Alan Powers

New wonders among old shelves at the London Library

The Royal Court Theatre, the Young Vic Theatre and the London Library (above) are buildings of varied character and rich history. What they have in common is that each has been unpicked and reassembled by the architects Haworth Tompkins, recently announced as winners of the RIBA London Architect of the Year. This firm, founded in

House rules | 8 October 2011

Britain needs more houses, and the government’s highly unpopular draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) at least asks how to get them — the right question even if it gives the wrong answer. Anyone who deals with the planning system knows how overblown it has become, and that the cost and effort can exhaust a

Triumph of tenacity

If you are driving along the A14 coming west towards Cambridge, the tower of Bury St Edmunds cathedral suddenly pops up on the skyline at a bend in the road. I saw it this way in March, when the pinnacles, battlements and ogee windows first emerged from plastic sheeting and scaffolding. By June, the whole

Vertically challenged

St Paul’s Cathedral is quite rightly something of a national obsession. No other building has protected ‘view corridors’ as a result of legislation in 1935, when new building regulations allowed the surrounding buildings — notoriously a telephone exchange to the south — to overtop the cathedral’s cornice line. These corridors, extending like an unseen net

Classical peaceniks

The Three Classicists RIBA, until 29 May The Berlin Wall separated two sets of people who shared a history and language. In the same way, architecture has been divided into two groups, Classicists and Modernists, each convinced of their own rightness, and refusing to acknowledge the other’s existence. But suddenly it seems that they are

Gothic dream

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill Victoria & Albert Museum, until 4 July ‘I waked one morning at the beginning of last June from a dream, of which all I could recover was that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story) and that

Halfway to heaven

When some 700 people throng the auditorium at Earl’s Court to hear a debate about whether eco houses are ugly, then a frustrated tree-hugger like myself may feel that we are halfway to heaven, not that I plan to share my Elysium with Germaine Greer in ranting mode if I can avoid it. When some

Give a dog a bad name

Alan Powers on Parliament Square Does nobody love Parliament Square? Days before the Mayoral election, Tristram Hunt called it a ‘terrible place: inaccessible, ugly, polluted and grotty’ in the Guardian. When the Mayor of London cancelled the scheme for pedestrianising at least two of the roads around the square within days of his election, there

Concrete and carbuncles

‘London smells Tory,’ announced Ian Martin, the Beachcomber of architectural journalism post-Boris in his weekly column in the Architects’ Journal. Heritage wars have broken out over the future of a concrete housing scheme, Robin Hood Gardens in East London by Alison and Peter Smithson, that is beloved of architects, but not, it seems, of many

Popular appeal

Last time it was cows, this time it’s sheep. I’m not talking about an agricultural show, but about the London Architecture Biennale, which begins today when Lord Foster will be herding sheep across the Millennium Bridge towards Smithfield Market. In 2004 it was cows approaching Smithfield from the opposite direction, down St John Street, and,

Lines of beauty | 17 November 2007

The date of George Frederick Bodley’s death (1907) offers a partial explanation for a commemorative exhibition, but ‘comes the hour, comes the man’ also applies, and in this case the man is Michael Hall, the editor of Apollo magazine, who for some years has studied Bodley’s work and succeeded in presenting it as a key

Ignoring fossil fuels

Earlier this year, a book appeared celebrating the first ten years of the Stirling Prize for architecture. Back in 1996, recession was only just ending and the National Lottery just beginning. It was the end of a bleak time for architects, doubly afflicted by the criticisms of the Prince of Wales. One unexpected benefit of

Moving on

Listing page content here Twenty years ago, Britain was gripped by an architectural battle of styles. The Lloyd’s building in the City opened, representing the hopes for a resurgence of modernism, while Quinlan Terry’s classical Richmond Riverside was beginning to emerge from scaffolding like a vision by Canaletto. Since 1986, a great deal has happened,

Rootstock of radicalism

London is about to experience two exhibitions about early 20th-century Modernism. The V&A is mounting a substantial themed display of design, art, film and life, based primarily on France and Germany before 1930. Tate Modern will exhibit jointly the work of two faculty members of the Bauhaus, Josef Albers and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. In anticipation, two

Regency revival?

W.S. Gilbert’s parody of Oscar Wilde, Reginald Bunthorne, wanted to make a minor scandal with his belief that ‘art stopped short in the cultivated court of the Empress Josephine’. In 1881 he was prophetic, although taste took at least 50 years to catch up. The English equivalent of Empire, the Regency period, has exerted a

Importance of ornament

The Modern Movement in architecture had scarcely succeeded in abolishing ornament before people began to speculate about how and when it would return. In Britain, the historian Sir John Summerson, as a young journalist, found it hard to believe that architecture would be able to communicate without it beyond the initial period of purification which

Draughtsman of genius

C. R. Cockerell RA (1788–1863) The Professor’s Dream is the title of a small exhibition (until 25 September) in the Tennant Room at the Royal Academy, a relatively new space that links with the John Madejski Fine Rooms, formerly the piano nobile of old Burlington House. Who was this professor, and what was his dream?

Take the yellow brick road

Ever since W.S. Gilbert’s Lady Jane lamented, ‘Oh, South Kensington!’ in Patience, 1881, the place has carried a regretful quality. Owing to the extraordinary lack of confidence shown by successive governments and Treasury officials in the educational values that Prince Albert hoped to promote through the estates of the 1851 Commission, the gentle, south-facing slope

Printing matters

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Penguin Books, a company that has done more for design in Britain than any other commercial or government organisation. The slightly improvised look of the earliest sixpenny paperbacks launched by Allen Lane in the summer of 1935 was put aside in 1947 when the German–Swiss typographer Jan Tschichold