Arts & Crafts

arts & crafts wallpaper interpretation
My interpretation of an arts & crafts wallpaper design

John Ruskin, who started the drive back to craftsmanship, restoring historic buildings and using nature as an inspiration for drawing skills, was born 200 years ago, and two exhibitions are on to celebrate this, in Temple II London and in Sheffield, where Ruskin set up a Crafts Guild.

The Garden City movement took many lessons from the Arts & Crafts designs, and we may be ready for another crafts revival, as in the last week a BBC program on a group of craftspeople held a ‘month in the country’ experiment creating objects together.

Ruskin turned to the stones of gothic Venice for inspiration: an interesting location to have chosen, with its mix of Byzantine and Palladian influences in a place that was at the crossroads of international trade at the time when the most significant architecture was created. The message is more about lively cross fertilisation of ideas than of stuck and crumbling heritage, so perhaps we should think again about Ruskin’s actual messages.

And what thoughts we have now to face! Climate Change, sliding away from Europe and with this a loss of even more manufacturing, the challenge to grow more food locally, and still no real answers to how to build both beautiful and affordable homes in healthy, non-polluted environments. In fact, the same messages as the garden cities faced 100 years ago. Welwyn Garden City has its anniversary this year.


Scandinavian modernism


It is rare that I post two blogs in successive weeks, but musing on colour I revisited 24 Britton Street to instantly recall on a rainy November day that it is the fiery Pompeian Red that YRM (Yorke Rosenberg and Mardell) used to such effect in the Clerkenwell Conservation Area. I happened to then visit the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe, designed by the Finn Mardell, as it is holding its Winter Fair this week, and here the warm timber interior and classically modern scandinavian fittings did not disappoint.

The next mini-Manhattan?

Yesterday I visited the Sellar public exhibition of Renzo Piano’s proposals for their site Bermondsey Street and St Thomas Street and another exhibition just around the corner of other sites facing London Bridge Station between this one and Guys Hospital. London Bridge station is a transport hub, but what does this mean about the scale of development appropriate next to it?

IMG_9705.jpgThis photo is taken on a February in late afternoon. Sunlight will be in short supply for the rail arches in the future, when the new tall buildings are completed.  Wind along this corridor will be stronger. The developers have grasped this is a problem and propose new internal streets to the south of their tall buildings. Trees and greenery are sprinkled like stardust.

To the north of the rail line is More London, where trees, rills and landscape opportunities are gently being whittled away and bins replace them,  pragmatism about large numbers of people on routes through areas sets the tone.   So I hope the Bermondsey solution here will include public open spaces with sunlight, as  this area has fought hard in the past to get its green oases like Tanner Street Park.

The Sellar proposals are in the more sensitive location, terminating the view up Bermondsey Street with a glass block structure in the tradition of Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre in Paris, and based on Renzo Piano’s own Maison Hermès. London Glassblowing, an interesting workshop for upmarket glass objects, is just down Bermondsey Street so this choice of material seems very appropriate. I like the proposed addition of red to this structure and I hope it will be as vibrant and correct in shade as YRM’s 24 Britton Street in Clerkenwell cladding 24 Britton St

Courtyard of 24 Britton Street, YRM’s design renovated in 2011.

Open House day and other visits

I love Open House day and I chose an area this year to look at in detail: Peckham and Camberwell. I saw new homes and new schools, and I particularly like the corten steel used on the new extension to Belham Primary School which you can clearly see from the street. I enjoyed Knox Bhavan’s offices just round the corner with some beautiful internal features, and very well fed carp! The curved brick wall to Bellenden Primary School on the way up to Peckam Rye Park is a handsome addition to the street, see picture. There is a beautiful new playground on Peckham Rye green, and the cafe next door does a good portion of rosemary flavoured chips. Off then to Camberwell to see mews houses in the pouring rain, and to admire their clever ways to resolve tight spaces, where a very tolerant cat in one house found the purrfect spot to avoid being trodden on!

In Greenwich although the Energy Centre was not part of Open House, I was able to see the Optical Cloak art work on the flue chimneys – see pictures –  and with a grey sky it seems to suit the industrial location very well – I hope the gasometer stays too.

London Urban Tree Festival

Following the first festival for Urban Trees there are plans afoot to make this an annual event, using a combination of crowdfunding and grants from Trees for Cities – – again. The Sheffield Street Tree Festival which took place at the end of September is an example of what can be done. To help plan the Festival for 2019, Museum for Walking are running three Urban Tree Talks between now and the Spring – see details on

Jardim America Sao Paulo

The second visit to Sao Paulo in January 2018 enabled me to see more of Barry Parker’s design of Jardim America, designed in the years after his partnership with Raymond Unwin at Letchworth ended. On the map in the Museu do Casa Brasiliana the area is described as being in the City of Sao Paulo Improvements & Freehold Land Company Ltd. which suggests that a similar company ownership to that used in the First Garden City Ltd in Letchworth was intended. The design shows several small greens on the curving streets, an athletics club and tennis court, and many roundabouts. As you traverse the neighbourhood on foot or by bus, the sports club shown on this map is still very clearly present.  The whole Jardins area still has some key nodes such as a corner with the main local church and a triangle of palm trees, and MUBE, the modernist sculpture and ecology museum designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha with  landscape by Roberto Burle Marx, carefully lined up to fit with the avenues of trees on Jardim Europa.

Garden Cities have Green Belts – but they were meant as places to grow their food in

The Green Belt around many Uk cities is now seen as almost more important than our National landscapes such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks where planning still makes spaces for communities to expand and build new homes. But in the Green Belt taking spaces for homes or for businesses is so deeply frowned upon that it does not happen. So how did we arrive at this impasse in the Green Belts?


Ebenezer Howard, father of so much of modern town planning saw the green areas around his first Garden City as the places the citizens owned together for farms, recreation areas and through which roads and rail lines connected them to adjacent cities.  So maybe we should think again along these lines? The growing footprint of a town could accommodate farming businesses. Roof spaces, basements (mushroom farming in modern ‘caves’?) could be used. Green paths linking wildlife habitats would also be useful to manage water flowing through the area. We need to have a new vision for green spaces and living in them.