Architecture Art Design Fashion Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

The Gore Hotel Kensington London + Mary Martin London

I’ve Always Thought You Have A Lovely Face and I Never Praise Anyone Easily

Angelika Taschen scribed 17 years ago in London Hotels and More, “Walking into The Gore is like visiting a loopy uncle’s house. The walls of the chandeliered reception are covered in gilt framed artwork. There are pictures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, of children in buckled shoes and paintings of farm animals. It would all be overkill if it wasn’t so whimsical and delightful. The hotel’s busy restaurant, 190 Queen’s Gate, serves food sourced from UK farms. The Gore’s clientele is as eclectic as the décor. Supermodels and their rock star boyfriends hide out here when press intrusion gets too much. At the same time, you’ll find businessmen tapping away at their laptops, or you could come across an elegant woman, lashed in diamonds, mysteriously accompanied by a three tonne bodyguard. The rooms at The Gore are quirky and eccentrically furnished with an amazing collection of English and French antiques. The deluxe Venus Room has a huge antique bed, topped with raw silk swag and tails, which apparently belonged to Judy Garland.”

The Gore’s clientele is especially eclectic today. Although not a loopy uncle in sight. We’re lunching in the hotel’s 190 Bar surrounded by photos of the Rolling Stones hanging on the dark wooden panelling: they launched their album Beggars’ Banquet here in 1958. The last time we darkened the doors of The Gore was for the departure of Queen Elizabeth II. This time it is for the arrival of the Queen of Fashion. The Union Jack is flying proudly from the portico. A tricoloured reminder of Mary’s epic Union Jack Dress. Mary Martin is looking just a little rock n’ roll herself. Sometime somebody somewhere said architecture is the only art you can’t avoid. Tosh. It’s fashion. And Mary is out to make sure that’s the case. She’s all on for a bit of press intrusion. Where’s our three tonne bodyguard?

First off this month she is premièring a new collection in Brasília at the invitation of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the brilliant Brazilian President. “My new collection is all about nature. The dresses feature butterflies which are an expression of freedom, transformation, change, joy!” she explains. “I’ve used very earthy colours, gold and cream.” Hot on the (high) heels of this showcase she flies back to London for ‘A Fashion Experience with Mary Martin London and Friends’.

This momentous event in Soukra restaurant at The O2 in Greenwich celebrates her life and work as the English capital’s leading fashion artist. Mary will talk with TV presenter Brenda Emmanus and broadcaster Andrew Eborn about the stories behind her designs. Lights! Cameras! Action! The catwalk show will be highlights from her most recent collections. “Top American models are flying in specially for my show,” she relates, “to join leading European models. Angelic, Antonia, Bubu Jasmine, Hillary, Jessica, Kiki, Sue, Zavinta … It’s gonna be a truly international runway from Ukraine to the UK!”

Welsh singer and musician Noah Francis Johnson rings. He sings Everything’s Going to Be Ok down the phone so beautifully. “I am releasing my new hit record Immortal featuring Prodigal Sunn,” he says. “It’s a prayer to God; I studied as a priest.” Noah is a true polymath with a career stretching from being a professional mixed martial artist to becoming the World Freestyle Dance Champion. After supper, DJ Biggy C will get the crowd dancing. Singer songwriter Pauline Henry and poet Dr Lady Waynett Peters are just some of the other performers. “Because I’m a Christian,” Mary modestly says, “All praise is to my heavenly Father.” International star Heather Small is another of Mary’s music coterie and frequently wears her fashion art. Professional ballerina Sue Omozefe calls mid skiing on the Swiss Alps: “It’s madness on the slopes!” Photographer Adil Oliver Sharif is next on dial. All afternoon her phone buzzes with so many exciting people as to make Angelika Taschen’s description pale in comparison. Watch these spaces.

After fish goujons main course London’s best Bar Manager Sebastian Guesdon arrives with Eton Mess. He’s from Versailles so knows all about serving queens. “This dessert was originally invented when a meringue was dropped on the floor. This one was specially made and didn’t drop on the floor!” Sebastian teases. “We are relaunching Bar 190. It’s going to be even more about rock n’ roll with an Abbey Road theme. We’ll be hosting live music. And we are opening a new restaurant in our hotel in June led by Head Chef Frederick Forster. He has worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Michel Roux Junior at Le Gavroche.”

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The Flint House Restaurant + Hannington Lanes Brighton East Sussex

Go Czech

Bohemia isn’t just a place in the Czech Republic. Ever since the Prince Regent and Maria Fitzherbert were at it on this stony shore, Brighton has been alternative, edgy, avant garde. Their love nest, Royal Pavilion, is a rare example of the Indo Saracenic style in Britain. More than two centuries after it was completed, the Royal Pavilion with its onion domes, big tent roofs and minarets is still alternative, edgy, avant garde – and very bohemian. Quite the silhouette looking east on a sunny winter’s morn.

A samosa’s throw from the Royal Pavilion is a maze of alleys off North Street. A window sign states: “The Hanningtons Estate: Hanningtons Department store, affectionately known locally as the ‘Harrods of Brighton’, grew from a single shop at No.3 North Street into one of the largest single freehold estates in Brighton. The Hannington Estate sits on a 1.32 acre site and is the dominant landmark retail pitch at the eastern end of North Street. The department store dominated North Street for nearly 200 years and was the most prestigious shopping address in Brighton, until its closure in 2002. For 10 years the future of the Hanningtons Estate was uncertain, until it was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2011 which, along with local architects Morgan Carn, hatched a vision to rejuvenate the whole area. An extension to Brighton’s world famous Lanes, named Hannington Lanes by the architects, was to be created on the redundant service yard of the former department store.”

And continuing, “New pedestrian links to North Street, Brighton Place, Meeting House Lane and Brighton Square were included to maximise connectivity and permeability. The main North Street frontage of the former department store was to be restored to its former glory. In 2015, the estate was purchased by Redevco of the C+A group – the international chain of fashion retailers, who also started as a single shop in the 19th century. Redevco shared the vision of Morgan Carn Architects and engaged local contractors Westridge to construct Hannington Lanes and rejuvenate North Street. Works commenced in 2016 and were completed in 2019.”

Seasoned East Sussex restaurateurs Chef Ben McKellar and his wife and business partner Pamela have opened a brasserie called The Flint House in a corner of Hannington Lanes. The building may be new, but the choice of facing materials – brick and flint – pays homage to centuries of Brighton architecture. Downstairs is dominated by a counter around an open kitchen. Upstairs the dining room and cocktail bar spill onto a terrace cosily overlooked by its close neighbours.

Where better to enjoy some good Italian white wine, Le Coste Trebbiano di Romagna 2019 of Emilia Romagna? And some small plates: marinated beetroot salad, miso dressing, smoked almond furikake; smoked anchovies on toast, green sauce; tempura pickled shiitake mushrooms, kewpie mayonnaise. And one very small plate: fruit pastilles. The food is as fresh and clearly directed as the brasserie interior with a nod to the Continent. The extra taste notes are just that little bit bohemian.

Architects Architecture Design Developers People Town Houses

Omagh Gaol Castle Place + St Lucia’s Army Barracks Omagh Tyrone

Busman’s Holiday

Omagh, a small town in County Tyrone, is known for many things. A prison isn’t one of them. But high above the River Strule overlooking the Old Mar’t (now a shopping precinct) stand the fragments of what was Omagh Gaol. It should have celebrated its bicentenary in recent years; instead it closed in 1902. The remaining buildings of Omagh Gaol in Castle Place form a picturesque hilltop group along with the adjacent St Lucia’s Army Barracks. The best view is from Abbey Bridge (a plaque states “First built 1900. Reconstructed 1948”) crossing the River Strule.

The grandest extant building of the prison is the Governor’s House designed by the prolific architect John Hargrave. He was the hand behind commercial and residential buildings in varying styles across northwest Ulster including the neoclassical court houses of Omagh, Dungannon and Strabane. His country house commissions include the Greek Revival Ballygawley Park near Omagh, the Gothic Favour Royal in Aughnacloy, the Picturesque Lough Veagh House in Garvagh and the neoclassical Rockhill outside Letterkenny.

In 1743 a fire wiped out Omagh. The O’Neill clan of Dungannon had founded the settlement in the 1430s and following the Plantation of Ulster it had been developed by Captain Edmund Leigh. This hilltop group belongs to a rebuilding of the town starting at the end of the 18th century. Alastair Rowan explains in his Pevsner Guide to the Buildings of North West Ulster (1979), “In Castle Street, west of the court house and churches and on the west bank of the river, is a little precinct entered through a pointed archway. This was the site of the old prison, built in 1796 and rebuilt by John Hargrave in 1823. Various late Georgian terraced houses remain, together with the octagonal three storey sandstone block of Hargrave’s Governor’s House. It has a gallery on the first floor and short wings on either side.”

The Governor’s House (18 Castle Place) and the Gatehouse (7 and 12 Castle Place) are three of the 19 Listed Buildings of Omagh. The wraparound balcony with its French doors was not decorative: it allowed the Governor to watch prisoners in the yard below. Polygonal designs inspired by philosopher designer Jeremy Bethan’s 1785 Panoptican model are commonly found in prison architecture – whether internally or externally – for providing 360 degree vantage points. Currently derelict, the elegant house offers 260 square metres of living accommodation (three reception rooms and four bedrooms) over three storeys. Another structure, barely there now, is the crumbling Tread Wheel. This stone building contains a deep well for drinking water and was also probably used as an instrument of punishment. None of the three early 19th century prisons of this region – Omagh, Derry City and Enniskillen – survive, save for these stones.

Local historian Vincent Brogan has been campaigning to save the Governor’s House: “The Council do not have an historic structure of this type in Omagh or Enniskillen and it would add to the heritage of the district. So much of Omagh’s heritage has been lost over the years, so it would be great to see this property being purchased and developed for future generations. It’s vital to the rejuvenation of Omagh that no more of our historic buildings should be allowed to crumble and disappear. There is an immense opportunity to change the aspect of the town when St Lucia Barracks are developed and the Governor’s House will be an even more strategic proposition when this inevitably happens.”

The adjacent St Lucia’s Army Barracks were built for the Royal Inniskilling Fusilier Regiment to the design of architect James Butler in 1881. Unlike their neighbour, while the barracks may be vacant, the sturdy two and three storey limestone buildings are still intact. St Lucia’s Barracks cost £40,000 to build (according to The Tyrone Constitution, 16 December 1881); the Governor’s House is currently for sale for £40,000. Further north of Omagh, Ebrington Barracks on the banks of the River Foyle have been brilliantly upgraded and edited as a mixed use new urban quarter of Derry City.

Art Design Hotels Luxury People

The Coronation + The Stage Martini Bar The Londoner Hotel London

All the World is One

Dusting down our ermine (faux of course), polishing our coronets (inherited naturally), opening our Mount of Olives oil (thank goodness we visited the Holy City recently), the last preparation for the official launch of the new Carolean era is to swot up on His Majesty’s aperitif of choice. The Londoner’s new Martini Bar, The Stage, is at hand, launching limited edition cocktails created in honour of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. By day he might be an Earl Grey with honey type of guy (as the then Prince Charles told us); by night, things get a bit more James Bond. The Stage is serving three expressions of martini, the King’s tipple of choice, the beautiful people’s elixir.

First in line, ‘His Majesty’: Belvedere vodka, Cocchi Americano, Noilly Prat Dry vermouth, Champagne and jasmine lactic syrup. “The Stage raises a coupe to His Majesty King Charles III with a take on his favourite pre dinner cocktail, the classic martini, reimagined with flavours befitting a royal of the highest stature.”

Second in line, ‘Le Français’: Belvedere vodka with raspberry and pineapple infusion, Cocchi Americano Rosa with blackberry infusion, pineapple and First Romance team Champagne foam. “Originally created in the 1980s, the iconic French martini is brought back to life using our signature Champagne and tea twist, resulting in a more palatable and refreshing experience.”

Third in line, ‘Homage’: Portobello Road gin with Staunton Earl Grey tea infusion, dubonnet, Crème de Pêche de Vigne, Veuve Clicquot Brut. “A tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II, a creative concoction of her favourite drink, gin and dubonnet, and a martinez widely believed to be the precursor of the martini.” And Fine de Claire oysters with lemon crème fraîche and green tabasco dill oil beloved by royalty and reserved subjects.

This year, the R in April is for Rex. Purple reign! The question on everyone’s lips is what is Her Majesty Queen Camilla I’s favourite tipple?

Architecture Developers Town Houses

Campanile + Barden Towers Belfast

Twin Peaks

The traditional Italian campanile is a standalone structure, not integrated with the accompanying building, and reserved for its purpose of keeping bells. St Mark’s Campanile in Venice is the most famous: it is the belltower of the adjacent St Mark’s Basilica.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were together responsible for lots of fads that became fashions that became fixtures of national life, from Christmas trees to white wedding dresses. Their mid 19th century house on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House, remodelled (with a helping hand by Prince Albert) and rebuilt by the developer Thomas Cubitt, launched an architectural craze. The residential campanile. Osborne House has two such vertical features. Soon, campaniles were springing up on houses everywhere across the British Isles. “The top floors were sometimes used to house water tanks,” explains heritage architect John O’Connell.

Belfast has a handful of striking examples. In the north of the city, campaniles dramatically rise above the side elevations of a pair of semi-detached villas on Donegall Park Avenue. In the east of the city, twin campaniles are attached to the front elevations of a pair of semi-detached houses on Belmont Road named Barden Towers.

Completed in 1895, Barden Towers are typical red brick bay windowed suburban Belfast houses of the larger kind but the campaniles with their terracotta trimmings give them a novel twist. These belvederes each contain a square ground floor vestibule with a corresponding room on the two storeys above. The upper floor tower rooms are lit on three sides by generously sized sash windows. Daylight streams into one of the bedrooms like Edward Hopper’s painting ‘Sun in an Empty Room’.

Built decades after their Osborne House inspiration and centuries after their Italian forerunners, the campaniles of Belfast are shining examples of an architectural feature adapted in terms of material and function to a different climate, country and culture.

Hotels Luxury

International Media Marketplace Travel Conference + Queen Elizabeth II Centre Westminster London

Tourism Australia Lunch

Over breakfast at the International Media Marketplace Travel Conference against a backdrop of views of Westminster Abbey, Sharon Ehrlich Bershadsky, Director of the Israel Tourist Office, announces, “Israel is tiny in size but massive in what it offers visitors. This fascinating country has been truly blessed with so many positive attributes: great weather, diverse landscapes, great culinary traditions and millennia of history and archaeology to explore. Israel’s holiday perfection is all wrapped up in one little package!” In UK size terms, it’s about the size of Wales.

Lunch is sponsored by Tourism Australia. Sally Cope, Regional General Manager, UK and Northern Europe, welcomes the 420 delegates, “We’re discovering countries at this conference we didn’t know existed! There are 39 exhibitors from France alone. There is so much going on in Australia: one of the exciting new hotel openings is Hotel W in Sydney.” The vegetarian option main course is cocoa spiced slow roasted beetroot, beetroot sponge, golden beetroot and cardamon hummus, vegetable crisps, balsamic dressing. Mini pavlovas and lamingtons are followed by coffee and petit fours.

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Musée Jacquemart-André Paris + Giovanni Bellini

Forever Adding to the Body of Knowledge

Bellini isn’t just a tipple, y’know. An exhibition in the museum’s modern gallery on the artist Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430 to 1516) of depictions of Christ resonates with meaning on Good Friday. White faced depictions of the olive skinned Nazarene. Sainte Justine Borromée painted in around 1475, a dagger forever thrust through her heart. A cobblestoned carriageway leads from Boulevard Haussmann up and round to the entrance portico which overlooks the most private of urban gardens. Soon you are in another world of glamour and sophistication and mirrored brilliance. Even by Parisian standards, Musée Jacquemart-André is astonishingly beautiful. And it unarguably has the best porphyry columned staircase in the French capital. Or at least the most aristocratically idiosyncratic.

We’re connoisseurs of mad staircases. Mourne Park in Kilkeel, County Down: parallel flights of fancy leading each and every way, overlooked by 13 Persian cats. Lissan House in Cookstown, County Tyrone, with its estate carpenter-built stairs ascending and descending in all directions, getting in trouble for calling it “eccentric” (then owner Hazel Dolling took it as a slight about her). Musée Jacquemart-André is a new well deserved entrant into our genre. An intricate three dimensional jigsaw of galleries and suspended catwalks is visually doubled by a mirrored wall.

Museum Chairman Bruno Monnier explains, “We want visitors to feel like the honoured guests of the two art lovers that were the spouses Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart. That is why we have done all we can to preserve the original atmosphere of this sumptuous 19th century mansion. Works from the Italian Renaissance, French painting from the 18th century, 17th century Flemish painting and an array of furniture all bear witness to the refined taste of the two founders.”

Édouard André (1833 to 1894) was the scion of a rich Protestant banking family from Nîmes. The Banque André was powerful in the economy of the Second Empire and Édouard moved in the circle of Napoléon III. A short lived political career ended with the abdication of Napoléon III and the fall of the Second Empire. In 1872 he chose to devote the remainder of his life to his true vocation, that of collector and patron of the arts. Édouard’s wife, Nélie Jacquemart (1841 to 1912), was a society painter.

In 1868 Édouard bought a plot of land along the future Boulevard Haussmann. Henri Parent (1819 to 1895), architect par excellence d’hôtels particulier, resurrected the Louis XVI style for his gleaming masterwork. Édouard and British collector Richard Wallace were both members of the Union Centrale des Arts Appliqués à l’Industrie. Richard opened his house museum in London, The Wallace Collection, in 1900. Musée Jacquemart-André would open 13 years later as bequeathed by the widow Nélie in accordance with her late husband’s wishes. Both cultural attractions still brim with the personalities of their founders.

Henri brought the best craftsmen and Nélie managed the designers, contractors and suppliers. The married pair of patrons holidayed in Italy every year, bringing back trinkets and souvenirs, not least the Staircase Hall frescoes from a villa in the Veneto. The Staircase Hall flows into a Winter Garden – the latter was all the rage in the late 19th century following the invention of central heating. It was Nélie’s idea to transform the empty rooms of the first floor into an Italian museum. The pieces are like a roll call of la crème de la crème artists down the ages and across the borders: Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Canaletto, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds … The ‘salons de style’ filling the ground floor are made for entertaining. The double height Music Room allows for a musicians’ gallery. In contrast, the Private Apartments, bedroom suites for Édouard and Nélie, are discreetly located facing away from Boulevard Haussmann.

A Protestant people’s palace. So handy too. Musée Jacquemart-André is just five minutes from Gare du Nord (on the back of a motorbike). It’s time to sip a Bellini in the garden.

Art Design Restaurants Town Houses

Montmartre + ADN Brasserie Paris

All Over Again For You

Finding a good vegetarian brasserie in Paris isn’t easy; coming across one by accident is pure serendipity. Descending one of the precipitous flights of steps from the gleaming limestone Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, we spot and enter ADN. It takes up the ground floor and basement of a five storey building on the corner of Rue Muller and Rue Feutrier. The white and windowed interior of the dining space is simplicity itself; in contrast the bathroom is a dark Aladdin’s cave of music memorabilia. Black walls and mirrored ceilings frame and reflect record sleeves from the likes of Édith Piaf and Ennio Morricone. Deux entrées – l’arincini, sauce tomate and oeufs, mayonnaise au curry – are the perfect pitstop snack for our climb halfway down the hill of Montmartre. ADN stands for, “Comme à la maison … all we do is natural.”

Architecture Art Design Developers People Town Houses

Avenue Foch Paris +

City of Gas Light

All 12 routes radiating from l’Arc de Triomphe ooze breathtaking elegance and Avenue Foch is no exception. Champs Elysée might be better known, but Avenue Foch is even more exclusive. One of the most expensive addresses in the world, it’s lined with palaces and embassies and blocks of patialial apartments. Never mind keeping up with the Joneses: you have to worry about what the Rothschild and Onassis families are up to you if you reside on Avenue Foch. Prime 19th and 20th century real estate overlooks two strips of parkland running along either side of the road – this is the widest avenue in Paris. Developed by Napoléon III, it was renamed in 1929 after World War I Marshal Ferdinand Foch. There’s a sculpture of the Marshal atop a horse plonked outside the green triangle opposite Victoria Station London. In case you are wondering, “Foch” rhymes with “oh my gosh”.

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Paris + Literature

The Myth of Normal

Like Colette, we prefer passion to goodness. The great French novelist purrs in The Cat (1933), “The June evening, drenched with light, was reluctant to give way to darkness.” And, “June came with its longer days, its night skies devoid of mystery which the late glow of the sunset and the early glimmer of dawn over the east of Paris kept from being wholly dark.” She too was a lover of “The giddy horizons of Paris.”

Writer and poet Charles Baudelaire caused quite the stir in 1857 with his risqué poem collection Les Fleurs du Mal. One of the tamer pieces is The Swan. Roy Campbell translated it into English in 1952, including the line, “Old Paris is no more (cities renew, quicker than human hearts, their changing spell).” Two years later, William Aggeler also translated it. His version includes, “Paris changes! But naught in my melancholy, Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone, Old quarters, all become for me an allegory, And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.” All those Haussmannian boulevards must have seemed so sharply new.

Nancy Mitford, as always, is right. In Don’t Tell Alfred (1960), the Francophile novelist continues, “… past acres of houses exactly as Voltaire, as Balzac, must have seen them, of that colour between beige and grey so characteristic of the Île de France, with high slate roofs and lacy ironwork balconies. Though the outside of these houses have a homogeneity which makes an architectural unit of each street, a glimpse through their great decorated doorways into the courtyards reveals a wealth of difference within. Some are planned on a large and airy scale and have fine staircases and windows surmounted by smiling masks, some are so narrow and dark and mysterious, so overbuilt through the centuries with such ancient, sinister rabbit-runs leading out of them, that it is hard to imagine a citizen of the modern world inhabiting them.”

Frédéric Dassas, Senior Curator Musée du Louvre, told us at the Remembering Napoléon III Dinner in Camden Place, Chislehurst, Kent, “Walk through Paris with open eyes. We still have Paris in Europe!” We will. We do. We’re full of passion for this city. Especially riding through Paris with the wind in our hair. On the back of a motorbike, weaving through rush hour traffic, speeding down narrow streets, zooming round the uninsurable l’Arc de Triomphe roadway, this is life in the fast lane and the overtaking one too. Sporting Mary Martin London and Isabel Marant of course. Selina Hastings writes in her biography of Nancy Mitford (2002), “She found in beautiful Paris happiness of spirit …” Soon we will be deuxième étage living it up. We’re not always good but we’re always passionate.

Then there’s the Manifestation! We head up Montmartre for a hawk’s eye view of Montparnasse. Sacré Coeur.

Art Town Houses

Paris + Good Friday

Dominus Flevit

Architects Architecture Art Design People

The Design Museum Kensington London + Ai Weiwei

Making an Impression

The first words at the press preview go to global artist Ai Weiwei. “Our world is complex and collapsing towards an unpredictable future. It’s crucial for individuals to find a personalised language to express their experience of these challenging conditions. Personalised expression arises from identifying with history and memories while creating a new language and narrative. Without a personal narrative, artistic narration loses its quality. In Water Lilies #1, I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me into a digitised and pixelated language. Toy bricks as the material, with their qualities of solidity and potential for deconstruction, reflect the attributes of language in our rapidly developing era where human consciousness is constantly dividing.”

Opening to the public in two days’ time, this is Ai Weiwei’s biggest British exhibition in eight years. In 2022, he curated the 15th Annual UK Exhibition of the Koestler Awards at the Southbank Centre. Koestler Arts is a charity which supports ex offenders, secure patients and detainees in the UK to express themselves creatively. In his usual thoughtful and meaningful fashion, the artist designed 15 intimate areas that were based on the size of a typical cell in a British prison (1.8 metres by three metres). At The Design Museum, he swaps confinement for space. Water Lilies #1 spans a full 15 metre long wall of the main gallery. The richness of colour contrasts with John Pawson’s interior – the English minimalist reworked the original Sixties building in 2016.

Made entirely of Lego (650,000 toy bricks), the work is a recreation and reintrepretation of Claude Monet’s Impressionist painting. The lily ponds of that artist’s home in Giverny outside Paris look natural but are manmade. Pixelation replaces brushstrokes. Both are a blurring of sorts. A dark portal interrupts the colourful tranquillity – it represents a door to the underground hiding place in Xinjiang where he and his dad were forced to live in the 1960s. A far cry from his current home: an estate in the middle of Portugal shared with his family and seven beloved cats.

Other works at this internationally important exhibition include five fields of objects that the artist has collected since the 1990s laid out in massive rectangles on the floor of the gallery. This is mass production by hand on an industrial scale. On a Chinese scale. In their sheer number they allude to one of his key themes: the repression of the individual in modern China. There is something funereal about them. Are they rows of lost shoes or stones? Are they broken bones or pieces or porcelain? It’s hard to make sense of them. To get a clear impression. “Liberty” is scrawled on one of the myriad pieces of Lego in one of the fields. A word particularly poignant to Ai Weiwei.

The last words at the press preview go to Justin McGuirk, Curator at the Design Museum and curator of Ai Weiwei: Making Sense, alongside Assistant Curator Rachel Hajek, “Several of the works in this exhibition capture the destruction of urban development in China over the last two decades. With Water Lilies #1 Ai Weiwei presents us with an alternate vision – a garden paradise. On the one hand he has personalised it by inserting the door of his desert childhood home, and on the other he has depersonalised it by using an industrial language of modular Lego blocks. This is a monumental, complex and powerful work and we are proud to be the first museum to show it.” The principal funder of Ai Weiwei Making Sense is Rueben Foundation.

At the exit of the exhibition three Chinese characters on a wall come from the first line of the Dao De Jing, the founding text of Dadoism, written by the philosopher Laozi in around 400 BC: “The dao that can be told, is not the eternal Dao.” Ai Weiwei’s own deconstruction of this saying is “Making Sense”.