly to the light fittings. These are original - geometric confections of glass and shiny brass - perched atop finials, ribbed round pillars or glowing from the ceiling. The finest of all holds sway above the Council Chamber, an extruded octagon of superphallic dimensions illuminating proceedings. The wood panelling round the walls was in an appalling condition but has been French-polished back to life, while the restored bank of upholstered seating now conceals gubbins to allow council voting to progress electronically. As for the long narrow room hidden at the back under the public gallery, this would once have reeked of cigar smoke, but is now a lush snug where elected members can network and/or relax.
We got to poke inside the Mayor's office, and to see his personal collection of Hackney community paraphernalia stashed inside a cupboard rescued from the cellar. We got to walk the corridors and see the portraits of all Hackney's formerMayors, their dress and demeanour either evocatively or scarily out of date. We also got to go outdoors indoors by entering what used to be a central courtyard, now covered over for use as an accessible events and circulation space. If all the renovation work looked expensive we were reassured that it had greatly improved energy efficiency, and had allowed over 50% more council staff to work within the building, so had also brought economies to bear.
For larger events the Assembly Hall has one of the only remaining sprung dance floors in London, and large square lamps looming overhead. The Bridgetown Bar nextdoor is a more intimate darkwood space with illuminated marble bar, and old photos round the wall from the town hall's heyday. Two of the last rooms to be finished off are the marriage suites, shortly available for booking, one of which was so tastefully blue it made tour members coo with appreciation. I think the architect leading us round was suitably impressed by our reaction, as indeed had we been with her knowledgeable input to the tour. It was great to see a building so beautifully restored - Historic England are well chuffed - and revived to function at the very heart of its community. [7 photos]
This next building dates from the same year, 1935, and can be found half a mile up the road to Dalston overlooking Fassett Square. It was an extension to Hackney's German Hospital, that a redbrick cluster, this a five storey annexe with general medicine and maternity care in mind. Teutonic thinking led to a Modernist design, with a massive concrete canopy above the main entrance and practically elegant terrazzo stairwells. Patients would have appreciated the bright and airy interior, and the current residents do too, because of course the hospital was closed in 1987 and was swiftly turned into flats. However a surprisingly high proportion of the current residents are architects, which is always a good sign, and they turned out at the weekend to show us round.
There was no peering inside the accommodation, but we did see the lobby, and stand in the car park where the tennis courts used to be, and climb the (lovely) stairwell to the roof. The hospital's designers provided a roof garden for the benefit of convalescent patients, as well as a long balcony one floor lower down to push trolleys out onto. The roof garden is more an open space with planters than a verdant horticultural feast, and boasts a splendid swooshing shelter up one end which resembles an elongated mushroom. For those who like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they really like.
Particularly splendid are the views, there not being too many tower blocks in this part of Hackney to break sightlines. Immediately adjacent is the original hospital, again now residential, swiftly taken out of German hands at the outset of the Second World War. But I was more interested in the terraces on the other side, because Fassett Square E8 has nationwide fame as the set designers' inspiration for Albert Square E20. It was great to be able to look down on an oddly familiar style of housing, and its central garden square, and to learn that EastEnders still send a research team to Fassett Square every year to make notes on how real life fashions in fixtures and fittings have subtly changed. There may be no pub or shopping parade, nor cursing Cockneys casting aspersions in the street, but (Overground) trains do rumble past noisily up one end. The BBC originally considered filming all their exterior shots here, but the looming Modernism of the German Hospital would have made camera angles too difficult so they built a set in Elstree instead, and the rest is history. Residents of sleepy Fassett Square much prefer it that way. [8 photos]
Kaymet are "a maker of trays and trolleys since 1947", whose south London factory flung wide its doors over the weekend for anyone to look around. That's the kind of Open House offer I find hard to resist, so I headed down the Old Kent Road to track the metalworkers down. Their factory's at the end of Ossory Road, a light industrial dead end (with evangelical infill) backing onto an Asda superstore. Turn left at the stonemasons, walk past the tiny hut doubling up as a showroom, and here is a small business doing what small businesses do best.
The building's the seventh Kaymet has inhabited over the years, and nothing special, merely a large functional shed seemingly haphazardly laid out. But the product which emerges at the end of the line is premium stuff, sold in Harrods and John Lewis, and fundamentally the same design which first emerged in 1947 and was exhibited at the Festival of Britain. The handles are attached more efficiently these days, and the range of colours is a more recent diversion, but the benchmark tray is still made by thwacking a sheet of aluminium in a big press, then hand-finishing the edges and anodising the result.
Kaymet started up under a German owner, surname changed for postwar anonymity, and his son still helps out with day to day operations. But the current owner of the business is an escapee from City Hall whose department disappeared under Boris, and who couldn't bear to see a long-standing local business slide into liquidation. He and his wife are now more deeply involved in day-to-day operations than they ever expected, and mesmerisingly enthusiastic too, which made the tour an especially engaging half hour. It was a privilege to wander amongst the workbenches, machinery and boxes of frames, and to learn the 'trade secret' of how they punch through the rubber squares that make the non-slip trays non-slip.
It's reassuring to know that some of London's manufacturing industry survives, indeed Kaymet have discovered that 'Made in London' still resonates with luxury foreign markets. What's less reassuring are the relentless economic pressures on land in inner London, which mean that small-time manufacturing has a tendency to metamorphose into flats. The Old Kent Road is under particular pressure on this front. Over 800 small businesses in the immediate area provide work for around 10000 people, but various Southwark Council redevelopment plans loom large on the gentrification drawing board. The Bakerloo line extension, if it ever happens, will plonk two new tube stations either side of Ossory Road, and tomorrow's Londoners want accommodation more than they want trays.
Had the owners thought to have Kaymet trays on sale at the end of the Open House tour they'd have sold several, instead making do with disposing of a few hastily-sourced seconds at less than market price. Even I was tempted, which is saying something. Instead it proved more tempting to sign the Vital OKR petition, supporting a pressure group speaking out for the economy of the Old Kent Road. They plan to fly maritime signalling flags down the street which read "We are not nothing", just as John Edgington's did in 1969 before their tent-making premises were brushed aside by the Bricklayers Arms flyover. We all need somewhere to live, but let's try not to destroy what makes London special in the process. [video]
Tucked away in an old printworks in a backstreet near West Norwood station is a unique collection of mechanical timepieces. Most horologists tend to collect wind-up antiques or intricate watches, but James Nye has a passion for the electro-mechanical, and had long been searching for somewhere to keep them. The ground floor of this post-industrial building proved ideal, and his clocks now have collective life rather than being stashed away where hardly anyone ever sees them.
Electro-magnetic clocks are pulse-driven, some with an internal oscillator and others a pendulum. They were often used in institutions where it was important to have a network of clocks all telling the same time, for example in an office, hospital or school. The master clock would be maintained at the correct time and a series of slave clocks would be connected by wires to run synchronously elsewhere. Most of James'sclocks are the masters, and have the look of a long-case timepiece about them, while other exhibits include regulators used for the very precise timing of astronomical observations.
The Clockworks exists not just as a museum but as a conservation workshop. A raised concrete platform at the rear of the floor proved ideal for the installation of tools and benches, and more importantly provides somewhere for horology graduates to continue to practice after completing their degree. Several apprentices (from West Dean and Birmingham) have worked here over the last five years, maintaining the collection two days a week and practising the art of conservation on the others. If you have any kind of vintage clock or watch which might need repairing or bringing back to life, hold this place in mind.
It's a lovely mixed-use space, with a small library up front and various historical oddities scattered elsewhere. Dr James is a twinkly and engaging curator, as befits the chairman of the Antiquarian Horological Society, while the apprentice I spoke to was equally cheerful, dedicated and keen. I suspect my lengthy Open House visit merely scratched the surface of all there is to know about the world of distributed timekeeping. Thankfully the collection's also open 'by appointment', particularly if you have a small group you'd like to bring round, should you too ever fancy a fascinating insight into what makes these things tick.
Many London skyscrapers have a dull name and a nickname. The Leadenhall Building is dull-ly titled because it's on Leadenhall Street, but is better known as the Cheesegrater because of its distinctive wedge-like shape. Here it is in Lego, in case you need reminding.
The Cheesegrater is the second tallest building in the City of London (or the tallest if you think the Heron Tower's 92ft mast is a cheat). It's the shape it is to protect views of St Paul's Cathedral from Fleet Street - the upper storeys taper back to keep out of the way of Wren's dome. Its planning application was approved in 2005, but construction was held back by the economic downturn and so final completion took place only two years ago. It's unusual in that the building's spine is at the rear, with a 'cassette' of liftshafts and utilities bolted onto the back, allowing the floors to cantilever forwards in open plan style for maximum office flexibility. 48 floors, 225 metres high, if you're counting.
The architects were Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, better known as "the agency Richard Rogers started", but since renamed to reflect new talent rising up through the ranks. Although it was never intended, the company needed new premises a couple of years ago and the 14th floor of the Leadenhall Building was available, so they now run their international practice from a building they designed. They were also the ones providing guides for the Open House tours, which meant visitors were particularly well informed.
The Cheesegrater squeezes a significant amount of public space into its small footprint because there's a gap where the ground and first floors ought to be. Bring your table tennis bat and you can even have a game of ping pong underneath the overhang in this outdoor atrium. Two sets of escalators swoop up through the void, on weekdays delivering a suited insurance salesforce to the main lobby on the second floor. Head through the security barriers and, surprise, you're already pretty much at the back of the building. Three sets of glass lifts shoot up from a lofty corridor fringed in geometric yellow, with (whoa!) an all round view if you stand at the rear.
What does a top-rank architectural practice have just inside its entrance? Security, obviously, and then a long rack of scale models of some of the more famous buildings they've designed. Lloyd's of London (1978-86) is there in wood at 1:500, while the Pompidou Centre (1971-77) is a colourful burst of perspex at 1:1000. Several far flung global landmarks are included - the practice has a particular penchant for airport terminals - but the Cheesegrater itself doesn't fit on the shelf and gets to stand elsewhere. Some modern clients now prefer to see a digital blueprint, but all the physical models are still cut, carved and stuck together in a glass-fronted workshop located in the room behind.
This being expensive real estate the RHSP workforce are tightly packed in, but there are also meeting spaces and a cafe area, plus breakout tables with a rather distracting view. The dome of St Paul's is clearly seen to the west, while other buildings the practice has designed are picked out by stickers on the glass. It doesn't take a sticker to identify the Lloyd's Building, whose metallic Grade I bulk rises immediately opposite, extruded service shafts and all. It must help for getting work done that this is only the 14th floor, not up in the forties, although the amount of floor space does get considerably narrower up there.
The guide for our group had worked on designing the unsexy part of the building - the basement - rather than the cheaper visible stuff in the sky. He therefore knew his stuff, in considerable depth, without cramming a few key facts the night before or having to read the salient points off a cribsheet. Maybe that's why he also ended up apologising for talking too much at each of the stopping-off points and making our tour much longer than everyone else's. When you're up a special skyscraper for a one-off visit, hell yes, these are the kind of guides you want. [7 photos]
Not every Open House building with a lofty view is a pre-book. Some are turn-up-and-walk-in, capacious enough to cope without a queue, and offering a perspective only employees normally see. This year Watermark House was one such venue, the employee base for a Japanese bank previously sited out in Docklands and now tucked in by the Thames adjacent to Cannon Street station. Their office block is built partly on the site of a Roman wharf and partly on the site of a key medieval trading post, which sounds dreadfully destructive except that several centuries of later development had already destroyed what was previously here, and all Nomura's tenancy replaced was a 1970s telephone exchange.
For Open House, all visitors got to see was the lobby and the 6th floor, but the 6th floor is home to the City of London's largest roof terrace, so that's all good. Open decking surrounds various bits of garden, some shrubby, some floral and one raised section used to grow vegetables. With a beehive or two, a row of deckchairs and a reflective pool, it all feels appropriately zen. The lack of pigeons is also a bonus, which is thanks to the two year-old Harris Hawk which handler Laura wields on site two days a week. Bumping into a falconry display in an elevated Japanese garden is one of the delights which helps keep Open House fresh.
I don't know how many of the employees bring their coffee or lunch out from the cafe inside, but what a great resource, and what splendid views. The twin brick towers of Cannon Street station dominate, but one's eye will more likely turn to the thread of the Thames. Immediately opposite lie Pickfords Wharf and the Golden Hind, while the Shard is unmissable further downstream, and then an unobstructed view of Tower Bridge. Pick your City employer carefully and every day can have a scenic interlude to balance out the hours of slog. [6 photos]
Only 64 weeks remain until London's grand new east-west rail artery opens. Only 8 weeks remain until trains start being tested along the completed track. And minus one days remain until Open House made available tours of Crossrail building sites deep underground. Three of the stations opened up to the public were Bond Street, Whitechapel and Farringdon, whose limited availability was very rapidly snapped up. Rather more tickets for Canary Wharf were available, because that's far enough advanced not to require a guided hard hat tour, indeed has been for some time. So I grabbed a slot down there, and got to see what you'll all be seeing next year, once it's all finally finished.
The first time I descended into Canary Wharf for Open House, five years ago, we spiralled down a rickety temporary staircase to a cavern with no platforms, tracks or tunnels. Today all these are in place, plus platform-edge walls, and most of the escalators now work. The escalators are veryyellow, almost unnervingly so, in what may or may not be a reference to the 'canary' part of the station's name. They are terribly photogenic.
Several banks of escalators are in place to speed you from platform level up to the ticket hall, and further banks then lead up to ground level. Some even have the Canary Wharf brand plastered across the glass up the side, perhaps as a subtle reminder that you're entering a private commercial estate and maybe you'd like to visit the shops and restaurants now you're here.
The layout's a bit like Canary Wharf on the Jubilee line, in that there's an intermediate level which runs the entire length of the station. It's nominally the ticket hall, but expect minimal ticket sales action to take place here, being more a vast circulation space between (as yet uninstalled) barriers. Various banks of electrical cupboards appear to run along some of the length, and not much else in the way of features, it's actually a bit drab... but after fifteen further months of fitting-out this could obviously change.
Platform level is where all the action is, or will be. Another broad concourse stretches 250 metres down the length of the station (board this end for Liverpool Street, and the other end for Moorgate). All that so far fills the central void are escalators and chunky liftshafts - any seating and roundels are yet to come. There isn't yet a proper floor to stand on either, we were walking around on timber planks, and the majority of the platform area remained out of bounds.
What's being installed at the moment are the platform doors. The entire length of the westbound appears to be complete, and covered up, but not yet the eastbound so we were able to have a good stare along that. Some of the mechanism above the doors was visible, and the screen itself didn't look quite as chunky as on the Jubilee line. In a few places the glass panels haven't yet been installed - perhaps this makes access to the track easier - and we were offered a clear-ish view down onto the rails you won't see.
Did I mention how yellow the escalators are?
It was great to be able to have a look round, and to meet with several of the workers and engineers who are helping to bring this project to its conclusion. Their enthusiasm and keenness shone through, and they probably can't wait to show off their handiwork to the rest of you. I've been particularly impressed across three separate visits to see this hole in the ground transform into proper infrastructure, so many thanks to Open House for the sequentialopportunity they've provided.
One day this construction phase will be but a memory, and these yellow escalators will be just another part of commuting in London. That day is 448 days away. Keep counting.
With only 100 days to go until Christmas, the time has come to decide how you want to throw your money away this year.
One prime candidate appears to be the Wintertime Festival, which is taking place in a particular southeast London borough throughout the month of December. I won't name it, or link to it, because I'm not here to the provide the oxygen of publicity. But rarely have I seen quite such an over-hyped landgrab for the contents of your wallet, should you be tempted within.
According to the up-front marketing, this will be London's Most Unique Winter Festival Ever!
My inner grammarian is already screaming. Unique suggests the festival is one of a kind, in which case Most Unique is technically impossible. As for Most Unique... Ever, that's a modified absolute of logically unattainable proportions. These are empty words thrown together by a marketing team which doesn't care for truth. Bodes well.
What are the six components of this Most Unique Ever festival?
1) A Bespoke Covered Ice Rink
They surely can't mean an ice rink covered in bespoke? No, this is just the lazy use of a buzzword that was already out of date several years ago. Thirty bespoke minutes on the bespoke ice will be permitted.
2) London's Finest Independent And Innovative Lifestyle Winter Market
London's Finest is an audacious boast for a festival that's never taken place before. It's also not clear against which standards this superlative claim is to be judged. As for Lifestyle, that's another buzzword thrown into the mix, and which has landed awkwardly somewhere it makes no particular sense. Apparently the Winter Market will present an array of independent creative designers and brands. Whatever festive gifts and trinkets are available, it doesn't sound like they'll be cheap.
3) The Very Best Of Artisan Festive Food and Drink
The Wintertime Festival's publicity appears to be running at a rate of 1 Buzzword per claim. This time it's Artisan, which suggests hand-crafted treats and definitely not a few sausage stalls and some mulled wine. Again, it's impossible to believe that the refreshment selection could possibly be The Very Best, given the scale of comestible competition across the capital.
4) Magical And Enchanting Entertainment
The full festival entertainment line-up is due to be released later next week. It might be outstanding, but the only artistes I've seen specified so far are a brass band. Daytime acts on the big tented stage will apparently be family-friendly, while evening visitors should expect live music and DJs performing pop, soul, jazz, swing, classical and folk. Meanwhile wandering around the site will be a troupe of performers and street entertainers to surprise and delight at every turn. If there isn't a fire-breathing unicyclist conjuror, I'll be unimpressed.
5) An Authentic Father Christmas Experience
You what? Whatever a Father Christmas Experience might be, sorry kids, the one thing it can never be is Authentic. What's more this isn't your usual one-on-one perch on Santa's knee. Instead expect a magical and mesmerising audience with Father Christmas lasting approximately 15 minutes, in the company of up to 40 other children, concluding with a small gift and the opportunity to take part in a group photo. I wonder if you get that group photo for free, or whether it costs extra?
6) An Art Exhibition
The marketing agency appears to have run out of superlatives here. Their description is simply An Art Exhibition across all collateral. I guess that means the art won't be especially exciting.
The cunning thing about the Wintertime Festival, or the exploitative thing, is that if you want to go ice skating you have to pay twice. First you have to pay to get inside the main enclosure, which'll set you back at least £15, and only then can you pay extra for a spin on the ice.
Buying tickets works like this. Each day's operations are split into three allotted sessions of 3 hours. Evening sessions cost £18 for adults, while Morning and Afternoon sessions cost £15 before 22nd December, and the full £18 for the rest of the month. This entrance fee gets you inside to enjoy the Entertainment and the Art Exhibition, plus the opportunity to spend more money in the Winter Market or on Food and Drink. But the Ice Skating costs extra - £10 for thirty minutes - and if you want to see Santa that's another £8 per child. And because these tickets are being sold online, a 10% booking fee is then applied on top of the total amount. Ouch.
Let's have a look at how a trip to the Wintertime Festival might add up.
» An adult attending an evening session (with ice skating) should expect to pay £30.80, plus extra for food and drink.
» A family of three attending in the afternoon (with ice skating and Santa) is looking at an outlay of £81.40 if they visit before 22nd December, or £88 if they wait until the school holidays start.
» As a special introductory offer, the entrance price on Friday 1st December is only £10, with ice skating a mere £5 on top. This is no doubt a cunning ploy to make the place appear packed out on Day One, allowing photos of the "successful event" to be splashed across social media.
London's Most Unique Winter Festival Ever could be an enormous success or it could be a terrible flop. Many Londoners do seem to enjoy forking out large amounts of money to enter exclusive food and drink enclosures, especially those with a bit of added sparkle. If the entertainment options truly are magical and enchanting, it might even be fun to spend three hours inside a serviced compound this Christmas. But I suspect there'll be better places to get an Authentic Bespoke Artisan Lifestyle Experience elsewhere, with zero admission charge, and the enterprise may struggle.
The dynamic agency who came up with the marketing campaign for the Wintertime Festival describe it as a truly unique and contemporary experience and the ultimate Christmas destination. It might be the former. But it most definitely won't be the latter.
With only 100 days left until Christmas, you have plenty of time to find something better.