Architecture Developers People

The Spell + Roupell Street London

A Street Named Desire

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Aerials View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Gazing at a house on Roupell Street, any house, lucky number seven, luckless number 13, before a visit to The King’s Arms (crammed Monday to Friday; only the fireside cat for company at the weekend), after a visit to The King’s Arms, summer and smoke, makes us think of that part in Alan Hollingsworth’s novel The Spell when, in the grips of his first ecstasy experience, Robin Woodfield realises why house music is so called: “Because you want to live in it.” Or there’s the picture of a house in the photographic journal Camera Lucida which Roland Barthes captions, simply and perfectly, “I want to live there.” It’s a shortcut to The Cut; thespians acting at the Old Vic, acting up at the New Vic.

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Chimneys © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A grid, a toast rack, a tightknit urban grain, a bacchanalian bout of Augustan nostalgia, a traditional survival in an otherwise redeveloped postcode. Roupell Street runs parallel with both Theed Street and Whittlesey Street to the north and Brad Street to the south – all traversed by Windmill Walk. The early 19th century terraced houses, once unremarkable by their compact ubiquity, now listed for their intact rarity, a lesson in brick for planners and architects and citizens. The original artisan workers have long gone, replaced by harrumphing gazumping bankers, boorish bourgeoning bourgeois, collars swapped from blue to white. Modest houses bought with immodest bonuses. All too apropos, the property developer Mr Roupell moonlighted as a gold refiner.

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Gables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ian Nairn where else but in Nairn’s London wrote: “Here is true architectural purity… nothing but yellow London brick and unselfconscious self respect. Whittlesey Street is… two storeys made into three with a blind attic window concealing a monopitch roof of pantiles. Roupell Street answers with a wavy pattern. On one level there is no finer architectural effect in London.” Stock brick darkened by soot over the passage of time, closer in colour now to the Welsh roof slates – accidental homogeneity. Originally the frames of the timber sash windows holding mouth blown hand spun glass would’ve been painted black; they’re all white now. Solid to void relationships are perpendicularly predictable, correctly so. A pleasing wallage to window is maintained.

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Bollards © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Wittlesey Street © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Waterloo © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Theed Street © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Flank © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Shopfront © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Who says repetition is monotonous? Who says repetition is monotonous? It creates rhythm. And order. Strength and safety in numbers, arithmetical progression. Ah… the terrace. That arrangement of buildings enjoying continuity intimacy, expressing conscious couplings by the noblest concepts of civic design. The two bay houses of Roupell Street coincidentally correspond to the height and width of the arches of the massive railway viaduct which ponderously plods its elephantine progress across this patch, carrying wistful commuters longing to live in this coveted corner of SE1. Each house has a butterfly roof with two pitches nosediving into a central valley gutter that drains to the rear. The gables on the grander three bay Theed Street and Whittlesey Street houses are hidden behind one continuous high, no make that very high, stone coped parapet with three blind mice windows. Mono pitched roofs descend into cat-on-a-hot-tin-slide returns.

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Yard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Character is derived from uniformity and regularity of appearance. Regimented form contributes to cohesive sense of place, place having lost its definite article. Come closer. Character is also derived from the quiet details. Draw nearer. Stucco cornices and pediments, arches over openings, half moon fanlights, iron knockers, tall chimneys holding slender pots shrouded in a spider’s web of aerials, striped bollards guarding granite kerbs like Lilliputian lighthouses.

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Door © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The period of domestic architecture from which of all others we have most to learn is the Georgian,” ponders Trystan Edwards in his textbook Architectural Style. “The essential modernity of the Georgian style should be widely recognised. If we do not derive full benefits from this tradition, the failure will certainly be justified by the extremely disputable suggestion that such a manner of building is unsuitable to our present social circumstances. Its reliance on the virtue and dignity of proportions only, and its rare bursts of exquisite detail, all expressed as no other style has done, that indifference to self advertisement, that quiet assumption of our own worth, and that sudden vein of lyric affection, which have given us our part in civilisation.” Houses built to last. Roupell Street – so Georgian; so English; so reticent, gentlemanly and polite; abstracted; understated classical authority; so not suburban; so not Poundbury; so real. Hark, it’s the architecture’s Camino Way to Santa Barbara.

Roupell Street Conservation Area Waterloo London Bootscraper © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Country Houses

Eltham Palace London + English Heritage

Style Collision1 Eltham Palace ©

Some buildings are so ugly they are just asking to be covered by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (the artists who wrapped the Reichstag a while back). With others, it’s down to a matter of personal taste. Take Tate Modern‘s plans for an extension designed by Herzog + de Meuron, the team that conjured up the original gallery from a former power station. The gallery’s monumental success wasn’t planned for and the new extension would offer much needed space to breathe.

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But the 11 storey ‘ziggurat’ as everyone’s calling it, would apparently ruin views that no one gave a toss about until the Tate Modern came along. It may be that some of the sniping is part of the backlash against the grandiose projects of the ‘starchitects’. The furore is enough to make the 1960s controversy over Francis Pym’s bold and brilliant Brutalist extension to the Ulster Museum look mild. Recently, plans to enlarge this 20th century modernist wing caused a stir. Not to mention painting the concrete ground floor wall white. Sacrilege.

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When it comes to houses, things get even worse. They are not so much castles as minefields. We left the caves for our first built homes about 11,000 years ago yet there still is no general consensus on domestic architecture. Flaubert said all architects are imbeciles because they are always putting stairs in the wrong place.

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In the 1930s Eltham Palace attracted lots of architectural criticism. Initially, Seely + Paget’s proposal for resurrecting the ruinous medieval royal palace was welcomed as a means of halting the creeping suburbanisation of southeast London. There was, of course, inevitable debate surrounding the propriety of building on an ancient monument. But it was the design of the Courtaulds’ new house that polarised opinion.

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A leading article in Architect and Building News was headed ‘Romance dies at Eltham’. The architect Herbert Baker was critical; the artist Gilbert Ledward countered, pointing out that at Soane’s Bank of England building Baker had destroyed ‘really beautiful work, while at Eltham everything of historic interest and beauty had been saved’.

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More criticism came from the historian G Young who moaned in The Times, “In order to provide the tenant with a modern mansion, three distinguished architects [Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments Charles Peers acted as a consultant for Seely + Paget] united their talents and intelligence to destroy one of the most beautiful things remaining in the neighbourhood of London… The other day I found myself confronted with what at first I took to be an admirably designed but unfortunately sited cigarette factory.”

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We chatted to Jon Wight, caseworker for The Twentieth Century Society, about changing taste in architecture and how to sway it. “The Society was founded in 1979 as The Thirties Society and indeed Art Deco buildings were one of its first major concerns, alongside other buildings from the Modern Movement. In many ways that battle has been won. We became The Twentieth Century out of necessity to try and give weight to buildings from later periods.”

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“We strive to inform, educate and promote 20th century architecture to the public wherever possible,” says Jon. “There are other reasons why the Society has registered as shift in public perception. Most obviously, the older a building or style is, the easier it is to assess. We’re now reaching a stage where post war buildings are being looked at and considered in a way they’ve not been before.”

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“There are many styles of architecture that are not seen as important at the time of construction, but which subsequently become revered,” he continues. “The Society strives to judge buildings on merit, through the medium of casework. We are concerned as much with the re-appropriation and re-use of buildings as with the straightforward conservation of them.” As a result, some structures are now getting the plaudits they deserve.

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“Eltham Palace is an interesting example of two seemingly disparate styles in some degree of harmony with one another,” enthuses Jon. “Seely + Paget were well known for their mastery of styles. Indeed, they designed many ecclesiastical buildings which melded modern styles with more traditional church architecture. It’s a building that illustrates that if we are to judge architecture as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it shouldn’t be a stylistic decision. ElthamPalace is a hybrid. It proves how careful consideration of existing fabrics and sympathetic planning can result in noteworthy architecture, whatever the style.” Screw G Young, then.

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London has no Hamptons or Punta del Este. Instead, the Courtauld family created their own slice of upscale nirvana, a totemic presence in a sensitive setting. It’s a landlocked Queen Mary liner. But from the Louise Brooks bowl haircut-dome in the entrance hall onwards, the cutting edge design and bespoke craftsmanship of Eltham Palace has enough wit to charm. Much of the décor was by Rolf Engstromer, the David Collins of his day. This fertile profusion of Art Deco, Moderne and vintage Venetian draws a parallel with the mélange of styles around today.

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‘Good & Bad Manners in Architecture’ by Trystan Edwards was a pocket-sized book published in 1924, a decade before Eltham Palace was completed. The author writes, “This book asks the novel question, how do buildings behave towards one another? It contrasts the selfish building, the presumptuous building and the rude building with the polite and sociable building; and it invites the public to act as arbiter upon their conflicting claims.” But taste evolves. While yesterday, Eltham Palace was viewed as an unwelcome aberration, today it’s a respected poster child for the Jazz Age.”

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