Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor of the Adam Drawings Project at Sir John Soane’s Museum, leads the tour with added artistic insight by Irish Georgian Nick Sheaff. Fran arrives armed with copies of a few of the 8,000 Adam drawings under her management. “It’s very unusual for an Adam townhouse to have been built from scratch,” she says, holding court on the steps. “It was difficult to obtain a plot. This one is generously long and wide for London.” Following the unravelling of an entail – very Downton Abbey – the alliterative Sir Watkins Williams Wynn got his way. He promptly demolished the existing building and employed “the greatest architect of the day”. Fran highlights that “the house hasn’t changed much since the Adam engraving in the Soane. Number 21 is a whole different story…”
“We’re going to move around as if we’re guests of Sir Watkins,” Fran announces. Invisible sedan chairs pull up and we’re off. “Every single square inch of the entrance hall is Adam. His hallways should be cool, masculine, stone. Strong colours are Victorian. This scheme is calm, demure, authentic.” Holding court on the stairs, Nick tells us the baronet’s salary was £27,000 a year. Not bad. No wonder he was able to splash out on the “grandest staircase in any London townhouse” according to Fran. “Let’s progress as guests into the first of three first floor reception rooms.” We’re in the ante room: “a rather nice space articulated by resonances of Wedgwood’s jasperware”.
We’re lead through the ante room into the first drawing room but there’s a technical hitch. No lights. The Irish Georgians’ 21st century solution – waving mobile phone torches – allows the Adam splendour to be viewed surprisingly authentically. “This is where we will dance, talk and play cards!” Pointing to the wide shallow chimneypiece in the flickering light, Fran observes “this is deeply reminiscent of the work of Piranesi”. The period gloom soon wears thin. “We’ve languished in the dark quite long enough.” The double doors of the second drawing room are thrown back. “Adam’s interior becomes more and more elegant building to a crescendo at the back of the house!” she exclaims. “The second drawing room is fairly bling – the gilding is later. Aren’t the painted door panels rather wonderful? All this decoration would’ve been ruinously expensive!”
“The ceiling design makes the barrel vault appear heavier,” she remarks. “It alludes to Kenwood’s great library but the barrel vault and apses there are much more depressed. It is a huge misconception that Adam always designed carpets to match his ceilings. There’s often a resonance in the geometry but they generally don’t copy each other.” Great windows closed to the south. “Adam’s rebuilt screen is rather wonderful,” Fran observes, holding court over the yard. “Now we’re going to have an intimate reception in Lady Williams Wynn’s dressing room off the second drawing room. We are very close friends of her ladyship.” This mesmerisingly imaginative tour continues with a health warning about the repro work to the rear of Number 20: “Feel the jar as you step from original Adam to Adam style.” After all this first floor socialising, Dr Sands will lead us downstairs to the eating room and afterwards we will be serenaded by silent harps in the music room.
It’s hard to believe that not much more than a decade ago Christ Church lay derelict, the congregation meeting round the corner in Hanbury Hall (where Charles Dickens once performed readings). The timely arrival of Reverend Andy Rider in autumn 2003 more or less coincided with the restoration of the church. At least from ground upwards. Christ Church the building was reborn. Then came the congregations. Plural. Now there’s an 8.30am Book of Common Prayer service for early risers (everyone heads to Spitalfields Market for breakfast afterwards), two hours later a family service, a Bengali service at 4pm and The Five for late risers. “It’s used a bit like a cathedral,” Andy observes.
The services become livelier, younger and better attended as Sunday progresses, culminating in a congregation of several hundred mainly 20 to 30 somethings by the evening. A lunchtime service for city workers is held every Tuesday. Diverse in worship and worshippers yes, but there’s a common thread: theologically sound, intelligent, life changing sermons. One service it might be Andy on “A Joyride through Philippians”. The next, Darren on “The Holy Spirit of Promise” (Ephesians) or Antje a German born lay preacher on “Sent to Make the Deaf Here” (Mark) or Pieter-bas a Dutch born lay preacher on “Sent to Change Hearts” (more Mark). In between Sunday afternoon services, the nave is open to the public. Described in the Evening Standard as “the best building in London”; breathlessly praised by historian Harry Goodhart-Rendel “it remains doubtful whether of its date and kind there is any finer church in Europe”; and haled by all as Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, it’s unsurprising this horizon piercing Grade I landmark is an international visitor attraction.
Christ Church has only taken three centuries to complete (usual build period of a contemporary London development rarely tops 24 months). Wren’s student Hawksmoor laid the cornerstone in 1714 but the builders focused on completing the above ground work. Below, throughout the passage of time the crypt remained a sculpted unfinished shell, a ribbed skeleton in need of fleshing out and dressing up. The guardianship of Reverend Rider and his accompanying holystic vision changed all that. Meanwhile, above the crypt, Europe’s finest baroque organ (once played by Handel) recently thundered one fine Sunday morning, notes marching ‘cross the aisle, filling the nave, floating up through the clerestory, ending four decades of silence after a multimillion pound restoration by the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields.
“The biggest challenge of the crypt project was having no obvious financial provision during the first seven years of my ministry here,” says Andy. Over £3 million was needed. “We still appointed architects and moved the concept towards design. It was when the finance became available through the generosity of The Monument Trust that our biggest challenge was overcome.” Nothing is incidental or accidental; minutiae were agonised over by Andy and the property team. Midnight oil burned in the Fournier Street Rectory while taps were chosen, lights selected and rugs argued over. “Above all,” he states, “I am proud of the church family members who gave themselves to the property team who I believe God deliberately brought to Christ Church for this chapter of its history.”
Dow Jones Architects were tasked with lending the labyrinth meaning, cracking the carapace, unleashing the dust of myriad wooden voices, listening to Andy and the property team. Wearing her erudition ever lightly, Biba Dow expounds on the challenge: “We began by stripping out all the partitions so that we were left with just Hawksmoor’s structure. We revealed the stone piers and beams. The brickwork vaults were limewashed to dematerialise the existing structure into light while retaining the form and texture of the material. Then we inserted a series of oak rooms into Hawksmoor’s space. We wanted to maintain a sense of the scale of the crypt. This is apparent when you walk down the ramp into the crypt and see along its length and then arrive in the café and see its width. We also wanted the windows to light the public spaces and connect them to the city outside. The oak rooms have an outer set of glazed doors and an inner side of oak doors. This allows them to be used in different ways… The oak walls to the main spaces have staggered boards – a contemporary version of plank and muntin panelling. The back of house spaces have narrower tongue and grooved oak walls.”
Another paragraph worthy quote from Biba, “Our concept came from the position of Spitalfields within the mythos of London. It’s a transitional zone, culturally and physically, beyond the city walls. Hawksmoor stacked two triumphal arches on top of each other to form the church’s west front. The city gate is an architectural type that reconciles the centre with the edge. Hawksmoor’s façade explicitly expresses this marginal condition. It’s a juxtaposition which has brought and continues to bring an extraordinary cultural dynamic to the neighbourhood. We wanted the crypt to be part of Spitalfields. The wide ramp entrance brings the York stone pavement down into the space to make a public place. Our idea for the oak panelling was to make something which defines the place in between the edge and centre. The oak sits within the structure of the church building, making a place of habitation. We wanted the new fabric to be clearly contemporary and reversible so that you understand the primacy of Hawksmoor’s space.” Metalwork is bronze. Fabric is from Bute.
Criss crossed crypticChristian chrysalis. A northern light, a southern kirk, an eastern revivification, a western Gesamtkunstwerk. Take the chapel door. Leading glass artist Nikki Cass was commissioned to create an artwork of fired coloured collaged glass to be inserted into the door of this thin place. “Your grace abounds in deepest waters,” goes the Hillsong hit Oceans. Biblical verses delivered divine inspiration as blues and greens and reds and yellows flowed. “The river of the water of life as crystal flowing from the throne of God” (Revelations). “Whosoever believes in the stream of living water will flow from within him” (John). “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit” (John again). Nikki’s artwork has even spawned an accompanying book. Then there’s the kitchen – a stainless steel work of art worthy of a double Michelin starred restaurant (Comme Chez Soi, anyone?).
“We cannot leave Christ Church without mentioning the curious detail of the windows (which is echoed in the street-facing wall of Truman’s Brewery, Brick Lane) – the pull that is set up by the sequence of small circular portholes above tall narrow lower windows. This is the symbol at the heart of Munch’s iconography – and relates to a whole chain of meanings and resonances – the grail-cup above the lance – the cauldron and the sword – female and male – the setting sun and the molten light over the waters – the pill about to be dropped into the test-tube – stylisation of the phallus and generative spurt – volatile/active – demanding the leap of energies – repeated symbols of the unconsummated – invitation.” Lud Heat by Iain Sinclair.
The City and the Pilaster | Lessons in Love | Head over Heal’s
If it’s good enough for Richard Rogers’ new office (Level 14) it’s good enough for the Lavender’s Blue wine and cheesegrater party (Level 42). Hurrah! With its head in the clouds, its body sandwiched between Lloyds and the Heron, and its feet formed of escalators between wonky pilotis, the good Lord’s wedge of glass pierces the horizon like an upturned diamond heel. Time to enjoy the high life up the Leadenhall Building. Deep streets intertwine as fissures carved through the built form below. A turquoise tinged gold rimmed violet twilight consumes the sky all around. Later at Lavender’s Blue HQ, luxury caterer Purple Grape present vegetarian canapés to banish the blues forever: