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Piers Gough + CZWG + Bermondsey Architecture London

Completing the Circle

“Why are Eger, Camp, Alsop, Gough and Cullinan the rare exceptions that prove the rule about our national dread of colour?” complains Jonathan Meades in his essay Buildings in Pedro and Ricky Come Again (2021). Moving from colour to humour, “Apart from Piers Gough and Ricardo Bofill, these postmoderns were seldom particularly funny. Gough’s work… persists in delighting this observer with its audacious levity and sheer sprightliness. It’s tectonic proof that there’s only one school that matters, the school of talent.”

The erudite critic continues, “The importance of his and his contemporaries raiding the larder of past styles is that it amended the consensus between architecture and the public. It created a public appetite for the new. We moved from nimbyism to what might be called pimbyism: please in my back yard. Postmodernism is habitually assumed to be dead, consigned to the status of period piece along with big shoulders and big hair. I prefer to believe that postmodernism, having ransacked classicism, the Gothic, the baroque and just about every other idiom one can think of, elected to revive early modernism.”

Jonathan Meades sums up Piers’ oeuvre: “Gough described his work as ‘B movie architect’, which gets it precisely when one recalls that the second feature was frequently superior to the main attraction. He designed England’s most famous public lavatory, in Westbourne Grove, as a shrine to Joe Orton. His early masterpiece was in the then hardly ‘regenerated’ warehouse area of Bermondsey: The Circle comprises rounded apartment blocks strikingly and overwhelmingly tiled in International Klein Blue. In its centre stands a life size sculpture of a horse by Shirley Pace, which recalls the creature that wanders dreamily through La Strada. There is no school of Gough. His work is quirky to the point that it resists imitation.”

The grey tweed kilted Arts and Crafts Revivalist architect Roderick Gradidge, scribing in Country Life in 1986, had mixed views on postmodernism. He sniffed, “The postmodern style was developed in America – oddly enough by architects who had been looking at the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens. This was not the Lutyens of the Surrey ‘dream houses’, but the cynical Lutyens of the later years, when he was willing to face a façade in an inappropriate pattern if it amused him, like the flats in Page Street, Westminster, which he covered in a chequerboard pattern… This bored whimsy appealed strongly to men like Michael Graves when they were attempting to find an alternative to the Modern Movement and trying to create a new style by moulding modern with traditional.”

Roderick Gradidge had a disdain for what he quaintly called “speculative housing” and in the same article tars Piers’ Eaton Terrace in Mile End with the “bored whimsy” brush while acknowledging “his work is extremely popular with the public”. Sutton Square fares slightly better, “… younger architects are leading speculative builders towards a much more restrained, and indeed a more genuine Georgian style. One of the earliest of these schemes was CZWG’s Sutton Square in Hackney, where an entire square was designed for a speculator in a straightforward London Classical style similar to that of many squares built in the 1830s. Even here, the architects seem to be worried about following precedents too closely, and they use a number of self conscious illiteracies: stucco shapes to suggest removed balconies (a pleasant conceit) or a single, narrow Classical column perilously supporting an overlong and inaccurately profiled cornice.”

In reality Eaton Terrace is all about the G in CZWG reinventing the Victorian and Georgian terrace for modern times and having fun in the process. The townhouses share amenity space to the front (very 21st century) and 14 metre long private walled gardens to the rear (very 18th century). The kitchen has been raised to ground floor while a basement (concealed from the street frontage) has been reallocated as a man cave or family room or something equally suitable for accessing the garden. The rear ground floor drawing room, great for parties, is elevated to piano nobile level. Both upper floors contain two bedrooms and a bathroom.

A taller four storey apartment block faces Mile End Tube Station. A vast glazed and cladded swoop, as if a Pterosaur has flown through the yellowy London stock brick block, dramatically breaks the façade. A pediment pops up above the swoop and a squarish freestanding columned pagoda parading as a portico marks the entrance. The three storey over hidden basement terrace extends like a return wing to the rear of this street facing block. Piers takes neoclassical features and makes them his own, playing with scale and detail, from big ball finials to oversized lintels. Blind windows, a common conceit of yesteryear, maintain the second floor fenestration rhythm. A semicircular columned pagoda dash portico marks the middle, roughly, of the terrace. Roderick Gradidge was right on half a point: there’s plenty of whimsy but it’s never bored or, almost 40 years on, boring.

Piers Gough owns the silhouette. A decade after Philip Johnson’s swan neck pediment broke the New York skyscraper at 550 Madison Avenue, Piers employs a broken corniced pediment to define the roofline of the five storey apartment block at the entrance to Sutton Square. The development displays as many shapes of arch head as the gravestones stacked up against the stone walls in the adjacent St John of Hackney churchyard garden. Sutton Square followed Piers’ acclaimed design for the Sir Edwin Lutyens retrospective at the Hayward Gallery sponsored by the Arts Council which brought him to the public’s attention in 1981.

“We are very catholic in our designs,” says Piers Gough CBE today. “None of our buildings are the same; we are always reinventing the wheel. We don’t bring formulae but respond to both clients and the zeitgeist at the same time. We are a well grounded firm while our work appears rather exuberant and even fun!” The Glass Building in Camden is one of his all time favourites. “I am so proud of that building. Friends of mine bought an apartment in it recently. The first Wagamama in London opened on the ground floor of The Glass Building!” This branch of the Japanese restaurant is still going strong.

Piers told Ulster Architect in 1999, “The design of The Glass Building is based on qualities often found in loft conversion schemes. Qualities of light, space and materials. But here, because the building is new, with added advantages in quality, practicability and amenity. The visual effect is of a series of curved bays… these bay widths coincide with the curves of the apartments. Thus the rhythm of the façade is a direct consequence of its internal arrangement. A building that tries to be beautiful by being true to itself and its site.”

“The top two Listed Buildings of the postmodern period are by CZWG,” Piers Gough confirms. In fact, six buildings by the practice make it into the 24 postmodern buildings Listed by Historic England: Aztec West Business Park outside Bristol; Cascades apartment block on the Isle of Dogs, London; the CDT Building at Bryanston School, Blandford, Dorset; China Wharf apartments in Shad Thames, London; The Circle apartments in Bermondsey, London; and Janet Street-Porter House, 44 Britton Street, Clerkenwell, London. Bermondsey has some of the best late 20th century architecture in London from warehouse conversions to warehouse style schemes by a range of architects complementing but never competing with The Circle. The awards keep coming. CZWG’s part-restoration part-newbuild mixed use development in Angel, Islington Square, won a New London Award in 2021.

Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Luxury People Town Houses

Musée Nissim de Camondo Paris + Winter

L’Assez Grand Trianon
It’s time to get MAD (Musée des Arts Décoratifs) and go Camondo. The 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris (1960) states, “The building and its contents were left to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs by the Comte de Camondo in 1936, in memory of his son Nissim, killed during the 1st World War. The visit will fascinate amateurs of 18th century furniture and works of art. The museum is arranged as an elegant 18th century home, and is furnished with remarkably sure taste and objects of great beauty.” An explosive profusion of riches.

It’s international art dealer and collector Charles Plante’s favourite house museum. Amsterdam boasts Museum van Loon. Barcelona has Casa Amattler. Lisbon, Medeiros e Almeida House. London, the Wallace Collection. Musée Nissim de Camondo was designed by architect Réne Sergent taking inspiration from Le Petit Trianon in Versailles; it backs onto Parc Monceau in the 8th Arrondisement. In Letters to Comondo, 2021, artist Edmund de Waal describes Parc Monceau as being “… in the English manner with a little lake and bridge and smart flowerbeds full of annual flowers that need to be tended and renewed and weeded so that there are always gardeners head down and meandering paths…”

This three story house built in 1911 to 1914 by divorced financier Moïse de Camondo is separated from the street by a typical Parisian courtyard. The stern steel coloured paint of the casement window frames contrasts with the welcoming honeyed hue of the stone façade. A relatively flat front – a three bay central set back flanked by single bay chamfered links leading to single bay projections – conceals an intricate layout: a butterfly plan spreads out to the rear towards Parc Monceau. This arrangement creates a jigsaw to be filled with geometrically varied rooms within the confines of the external walls.

All three floors are on show from the functional (bathrooms with porcelain sanitaryware by Kula) to the decorative (the Porcelain Room with more Sèvres than a Rosalind Savill book launch) and a collection of salons in between all linked by a fantastical marble staircase hall. The Buste de Négress by sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire in the dining room is just one of a myriad pieces of period art. Being here. Doing it. Incessant winter rain emboldens the colour of the stonework, softens the light, intensifies the ambience, creating ghosts in the shadows.

Such beauty from such tragedy. In 1944, Nissim’s only sibling, Béatrice, the last surviving Camondo, and her family were killed by the Nazis for being Jews in 1944. The Camondo family tree was ripped asunder, a dynasty destroyed. The house museum resonates with happier times though. A menu card for déjeuner on the dining room table is dated 2 June 1933: “Melon glacé; Filets de soles Murat; Pouleta pochés à l’estragon; Ris créole; Pièce de boeuf à la gelée; Salade de romaine; Petits pois à la Française; Paillettes au parmesan; Fromage; Granit à la cerise.” Lunch, 11 years earlier…

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Le Louis Vins Bar + Restaurant + Rare Champagne Paris

The Beautiful Changes 

It was the best of times, then it got a little bit better. We’re on the uprise. “You will die!” expresses our recommendation earlier that day. We do. Le Louis Vins. Heaven is a place on earth in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Le paradis, c’est les autres. “I booked a table for you at Louis Vins. An exquisite restaurant in the 5th close to Notre Dame. Let me know when you get there. Bisous.” Co owner Bertrand greets us, “It’s all about the wine!” Well yes it is, especially when you’re serving Rare Champagne, but later it turns out it’s all about the wine and food. And people. And décor. And ambience. And style. This is, after all, le Paris, a beautiful city full of brilliant people. Bienvenue. La cave has gone all ground floor. We’re raring to go. On it like a Renoir bonnet. Nancy Mitford wrote in her 1954 biography, “Madame de Pompadour excelled at an art which the majority of human beings thoroughly despise because it is unprofitable and ephemeral: the art of living.” We’re all on for a bit of Pompadour circumstance.

A chouqette’s throw from the Seine Embankment, the Latin Quarter earns a mention in the 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris, 1960, that tale of one city, “The legends and memories of the old district of the medieval schools, the highly interesting church of St Séverin and the small religious building of St Julien-le-Pauvre, the wonderful view of Notre Dame from the Square Viviani, the Museum of Cluny and the magnificent building in which it is housed, lend a special charm to this tour.” Louis Vins’ canopied façade lines the historic Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. By happy happenstance, Shakespeare and Company bookshop is close by.

“We sell happiness!” smiles Bertrand Guillou-Valentin, “till 2am.” The menu is divided into Entrées, À Partager Pour l’Apéritif, Plats and Desserts. There are plenty of carnivorous thrills but as always we go pescatarian. “Pour nos amis végétariens la cheffe se fera un plaisir de proposer une alternative, il suffit de demander.” Tonight, Rare Champagne and more vintage than Rétromobile accompanies them all. Les jeunes endives en salade, Roquefort, noix et pommes Granny Smith (chicory salad, Roquefort, walnuts and Granny Smith little New Yorks). Les poireaux vinaigrette en mimosa, oeufs de harengs fumés (leeks in mimosa vinaigrette, smoked herring roe). Les noix de Saint Jacques justes saisies, dans un bouillon detox au curcuma et aux petits légumes (seared Saint Jacques scallops in a broth, turmeric and miniature vegetables). Les poires carmélisées, brownie aux noix de pecan et crème fouettée (carmelised pears, pecan nut brownie, whipped cream). It’s all incredibly bistronomique.

We’re whisked off on a whistlestop tour of the wooden panelled restaurant and the stainless steel fitted kitchen. A sign is scrawled across a door, “Skinny people are easier kidnapped. Stay safe, eat croûte au Louis Vins.” Co owner Chef Mélanie Serre compliments and complements Bertrand’s vinological verve. Son of a restaurateur and grandson of an oyster farmer from the Oléron Island on the French Atlantic coast, Bertrand was born and bred and bound to open somewhere like Louis Vins. It’s impossible to leave without downing a Pornstar Martini: “Vodka Mamont infuse à la vanille, fruit de la passion, sucre vanille, shot de Champagne.” The creator of the cocktail Douglas Ankrah is a friend of Bertrand and Mélanie. At this rate of consumption, we’re gonna end up seriously unkidnappable. The bar and restaurant live up to their catchphrase: “Au Louis Vins le service est toujours impeccable.” C’est la vie. La vie en Rare Rosé. Life à la mode.

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The Pink Coat + Mary Martin London

A Blush of Winter

“Your writing brings my events alive – it’s like being there. You do with your writing what I do with my fashion. You bring things alive! Everyone keeps asking who is this talented writer who writes so movingly and wittily about your shows Mary. I just loved your piece ‘The City Doesn’t Sleep Tonight’. Everyone does! Everyone in Ghana was asking who is doing all this wonderful writing? And I say, it’s you! Lavender’s Blue!” Mary Martin 2022.

“We came from somewhere and we are tending somewhere, and the spectacle is glorious and portentous.” Marilynne Robinson, 2012. Call it history, call it couture. The new Queen Charlotte is breathing life into costumery. The new Queen Elizabeth is promenade royally ready. “No Irish people – Irish or Anglo Irish – live a day unconsciously… for generations [they] have been lived at high pitch.” Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court and Seven Winters, 1942. A few London Welsh do too.

The Pink Coat is really heavy; it’s like an old fashioned military coat. It’s the opposite of throwaway fashion; this coat is designed to last and last. My clothes are all so sustainable. There’s faux fur running down the back of it to keep you warm when you sit down! Janice, with her red hair, looks great in it.” Mary Martin 2022.

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Luton Hoo Bedfordshire + Katie Ice

The Franco Files

Hoo’s Who. Seriously. It’s that good. The revivification of Countess Markievicz. Luton is the new Paris. Katie Ice swapped a (not so plain) runway for the (plane) runway. The revolution has begun. Game on. As for that legendary niche leap…. the model as ballerina! The hotel’s all it’s cracked up to be and more. Postcard home material. Luton Hoo is to Luton what Versailles is to Paris. Luton Hoo. The country house that looks like a French hotel and is now a Frenchified hotel. Just when things couldn’t get more glamorous, they do. Katie pulls up in a chauffeur escorted Bentley. She looks, as ever, as if she has just stepped off a Parisian photoshoot. Turns out she has. Lady in red and fuchsia pink. Louis Roederer Brut Premier filled volutes in hand, with a lust for living and a gusto of giving it our all, we breeze through the French doors and begin dancing like dervishes across the lawn, spinning in wonder at the infinite beauty of the place and life itself. Is it a lawn? No, it’s a dancefloor this evening. Is that a path? No, a catwalk. A niche? Podium. Pleasure Gardens? Pleasure Gardens. Luton Hoo is a playground for the beautiful and restless.

The estate is some 400 hectares (the same size as Castle Leslie in County Monaghan) with boundary belts of woodland cushioning the impact of the M1 and Luton Airport a couple of kilometres away. It’s amazingly tranquil with lots of wildlife – muntjac deer graze in the grasslands in full view of our bedroom balcony. The River Lea runs along the whole length of the estate and widens in two places to form lakes. We make a variety of photogenic horticultural discoveries from the elevated formal terrace to the sunken rock garden. The 1760s Robert Adam designed stable yard lies south of the house set back from the avenue amongst woodland. A monsoon erupts as we ensconce ourselves in Adam’s Brasserie in the converted stable block. Knickerbockers-returned-to-their-former glory. The walls are hung with stills of actors from the many films set at Luton Hoo: Stephen Fry in Wilde; Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral; Julianne Moore in Surviving Picasso; Sophie Morceau in The World is Not Enough; Jonathan Rees Myers in Vanity Fair.

In 1767 John Stuart the 3rd Earl of Bute, who’d been Prime Minister for barely a year, employed architect Robert Adam to design a country house for his newly acquired estate. Robert Adam (1728 to 1792) was the Robert Adam (1948 to still going strong) of his day. The following century, it was Smirked (Sir Robert Smirke gave it a Greek revival makeover) under the direction of the 3rd Earl’s grandson, burnt, and then re-Smirked (new owner businessman John Leigh rebuilt it much the same as before). At this time, the Ionic portico dominated entrance front resembled that of Mount Stewart in County Down. South African diamond magnate Sir Julius Wernher and his wife Lady Birdie bought Luton Hoo at the turn of last century. The pair really went to ville, appointing The Ritz Paris refurb architects Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis (who’d met at the École des Beaux Arts) to transform the house into a Louis the Hooey château with more oeils de boeuf than a cattle mart. It became a country Haussmann.

Elite Hotels acquired Luton Hoo in 1999 and following a restoration and rejuvenation of the house and estate, opened it nine years later to paying guests. The greatest change to the main house was raising the roof from single pitches to mansards – how terribly French! This allowed the insertion of dormer windowed guest rooms on the second floor. In addition to the 38 bedroom suites in the main house, architect Andrew Clague designed a standalone neo Georgian block hidden in the woodlands to provide another 38 suites. Further guest accommodation was created in the converted stables. The Aurora Group bought the hotel and estate in 2021.

Robert Adam architecture; Capability Brown parkland; Fabergé eggs; Gobelin tapestries; Grinling Gibbons woodwork; John Sargent portraits… all the class signifiers are ticked and present. If it was good enough for Queen Mary… There’s even a sapphic staircase. The bulk of the Wernher Collection, more than 650 works of art, is how housed at Ranger’s House in Blackheath. Over Buffalo mozzarella with avocado, Giant Israeli cous cous and mint, and Chocolate orange tart with fresh macerated strawberries served in the drawing room, Katie exclaims, “I love Paris!” In England she models for Mary Martin London. “Mary is like Vivienne Westwood. She is creating fashion for everyone. Mary and Vivienne are both wildly talented – and eccentric! I love hats like my mum. I love when people wear heels, when they dress up. I’m originally from Kielce – it’s such a huge leafy city. I miss Poland but I love England.  I’m very sentimental.” It’s all a bit like The Hotel, Elizabeth Bowen’s novel published in 1972, “Gratifying how one’s intimate world contracted itself, how one’s friends always wove themselves in! Society was fascinating, so like a jigsaw puzzle!”

Architects Architecture Country Houses People

Emo Court Laois + James Gandon

Let Them Eat Hake

“They all knew each other, or about each other,” suggests Mark Girouard in his chapter “A Country House Childhood” in Town and Country, 1982. He’s referring to the Anglo Irish. That was even the case in the 19th century. “The owner of Ballyfin saw his neighbour’s property Emo Court and wanted that,” confirms award winning architect John O’Connell who runs an international Grade 1 Conservation Practice based in Dublin. No surprises there, for Emo Court is an architectural masterpiece. It’s one of the Big Houses of Ireland, the size of a terrace of Dublin townhouses. A copper dome on the middle of the roof lends it a municipal air. Its architect, London born James Gandon (he would move to Ireland when he was 40), designed some of Dublin’s great public buildings: his Custom House and The Four Courts still grace the banks of the River Liffey. James Gandon didn’t just inspire Ballyfin. Attempts have been made to emulate his Dublin Custom House at least twice: Doolin + Butler’s 1912 University College Dublin and Jones + Kelly’s 1935 Cork City Hall.