Chris Rogers  |  Writer on architecture and visual culture

By Chris Rogers, Jul 3 2021 10:07AM

Released thirty years ago today, this follow-up to the film that made both director James Cameron’s name and that of Arnold Schwarzenegger, his lead actor, was one of the biggest genre events of the time, as I remember well. Its plot was ingenious, logically continuing that of The Terminator (1984) whilst actually undoing the events that made the original possible, its moral messages compelling and its execution merged traditional action, albeit on an extravagant scale, with ground-breaking digital manipulation. Going from script to screen in just fourteen months, the most expensive production in Hollywood history earned five times as much at the box office and was universally acclaimed. Does it still hold up?

I saw it in Leicester Square, two days after its London opening and with a capacity crowd. It was the last of a handful of films that defined the cinema-going of my early adulthood, after Aliens (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), Predator (1987), RoboCop (1987) and Die Hard (1988). As all were experienced as crisp new prints, often 70mm, on some of the largest screens in the UK, that cost record was T2’s least important attribute at the time though I was impressed with the visuals. In retrospect, though, I now think that part of the film’s strength is that every cent of the c.$100m that was spent in 1990-91 is there to be seen, in service of the story and with no hint of excess or waste. It looked like what it cost and it cost what it need to, though that disguises an interesting paradox that has taken three decades to emerge.

Critics and audiences responded positively to the film’s startling use of the ‘morphing’ or transition effect, in development since the late 1980s and part of a wider suite of computer-generated imagery brought to fruition two years later in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). It is this that enabled the T-1000 to walk through cell bars, assume the forms of others and recover from gunshots. My own reaction was no different and was enhanced by realisation that it also permitted action film tropes to be smartly undermined, such as the impact of shotgun blast to the face that could now be seen directly from front and back before being annulled. Almost all of those shots are still entirely convincing. Looking back, however, what really stands out is just how sparing the deployment of this technique is throughout the film.

True, this was sometimes a consequence of its very expense – many of those bullet wounds actually ‘heal’ off-screen to save money, and although funds were available to correct the reversed street sign (‘Plummer’) that resulted from a last-minute decision to flip the shot of the truck crashing off the bridge, none could be found do the same to the smaller but nevertheless readable Freightliner logo on the truck’s grille, which remained backwards – but in general Cameron only uses it where narratively necessary and even then always grounds as much of the shot as possible in reality.

The explanation can be found in his years making low-budget exploitation films for Roger Corman, where money was always tight and in-camera tricks and good editing were necessary to make it stretch. Cameron therefore learned to establish a physical, real-world baseline of stunts, miniatures and animatronics before turning to more insubstantial realms. It’s an ethos fundamental to the success of T2’s action, most obviously in the climactic flight from the T-1000. An extended chase sequence that takes up fully a third of the film’s overall running time, it is still a truly epic feat of sustained, relentless tension and excitement that more than holds its own. Cameron was thus able to create a far more convincing mise en scene that one which relived entirely on the digital, a lesson that could be usefully be learned by many directors today.

The script (by Cameron and collaborator William Wisher) is simultaneously complementary to and an inversion of their work on the first film. Antagonist (“He was the enemy. He was death,” said Cameron of the Model 101) is now protagonist, lines of dialogue are re-used by others and in different contexts and indeed given the earlier Terminator becomes a faultless father, the mother becomes a merciless killer and the son that was dismissive now loves, each of the principals can be said to have flipped their own CPU from read-only to write (albeit that particular story beat was only revealed in the later special edition).

The Cold War, very much ‘on’ when the first film was released but a year over by the time of the second, informs not just the plot but its exposition. Skynet has obvious resonance with Colossus, the sentient, bunkered nuclear warfighting supercomputer in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), something more apparent in an earlier script for the opening sequence where the John Connor of 2029 describes his enemy as sitting “in its fortress in the Colorado Rockies”. Another never-filmed scene would have shown inter-continental ballistic missiles, dread icon of that era, rising from silos beneath the playground of Sarah’s dreams. And as American ICBMs are launched by the turning of two keys in two locks, placed far enough apart to require two people and therefore mutual consent to operate, it is surely no co-incidence that the same system is needed to open the Cyberdyne vault where the remains of that first Terminator are kept.

In fact the film resonates wherever it touches the scale of ways humans wage armed conflict. The script initially had Sarah, in her ‘You don’t know what it’s like to create’ speech, pointing out that every gun ever invented was designed and named after a man, whilst Cameron fetishises yet also satirises movie firefights with his own Minigun sequence in the same way, and with the same weapon, as John McTiernan did in the ‘We hit nothing’ scene from his Predator – both directors are known pacifists. Children play with toy guns as John muses on the doomed nature of man with the Model 101, whilst even Sarah’s unconscious carving of a philosophical message with a simple knife recalls Einstein’s powerful quote about the weapons of any fourth world war.

From the simplicity of a blade to the simplicity of the circle, perhaps the most profound shape in human culture when symbolising the cycle of life and death. The circularity of T2’s story-telling is similarly satisfying as the final scene arrives. Warm, witty but also moving, it’s a reminder that the troubles of today and tomorrow are always present.

By Chris Rogers, Jun 28 2021 05:06PM

Shops in London are suffering, as I noted when looking at Oxford Street’s department stores and ways of bringing people back to the capital’s main shopping street. But last week, on a still-rare work day in town, I saw the former Kodak building on Kingsway under scaffolding and did a bit of digging. I was surprised to find that it once contained offices, retail and production facilities in a single, central London building, whilst more research showed that it was by no means the only well-known brand that has thought differently about merchandising across several topics (all beginning with ‘S’, below) and a hundred years or so. Perhaps those approaches can help us today?

1) Space: Kodak, 1911

Just before the Great War, the Kodak Company commissioned one of the earliest examples of a purpose-built office block in London to house not only its European headquarters but also a range of associated facilities and a flagship retail store to bring its popular photographic technology to the heart of the British capital. No. 61-65 Kingsway was designed by Sir John Burnet and Partners and built in 1911, one of a number of new commercial blocks lining a continental-style boulevard that had itself only been laid out a few years earlier and which featured street lighting and a tunnel for trams. Kodak’s new building was also highly advanced for the time, with a steel frame and casement windows, lifts, central heating and electric lighting. Its exterior used a minimum of decoration and emphasised the extent of the glazing. Inside, what we would now term its fit out included open-plan office floorplates and a staff restaurant, complemented by semi-industrial spaces such as an ancillary laboratory, photographic, dark and printing rooms and a warehouse. Marble and wood panelling was confined to the receptions and boardroom, with most areas finished in linoleum and brick. Burnet made a study tour of America in preparation for the project and whilst the austerity of the interior discomforted some, Kodak liked the simplicity – fittingly, I think, for a company whose smart advertising slogan (‘You press the button, we do the rest’) deliberately disarmed customers as to the complexity of its business.

2) Staff: Bourne & Hollingsworth, 1912

Founded in 1894 as a drapers, this department store was one of several to occupy purpose-built premises in Oxford Street. Family-owned until well after World War 2, the organization was paternalistic and in common with other large employers of the day maintained its own accommodation – off-site, and segregated – for its unmarried staff. The hostel for men was in Berners Street, with Warwickshire House (named after the county in which one of the partners was born) on Gower Street home to over 600 young women. Their board and lodging was paid for by the company, although they were required to strip and change their bed each day before and after work, and the building ultimately had a range of facilities including its own ballroom, swimming pool and dining hall. Like the girls’ school it resembled, sleeping and bathing were communal too and there was a curfew but attractions outside the doors were plentiful. Warwickshire House also permitted women who were not employees to stay, provided their references were satisfactory, a practice that continued into the 1960s when a new generation of single women were finding their freedom.

3) Supply: Sanderson, 1930

Initially selling only to trade via the wholesale market, the wallpaper firm began by Arthur Sanderson in 1860 expanded to produce paints and printed fabrics as the 1920s dawned. A few years later the firm’s technology was advanced enough to print faux wood and stone effects, laminates and vinyl and at the end of that decade, accompanying a plant for textiles in Uxbridge and a studio in Berners Street in the West End, a new factory for wallpaper manufacture was built in Perivale, Ealing. Barely more than a hamlet of farms at the time, the location offered large tracts of open land, easy access by rail and new, fast roads and was less than ten miles from Marble Arch. With its fancy Art Deco frontage concealing a vast, plain ‘shed’ for 900 workers, the structure proved more typical of the future than the small buildings, expanded in piecemeal fashion, that Sanderson had previously maintained in nearby urban Chiswick. By the time of Sanderson’s centenary the workforce had expanded to 1,650 and the site was of course surrounded by suburbia. Production there finally ceased in the 1970s.

4) Stock: John Lewis, 1963

John Lewis completed the rebuilding of its Oxford Street store in 1960 after wartime interruptions, before commissioning a radical new warehouse to the north of London to service it and other branches. It was designed by the noted Spanish-born Mexican engineer Félix Candela Outeriño, working with architects Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall and engineers Clarke Nicholls and Marcel. Simple concrete piers supported inverted square pyramids of board-marked concrete, joined together but pulled up where they face north so as to form gaps that were glazed as light scoops. Thus the serrated roof profile common to many such buildings was lent a structural sophistication as well as constructional efficiency by Candela’s thin-shell hyperbolic para¬boloids, which can be made with simpler formwork than the curved arches usually deployed for large-span spaces. Indeed, as set out in a 15 x 8 grid, their boldness epitomises the confidence of post-war engineering in Britain – this was Candela’s first European project. After fifty years of use by John Lewis, a recent sale has seen the structure restored and remodelled as a branch of Costco with a steel-framed extension yet the loading bays removed to expose much of Candela’s work.

5) Support: Sainsbury, 2000

As stores become chains and those chains in turn grow, the administrative back-up needed also increases. John James Sainsbury opened his first shop in London in 1869 and within fifteen years had multiple branches including one in the then town of Croydon. This was followed by the first branch in the home counties and a new purpose-built headquarters, depot and factory in Blackfriars to manage what was now a rapidly-expanding grocery business. Half a century later it became the first food retailer to computerise the distribution of goods, and half a century on again a new head office – now called a Store Support Centre – was needed. Built within a couple of miles of that first shop, 33 Holborn by Foster & Partners is an eight-storey, mid-rise office block with granite and grey metal framing a glass wedge atrium that rises the full height of the quadrant-shaped building. Inside, a glass staircase hangs from steel rods and a glass floor lights the basement gym, restaurant and auditorium. With this programme and design and a shop included, retail had come full circle when compared to my first example. Maybe it can again.

By Chris Rogers, May 22 2021 05:45PM

Two films, made ten years apart. Each is from the disaster genre and as such they share tropes and details: rising disquiet, mass panic, societal breakdown, military involvement, struggling officialdom and the individual odyssey. Both, too, have a broadly understated tone and a relevance for today, even if their subjects are different. I saw them for the first time this week and was struck by both.

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, written by Scott Z. Burns, is a decade old, a technical and attitudinal lifetime in the film industry and indeed the wider culture yet its exploration of the discovery, impact and outcome of a worldwide pandemic originating in the Far East has an obvious significance as I type this in late May 2021. In fact the sheer degree of specificity in that context is shocking – discussion of the disease’s R number and mortality rate, countermeasures including “social distancing” and the search for, timescale to approve and challenges of supplying a vaccine, this last including the haves and the have-nots. The tension between information from the authorities versus that from an internet conspiracy theorist is also remarkably present for contemporary viewers. Firm emphasis on the trials of those in power and especially the global scientific effort to halt the spread finds a sympathetic audience in light of recent events, the stripped-down quality of dedication and desperation further resonates.

Structurally there is a measured use of flashback in a way that enhances the story, not least at the very end, and the message is cautiously optimistic even if a handshake is presented as a gesture both positive and negative. All of this is well caught by an impressive cast deployed in unshowy and realistic fashion that extends the approach used in, say, Outbreak (1995). Their characters’ fates are revealed in the same way.

Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland, written by Chris Sparling, had to sacrifice its theatrical release due to the current real-world pandemic, providing one link to the earlier film. Others arise from the slow unfolding of its own fictional catastrophe, the government’s attempts to respond and the results of both. Differentially, though, the crisis itself – the impact of a “planet-killer” comet – cannot be ameliorated and the focus here is squarely on a single family and their journey. This is winningly mounted and intensified in early scenes by a relentless imminence that is drip-fed through television news bulletins, radio broadcasts and – initially and most effectively – ‘Presidential alert system’ messages on mobile phones. Impressively the screenplay resists connecting the head of the family with the government in any way, explaining his bemusement at being selected for safeguarding and rendering him a true everyman during what follows.

This first act culminates in a powerful sequence at a military air base that smartly inverts an equivalent in World War Z (2013) with humans, very much alive, as the enemy horde. Plot twists grow wholly believably from this to set up the second act in which, inevitably, the family members are separated. Indeed what happens to the wife and son afterwards is genuinely shocking within the context of what is still a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster and surprisingly affectingly drawn by the cast, whilst the father’s quest is tainted by his own atavism. An un-signposted cameo brings another homely dimension.

Disasters do happen, and we are living through one. Fictionalised versions – no matter how unlikely – help us anticipate before the fact and analyse afterwards. Stay safe.

By Chris Rogers, May 15 2021 03:17PM

The disconcerting new scheme to open up the old Daily Express Building to the public but also engulf it in a towering pastiche of itself proves that Fleet Street can still generate stories decades after the last newspaper left. Front page news in the Architects’ Journal on Thursday, the property trade press carried the item two weeks ago whilst popular outlets such as the Evening Standard have covered it not at all. As ever, reading beyond the headlines adds detail and a bit of investigative journalism reveals much more.

Developer CO-RE, acting for owners Chinese Estates, have announced a goal of “renovation and opening to the public of the Grade II* listed Daily Express” by 2025 along with “complete redevelopment of the existing River Court building”, the large banking offices erected next door and behind the historic Art Deco block in 2000. Both were occupied by Goldman Sachs before they relocated recently. The Daily Express lobby will be used to showcase the history of the building and the writing, publishing, print and communication industry it was once part of, with “cultural tenants” invited for the upper floors. Architects Bjarke Ingles Group (shortening, highly appropriately, to BIG) have designed an even larger building than River Court to satisfy the second part of the plan, to feature the usual contemporary benefits of roof terraces, cycle facilities and flexible floorplates for multiple occupiers as well as increased natural ventilation. Its appearance, we are told, will “respond to the context of nearby buildings and environmental constraints. In particular, the horizontally-banded façade on Fleet Street will be sympathetic and make reference to the Daily Express building”.

Before analysing what this actually means, a bit of history…

The Daily Express building was completed in 1932 to designs by Owen Williams, an engineer not an architect but one who nevertheless crafted the visual appearance as well as the structure of the Dorchester Hotel, the first Wembley stadium, the Boots factory in Nottingham and bridges across the country. On Fleet Street his reinforced concrete portal frames created the space for the basement printing presses that made the entire project viable yet also yielded the building’s exterior finish since the material – distinctively radiused at the corners – was to be left exposed, with windows mounted flush. The small but vital change that occurred before construction, whereby the glazing was brought forward of the concrete which was in turn clad in opaque, black Vitrolite, has been attributed variously to Williams himself, newspaper specialist Bertram Gallanaugh of associate architects Ellis & Clarke and Express owner Lord Beaverbrook. Regardless, the resulting treatment was genuinely ground-breaking and admired by professionals and the public, who were welcomed inside Robert Atkinson’s dazzling lobby with its twinned murals of Empire and Industry, chromed sunburst ceiling and Betty Joel furniture to place small ads, read the paper and conduct related business.

Victorian buildings to the east prevented Williams from finishing his block with a second full-height curved corner; forty years later these were swept way for Aitken House, a much-needed extension, but this further subverted the original design intent by butting hard up against Williams’ work at its lower levels and subsuming his curved top storey corners within its resolutely flat frontage. And since this was clad with horizontal bands of Vitrolite in crude mimicry of the Daily Express (the fenestration of the two were not even aligned), that building even lost its existing autonomy as a vertical pavilion, as architectural writer Ken Powell describes it.

Another twenty years passed and the changing face of the newspaper industry led to the Express group vacating the ‘Black Lubyanka’ for Southwark, leaving Williams’ building lost within further extensions to the north and, when found, tired and empty. The furniture had gone from the lobby along with chromium snake stair handrails and even the floor of linoleum ‘ocean’ waves, other spaces were subdivided and a new use seemed elusive.

Fortunately this sorry situation coincided with the rash of ‘groundscraper’ developments driven by late-80s banking deregulation, and eventually a buyer and a plan emerged. Aitken House and the rear ranges would be demolished in favour of a large new block capable of housing the desired trading floors and associated functions. In accordance with City planning policy, the Williams building would be restored and sensitively integrated so as to form a new complex occupying the same wedge-shaped island site the Express once held.

In 2000, then, Hurley, Robertson and Associates working for then owners The Fleet Street Partnership carried out this scheme which included rescuing and in fact completing Williams’s design.

The original lobby floor pattern was reinstated in durable terrazzo, the snakes recreated from photographs and – highly ingeniously – the lift shafts, now too small, were sealed and employed as air vents and service risers. The décor was refreshed and repaired and all of the glass replaced by thermally and acoustically efficient double glazed equivalents whose appearance was rigorously matched to the originals. In an accommodating touch the new client allowed the vertical metal ‘EXPRESS’ logos framing the entrance to remain on show even if, in later years, a discreet and literal veil was drawn over the windows themselves, suppressing views of the lobby including the much larger and more explicit advertisements of the previous tenant on its rear walls. It was also persuaded that Williams’s concrete frames should remain visible inside, after accreted suspended ceilings and the like were removed, anticipating the current trend for such things.

On the plot occupied by Aitken House a frontage for the new building was needed, and HRA partner in charge John Robertson deemed it essential that this should stand apart from the Daily Express both physically and aesthetically so as to emphasise it.

A deep recess between the two buildings, emulating St Bride’s Avenue opposite and leading to the formal entrance of the combined complex, achieved the former and an all-glass façade was conceived to address the latter. Planners, however, directed the use of stone here in recognition of the surrounding conservation area, criticised by some as regressive yet in its final form (white, rectilinear) the quiet inverse of the Daily Express (black, rounded) and so letting Williams' work shine. Vitally, too, a completely new curved corner was finally added to the east, “creating a clear divide between old and new” and allowing “the separate identity of this key 1930s building [to be] elegantly reinforced” (Powell).

Now, after another twenty years, we are told that HRAs work needs to be revisited and in places undone.

At the Williams building, the pre-planning consultation on the proposals (which ended yesterday and whose website is neither mentioned on, let alone linked to from, CO-RE’s own site) asks the leading question ‘Is restoration a good idea?’ It’s certainly possible for even the best restoration work to need attention after so long, but the lack of any condition report means it’s simply not possible to answer. Reopening the lobby to the public and indeed widening access to the building as a whole for talks, exhibitions and creative events – a rooftop garden is also intended – is commendable and fits with the repurposing of Holborn Bars, the former home of the Prudential, and Pearl Assurance (now the Rosewood Hotel) in nearby Holborn, for example.

Far more worrying is the BIG building, as it were (it will be renamed 120 Fleet Street). Of course it’s always easy to puncture the surface of press releases to deflate the bombast, but CO-RE’s seems particularly vulnerable to such probing. Its assertion that retention of the existing, double-height Williams basement – a given in the City anyway these days for obvious reasons of cost, practicality and sustainability – will “reduce the impact of redevelopment” is thus a little hard to believe when said scheme will have almost three times the floor count of the Daily Express and be more than fifty percent taller. This is clear in a simple comparison of a photograph of the rear of River Court today and a CGI of the new block.

But the real problem with this scheme is its blunt and frankly baffling reversal of the considered work done in 2000 to centre and celebrate the Daily Express.

We are told that the BIG design process “investigated all options”, particularly taking into account “improving the setting of the listed Daily Express”, and that “in a direct homage to its neighbour, the façade on 120 Fleet Street plays tribute to [that] forward thinking design”.

What in truth this labouring has produced is a facile, even crass emulation of the Williams block once more, as if the last twenty years had never happened. Worse, it is to wrap the entirety of the new building with no relief whatsoever. Combined with its dominating scale, this ensures Owen Williams’s building will again be lost in obvious opposition to common sense and the stated desire to recognise the “finer grain” of neighbouring buildings and “the separation of 120 Fleet Street from the Daily Express”. Replicating that unique original Fleet Street entrance signage on one of the new elevations just adds insult to injury. Unsurprisingly the consultation portal does NOT invite comments on this portion of the scheme.

To be fair said separation is also to be achieved by turning HRA’s recessed, simulated alleyway into an actual arcade leading from Fleet Street, around the back of the Daily Express and into Shoe Lane. It will be lined with the usual retail. This, too, is a good idea and aligns with the provision of similar small passageways in a range of current schemes.

In terms of the overall scheme, though, it remains entirely unclear as to why so damaging a move is even being thought of let alone applied for. Planning policy and planners’ tastes change too over time, but it is to be strongly hoped that this awful idea is comprehensively rejected when that happens. Otherwise, given the unwelcome City of London Law Courts project going ahead across the road, the Street of Shame will be living up to its nickname even today.

By Chris Rogers, Apr 11 2021 11:23AM

Twenty years on, director Ridley’s Scott’s Gladiator (2000) is still acclaimed for its textured visuals of ancient Rome, background for a drama involving the actual historical figures of aging Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his decadent, capricious son Commodus. From the cold forests of Germania to the stony grandeur of the Forum, and from the lush silks of Imperial wives to the ghastly splendour of Legionary combat, this design work was hailed as fresh and original for its dark palette and sombre overtones. Yet director Anthony Mann’s much less recognised The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) not only addressed the same characters but did so using a style that is astonishingly similar to Scott’s epic, from the black-hued armour to the Fascistic imagery.

Arguably the most striking correspondence between the two films is also the first to be encountered; an early opening battle in a snowy wood against barbarian tribes. In both cases near-monochrome cinematography – hailed as a first when seen in Scott’s film, which arrived only a few years after Spielberg’s bleached Saving Private Ryan (1998) – sees the Romans’ armour rendered dull, almost black, and in both the snowflakes fly and torches burn. This is clear in both close-ups and distant shots.

Back in Rome, the centre of the Empire is again depicted in cool, distant style for the most part. Scott’s inspiration was Nazi architecture and its representation in propaganda films, and his concepts were realised with CGI. Mann used the traditional equivalent, the matte painting on glass, for his establishing shots but seems to have chosen an allied aesthetic.

In contrast the principal female character, Marcus Aurelius’s daughter Lucilla, appears in rich, warmly-toned costume in many scenes, whether played by Connie Nielsen or Sophia Loren. Yet both actresses have their moment of froideur too, when once again black or near-black serves to symbolise the hollow power of a declining regime.

The increasingly unhinged Commodus’s martial fantasies, of combat in the field or the arena, are also indicated by a shift to black and an emphasis on arms and armour. The glories of past rulers, which gave him the forces he commands, are seen only in the flashes of silver and gold.

Finally, both films let the extravagance for which Rome was known come to the fore when needed, whether in Scott’s Imperial ‘box’ at the Colosseum or Mann’s Capitoline Wolf behind the Emperor. Each is based on real architectural features, exaggerated or modified to suit the needs of the story. Sic transit gloria mundi.

By Chris Rogers, Mar 26 2021 10:52AM

It started with our chance find together – at the bottom of a drawer in my mother’s house – of a slipcase of visitor information cards for the Museum of London dating from its opening in 1976. I had never seen it before, despite living in the same home for three decades; it was designed by David Stuart and illustrated by John Gorham. But as I delighted in its elegant and unusual layout and wondered how on earth it got there*, I realised that certain other items quietly present on my own bookshelves all had the same distinctive quality – the very specific design style of non-fiction publishers in the 1970s.

Several came to mind: a book on the history of weapons, another on historic European town houses, trade magazines issued by an oil company… all shared the same elegant and powerful visual language. Clean typefaces, often in large fonts. Bold illustrations, whether line, axonometric or pictorial, were always isolated against the white space of the page. Flat planes of colour were common, with contrasting hues often employed to highlight a mechanism, design or feature. Even the tactility of the paper played its part, with selected sections in a different weight or colour to carry a different style of image or type of content.

The military book is The Lore of Arms by William Reid, published in 1976 by AB Nordbok, Gothenburg and designed by Tommy Berglund. It is, frankly, gorgeous and contains not a single photograph. Instead drawings of armour, flintlocks, swords and pistols jump off the pages, in various scales, some cutaway, some in profile. Many are in monochrome but many are rendered as exquisite blocks of colour through what the jacket calls a process of hand lithography, the latter a printing method, now widespread, that uses a flat rather than an incised or raised plate with the image formed from a medium that repels water. A bit of Googling reveals that my book was part of a series; other entries covered trains and ships, images from the latter confirming the style.

The house book is (East) German – Town Houses of Europe by Horst Büttner and Günter Meissner – and is from 1983 but the approach is similar with its delightful, hand drawn plans and elevations. By this time there are colour photographs albeit corralled into separate bound sections.

The origins of the approach seen in these books appears to lie in the International Typographic Style, which began in the USSR, Holland and Germany between the wars and matured in Switzerland during the 1950s. Sans-serif types, an underlying mathematical grid and self-assured use of colour images were its attributes, and some of this is seen in those magazines I mentioned. They have no inscribed date of publication or copyright, oddly, but a little more online research confirms my issues of Air BP Magazine (‘The Journal of the International Aviation Service of BP’) are from the mid-to-late 1960s. Their headline text is sometimes vertical, sometimes diagonal and often pushed to the very edge of the page, and there is a delightful – often playful – mix of visual material within each edition, from striking photography to charming illustrations. Especially notable is the synthesis of the physical, such as short internal flyleaves in a different paper.

The same angles are also characteristic of architectural and other design-led periodicals of the era, including – I recalled – my May 1971 copy of The Architectural Review focusing on Venice. This features gloss paper for its photography sections but a quarter of a dozen different colours of a rougher, matte stock for its text and illustrations. A dramatic landscape-format cover sends its own message(s). The edition is almost identical in layout to The Lore of Arms from just five years later, contextualising the design of those weighty tomes and pushing the ideas contained forward to the 1980s.

Thinking back, my interest in graphic design must have started when my father used to bring books like these home for me from the library next to my mother’s workplace; books on space exploration, military fortifications, emergency vehicles. Highly illustrated with impressive cutaways, intricate line drawings and coloured diagrams, sometimes arranged as foldouts, and I pored over them endlessly.

Unfortunately if inevitably trends in this industry, as in so many others, changed, and books became almost entirely full of conventional photography, bled to the edges of the pages and with dull, unremarkable typography. Only Dorling Kindersley carried on the concepts from the 1960s and 70s with their splendid books from the 1990s and 2000s that pushed the punchy technique of knolling, whereby multiple related objects are arranged in a tight grid and photographed from above, like the parts from a model kit.

Decades on from the 1970s, though, it’s clear that my exposure to the style of that period embedded that has stayed with me to this day.

*I visited the newly-opened museum with my primary school; I do remember the impression Powell & Moyer’s mysterious, dark building had on me, with its Lord Mayor’s coach ‘floating’ just above the ground, so we assume the slipcase must have somehow come home with me from then.

By Chris Rogers, Mar 16 2021 06:04PM

The intended height of the courthouse in the planned City of London Law Courts scheme has been reduced by over a metre. Both the Victorian Society and Heritage England have lodged objections to the size and scale of the new building, but it seems to have been complaints about the reduction of daylight to the flats opposite the court that swung the axe.

Actually the old Daily Telegraph building sits immediately across the street, but it wasn’t the bankers that cried foul. Instead it was the owners and occupier of the apartments in the upper levels of the buildings to its west, a nicely varied run of narrow, period frontages of the sort that typify the Street, that stood up to be counted. As a result of some detailed analysis, the parapet of the courthouse has been lowered by 1.2 metres and two rooftop elements of the massing of the block have been cut back to lessen the impact, as shown above.

The amenity societies’ criticism is quite trenchant, saying “The proposed new buildings entirely fail to reflect the characteristic scale and grain of the historic built environment” and that its “articulation is weak, and does nothing to reduce the impression of overbearing monumental bulk”. I hate to say I told you so, but… They are also both unhappy at the proposed loss of historic fabric, namely the demolition of all of the existing buildings along the Fleet Street side of the site and some in Salisbury Square.

As it happens there are rumblings down below, too, with the owners of the building to the south east of the overall development objecting to the proximity of the commercial block to theirs and the servicing arrangements, which would have required them to fall in with the shared basement. The building lines have been adjusted and a new access point created, separate from that supporting the court, police and office development itself.

Evenin’ all.

By Chris Rogers, Mar 10 2021 05:49PM

Over a mile long, home to retail flagships and the ‘West End’ for many, there can be few Londoners who have never trodden the pavements of Oxford Street or entered some of its grand department stores. But Bhs closed five years ago, Debenhams will not reopen when lockdown eases and arguments about buses and traffic along the Street continue even as Crossrail fails to arrive beneath it. Last year John Lewis won permission to convert more than half of its store to offices and yesterday afternoon Marks & Spencer announced the complete demolition of its Marble Arch branch in favour of a mixed-use alternative. So, just as we are receiving protection against the virus that has accelerated this crisis, is such repositioning enough to inoculate what has been called Britain’s high street against the threat of no-one actually wanting to use it?

It’s important to note that tenants of the current generation of large Oxford Street stores, imported from America as a typology in early twentieth century, have always been fluid and the carcases of several prove this. Sir Edwin Lutyens, no less, designed a façade for Gamages at the western end that became C&A and is now Primark, whilst Bourne & Hollingsworth’s Moderne block further east is also now on its third incarnation. All stacked large, internally-focused sales floors (you will find very few windows) behind impressive façades and whilst Gordon Selfridge himself, arch showman that he was, did much to enliven this trading model the only real change architecturally speaking during the next one hundred years was the atrium, bringing more daylight and here developed from the necessary stair and escalator wells (but still, cleverly, preventing views out).

Now, though, with already-growing online sales given a sharp boost by the Covid pandemic and – crucially – forecast to keep climbing, those retailers who have avoided other pressures such as outdated stock, competition from newcomers (Polish clothing chain Reserved occupies Bhs’s old space) and the legacy of poor business decisions are facing up to the expense of vast edifices that are simply no longer needed to enact their core business or function poorly in the context of contemporary sales practice. Quite how to reshape this estate portfolio in response is the key consideration now, and both John Lewis and M&S’s approaches are instructive.

John Spedan Lewis opened a drapery store on Oxford Street in 1864; rebuilding on the current site was already underway when World War 2 broke out, accounting for the Deco-style rear elevation to Cavendish Square. This survived the Blitz but the remainder of the store did not, and by the time funds and government licensing permitted work to restart it was 1955. A new aesthetic was adopted for the phased scheme that followed, with glazing framed by deep reveals faced with Portland stone and subtly-coloured tiles. Completed in 1960 the store was state of the art and this included the facilities for staff; not only was there a large rooftop dining hall but also a multi-level car park within the envelope of the store and accessed by lift from Old Cavendish Street – able to hold 50 vehicles, partners could book its spaces for their cars and it remains today.

Introduction of two large atriums a few years ago is the sole significant modification to this post-war block that is large, yes, but holds itself well thanks to that subtle façade, refurbished only a couple of years ago when a new canopy was installed along Oxford Street. It is surely notable that the recently approved plan to remodel the upper floors as offices will not alter this to any degree externally. Inside a new lift core will be added in the north east corner to service the offices that will be installed on floors three to eight. They will be accessed from a new entrance on the corner of Cavendish Square and Holles Street. Remodelling of the existing sales, stock and support areas will of course be required, and some basement bike parking and associated spaces are to be introduced. This is, then, a major change but one that will be almost entirely invisible from the outside – reflecting, perhaps, the staff-owned company’s image of dependable pragmatism.

Marks & Spencer shares that image, to an extent, even if its Victorian ‘penny bazaar’ origins are more transparently commercial. Its solution, too, is the same – retain the Oxford Street site, keep retail on the lower floors and introduce commercial offices to the upper levels – but the method of achieving it is rather more radical. In yesterday’s surprise announcement a ready-to-go scheme by Pillbrow + Partners architects will replace the three conjoined premises that make up its L-shaped Marble Arch branch with a single block on the same footprint. This will be purpose-designed for the contemporary needs of shop and office functions, clad in brick and feature set-back terraces. Unlike its rival none of the existing buildings is of any architectural merit, and it’s thus unclear why the firm indulges in the developer’s sophistry of deliberately unflattering images of the current buildings or disingenuous language in its online consultation exercise.

The other key difference at Marble Arch is the integration of the new building into the street pattern. An arcade will run from Oxford Street, through the new retail space (where it will be “framed by concessionary retail”) and open onto Granville Place at the rear of the store, which will be remodelled as a pocket park. A second through-building link will connect this space to Orchard Street to the east, effectively formalising the common practice of shoppers leaving the current M&S foodhall by the side exit, passing straight through Selfridges and coming out to St Christopher’s Place beyond.

Will either of these moves be enough to arrest the decline in Oxford Street’s footfall of the last few years? Is more needed, and I don’t mean an artificial grassy mound dumped on the corner?

For a decade at least luxury brands have been reformatting their shops from simple outlet to three-dimensional calling card through new architecture, lavish fit-outs and cutting-edge display technology, blurring the boundaries between marketing and purchasing. The very high associated costs make this unlikely to cross over fully into the mass-market. Selfridges, for example, which sits somewhere between those extremes, may have had success with the self-contained ‘Louis Vuitton Townhouse’ concept in 2013 but its centrepiece, a cylindrical glass lift that rotated as it moved, broke down within days of opening and was quietly removed a year or so later.

In-store ‘experiences’ are seen as another possible answer, with fashion shows, performances and events being staged amongst the aisles and ‘lounges’ provided to encourage hanging out. Related to this are the simpler – or, perhaps, seemingly simpler – fit-outs that emulate the kinds of ‘found’ or as-is industrial spaces current in commercial interiors, which are appearing in retail in an attempt to create a less artificial set of surroundings.

The real concern now though – especially in the current and projected climate – is achieving genuine integration with a retailer’s online presence, as M&S acknowledged in yesterday’s press release. What that might actually look like, though, is anyone’s guess since technology has a nasty habit of becoming outdated very, very quickly. Samsung’s recently-opened Coal Drops Yard store featuring a digital graffiti wall that can be ‘painted’ by a phone disguised as a spray can, internet-enabled appliances and a working kitchen for demonstrations sounds great but will it last and would a non-electronics retailer find anything helpful to emulate? M&S has itself tried large, desk-like touchscreens in its clothing floors to no real effect; in any case, shoppers will already have their iPhone browser open so it’s arguable that this adds value. Virtual and augmented reality, personalised ‘talking’ advertising boards and much more have also been mooted, again without much impact.

Personally I think these are all answers, but maybe to the wrong question. Instead of asking what can be done to make in-person retail more attractive, why not look to other end of the process altogether?

Britain started the Industrial Revolution and London was and still is to an extent a manufacturing city – in 2018, London’s gross value added from the sector was similar to that contributed by all of Wales’ industries combined. Things were and are made here – things like clothes and bicycles, furniture and beer, watches and suits. With that rich heritage and a real interest now in craft, repairs, provenance and sustainability, might not a more compelling ‘offer’ be to add makers’ spaces to some of these stores and show people what it takes to put something together? The potential is already there at a small scale. New premises for tailors Hackett in Savile Row (where each firm must produce at least 60% of the shop’s output on the premises) and Bonhams’ specialist staff in New Bond Street have daylit workspaces – both could be opened up to visitors. Wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd’s new buildings on Pall Mall already host tastings in bespoke function spaces. Shoppers never used to be so distant from the activity of making, whether the in-house adjustment services in the earliest department stores or the stock warehouses in adjacent streets, and my own reminder last year of the flatted factory after the war provides another useful precedent.

It may thus be that the true ‘experience’ we desire and will travel to see is the one of watching something physical be created.

By Chris Rogers, Feb 16 2021 05:13PM

The National Gallery in London wants to remodel its Sainsbury Wing entrance by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates from 1991 to give it greater presence on Trafalgar Square, improve the visitor experience once inside and better connect the Post-Modern extension in which it sits to the Victorian Wilkins building next door. The project is to be finished in time for the Gallery’s bicentenary in 2024.

Great controversy surrounded construction of the Wing almost a generation ago, although subsequent public acceptance, ongoing critical acclaim and award of the highest grade of heritage protection have all occurred since. Unfortunately, too, has the realisation that a quarter-century-old building no longer entirely works for today’s users, and so – a few years after Lloyd’s of London, who trod an identical path – another historic institution in the capital is faced with the need to alter an acclaimed, listed work by a ‘starchitect’.

Personally, today’s announcement comes as no real surprise. Although I’ve come to like the absurdly grand yet false perspective of the huge scala regia that gets you to the Wing’s upper floors (from whence the chronological sequence of galleries begins) whilst providing elevated views over the Square, the Wing entrance does fail in most respects. It’s in the wrong place in relation to the complex as a whole, far to the left of the main portico (which is after all on axis with Nelson’s Column), and is not actually in the Square at all. Already a storey lower than its traditional cousin and so lacking in presence, it’s additionally burdened with a kind of negative doorway, a vanishing void of black glass and steel unannounced by anything at all (intriguingly a model of the scheme before it was built is slightly more welcoming). Inside, I wonder whether the shop – a pale shadow, after two major redesigns, of the original and anyway replicated several times elsewhere in the building – is necessary any more. The lobby is just a space between that, the main stair rising to the right and another tucked away ahead that leads down to the main temporary exhibition space.

Pleasingly, if unexpectedly, the competition brief accepts all of this criticism and adds some more. The lobby is neither obvious nor visually connected with the main building, to which it is attached by a bridge link over the pedestrianised Jubilee Walk, cannot accommodate the necessary security screening facilities, fails to aid orientation and is uninviting and inflexible. Ways to address all of those points are keenly sought, therefore.

Beginning outside, I was pleased to see the brief confirm the Gallery’s ownership of the raised lawned areas immediately in front of the Wilkins building’s flanks, something I had doubts over when encountering slumbering individuals there the summer before last, and the strong suggestion that these elements might be modified and improved to help achieve that connection between the two blocks is to be welcomed. This would also tie together the ground level entrances either side of the Wilkins portico. There is also careful reference to the existing “black glass curtain wall that runs alongside the grand staircase” of the Wing, though perhaps ‘blank’ would be equally accurate as an initial descriptor since that is the unwelcome effect from the point of view of anyone looking from the Square. I would thus expect – as is now happening with many commercial PoMo buildings erected in London in the same era – removal of that glazing in favour of conventionally clear glass.

The same intervention is undoubtedly going to be applied at the entrance portal proper to mitigate what the brief bluntly refers to as its “fortress-like appearance, […] established by the gates and black-tinted glazing which prevent passers-by seeing in and create an off-putting impression”. Any more than that here would be difficult to pull off though given the very absence of trimmings is part of the architectural essence of the Venturi scheme. On the other hand, surely ADDING a pediment in a suitably contrasting material or style would be topping the joke…?

Inside I do not expect the shop to survive. It will be stripped out and the space used instead to solve some of those capacity problems – after all, the Louvre did the exact same thing beneath Pei’s pyramid, a contemporary of the Sainsbury, just a few years ago. What scope there is for altering room heights is unclear so anything more radical might not be possible, but some changes to the cloakroom and other spaces is probable; that much of the ‘structure’ visible in this area isn’t, in fact, but merely applied decoration is also pointed out, as is that Grade I listing being based on “the events surrounding the building’s commissioning and public debate” rather than its “actual architectural qualities”. Ouch.

Whatever happens the result will coincide with the rather more significant reorienting of the neighbouring National Portrait Gallery under its own scheme of works. Should be interesting.

By Chris Rogers, Feb 12 2021 04:41PM

A formal planning application for the new City of London Law Courts complex, including the police block and commercial office, was lodged last month. Its documents confirm almost all of the conclusions I reached in my previous posts whilst adding detail; more on that below, but for now I’d like to focus on what to the vast majority of Londoners will be the most significant aspect of the scheme – does the principal building actually look like a court of law?

That is the same question that Eric Parry Architects addressed in October’s consultation by stating that their proposed design has "a substantial civic presence on Fleet Street”, something repeated in January’s application. I suspect most people would assess that claim by what the building looks like, and how it’s made – its massing, articulation and materials, in formal terms. But EPA make it clear that they are defining civic presence in two ways only, both of which are peripheral to the building’s architecture: “integrated public art commissions” and “a sense of place in the connections through the site”. This is a rather extraordinary approach and one somewhat at odds with history and precedent. It does, though, explain my earlier doubts about the court’s main façade, which neither conveys its function nor responds to the local context. Nothing in the application changes that.

Thus granite, limestone, the Royal arms and those of the City of London do not on their own a public building make, let alone a courthouse. There is little to indicate unambiguously the fact of the latter or to break up the bulk of what is a very large building; the slight “inflections” or chamfers to the corners of the plan are weak.

The public entrance on Fleet Street is described as being “clearly marked […] by the oriel window”, this last a reference to the facetted treatment of the elevation here that I divined before. That is technically correct, but the feature is rather shallow and reads more like a simple sub-division of the façade than a true oriel. Anticipating the separated circulations necessary within any court building, “A separate street entrance for Jury members and a separate entrance for the Judiciary have been provided” – their locations are redacted although elsewhere we are told that “The western façade to Whitefriars Street incorporates additional entrances at the ground floor for courthouse use.”

Other than the main doors no glazing is apparent to the ground floor at all, excused as necessary for security. One could see this as a nod to the Central Criminal Court nearby, yet given recent court buildings nationally have managed to include fenestration here it is disappointing that a better balance between architectural expression and safety could not have been managed in the capital. Instead we are to be treated merely to commissioned artworks incorporated into the wall panels, the explanation for those curious dish-shaped features I noted last year. Placed behind those panels at height will be hidden or “cryptoporticus” windows (the term, I discover, originated in ancient Greece to mean a covered corridor or passageway lit from openings at the tops of its supporting arches), to bring daylight into the lower levels of the building. These measures too have precedents in the City, though that does not mean they are welcome. At the former Unilever House (1932) the upper floors were pushed back to permit skylighting of the windowless ground floor, though car noise was the enemy there rather than car bombs, whilst the ‘blind’ street frontage of the GPO’s Fleet Building (1961) featured ceramic panels by Dorothy Annan.

More art is suggested for the oriel, namely an expanse of stone suitable for incised text that might reflect “the ethos of the justice system or possibly the history of the area” and the possibility of overlaying the glazing with decorative metalwork or similar. This seems uninspired and, again, a poor replacement for actual architecture. It will be interesting to see if even these ideas are taken up – it was some years before Westminster magistrates’ court in Marylebone acquired its contemporary art installation, and a hundred of them for the National Gallery’s name to appear atop its portico.

We are forced to imagine the interior since not a single image of it appears anywhere in the application pack. The “feature” or “cantilevered high-quality” public staircase that I identified previously is the main element. Surprisingly reminiscent of that in the now-demolished Clements House (1957), a post-war office building in the City, right down to its position at the very rear of the floorplate where it is backlit by extensive glazing, it serves only the first four floors before a more conventional example takes over within the central, top-glazed lightwell. There are two more of the latter, all of them forming a sandwich with the service cores.

There will be eighteen courtrooms in total (eight crown, five magistrates Courts and five civil) though rather oddly “The exact location of these has been redacted on the plans for security purposes.” Ambitiously, daylighting will be provided on all four sides of each – the driver is wellbeing and this feat will be achieved through clerestory windows giving on to the exterior of the building, the public lobbies or those lightwells. Intriguingly, “open justice viewing areas” are promised, albeit with no explanation of what these might be. Those attractive boxed-out oriels to the south are consultation rooms for clients and lawyers. On the private side of the building, upper levels will contain “social rooms for the judicial [sic] and HMCTS administration staff with access to the garden terrace”; this outside amenity is for both to “de-stress, take some air and enjoy the views”.

Servicing will be from the shared basement primarily, which stretches across all three buildings. At its lowest level, basement 2, sits an energy centre that powers the courthouse and the police building assisted by plant situated on some upper storeys of the former. Above this, basement 1 holds fleet parking for rapid response police vehicles, who will exit (only, it appears) via their own ramp at the southern edge of the police building and for which traffic the local road layout will be adjusted. The “lower ground floor level” above that houses spaces associated with the courthouse including a cycle store, lockers and showers and a couple of parking bays for those with disabilities. Prisoners for hearings and police processing will also be received and despatched here via a custody area; cellular prison vans as well as delivery vehicles for all three buildings will use the same secure gate and ramp at the southern tip of the site, incorporated within the commercial block.

Returning to street level, as I predicted two years ago most of the courthouse will sit within a stockade of bollards. They will run up the northern end of Whitefriars Street, along Fleet Street (where they will be complemented by “stone sculptural elements which are either plaques for scripture or benching”; the road is part of the City ceremonial route) and continue along the turn into Salisbury Court. Here, the “new public green” offered in the July consultation that had, predictably, been downgraded into an expanse of hard landscaping dotted with planters by October remains, with a few tweaks to improve hostile vehicle mitigation. This is a pity as the current arrangement isn't perfect but at least feels like an actual London square. Baffling, though, is the word that could be applied to the continuing refusal to carry forward the existing pedestrian stepped link between the square and Primrose Hill to the south.

As for the rest of the scheme, the police building will, it is now clear, contain an operational station with a public counter as well as the City force’s headquarters; the open, glazed ground floor thus “promotes increased visibility and presence”. The greened area at street level, meanwhile, is revealed as a “wintergarden” enclosed by triple-glazed glass planks with small air gaps between them. The use of weathering steel, which I questioned last year, is now justified as expressing “institutional gravitas” but such a statement is illogical at best given the rarity and variety of the material’s use in Britain to date. Solemn reference to red enamel brises soleil recalling the old Ludgate railway bridge, absent almost a generation, merely prompts a bemused shake of the head. The commercial building covers its rational floorplates in a frenzy of terracotta, in reference to its neighbours, but is otherwise unremarkable.

This, then, is the scheme that will no doubt be approved in the spring; the window for comments has passed. It is unquestionably an important one, to the Square Mile, the capital and the criminal justice system. But whilst it may well evolve slightly as it is built out, I think that the awkward, bland and heavy design for the courthouse currently before us as well as the associated public realm represents an opportunity that has been missed, and by some distance at that.

Chris's first book examines the career and works of British architect Michael Pearson, the third generation to head the practice founded by his grandfather in 1904. Pearson's presidency of the Architectural Association and his pioneering and prescient Burne House building are covered.


"Throws light on significant achievements" 


 Patrick Duerden, Practice Director, Donald Insall  



Black Dog Publishing, 2010  


ISBN  978 1 906155 73 5

PoP as pub - cr

Become an architectural detective with Chris's second book, investigating the styles of a thousand years of building in the world's most visited city from the middle ages to the present day. Illustrated and with photographs, maps and addresses, also included are a list of resources and a two-part introduction.


"A little gem"


Terry Philpot, Tablet


Ivy Press, 2016 with Larousse (French edition) and Akal (Spanish)


ISBN 978 1 78240 406 4  


cover apr 16

Chris's third book - a publisher's best-seller - reveals the hidden gems as well as the iconic landmarks of London's rich built history, from shops that survived the Great Fire to the 2012 Olympic village. Covering the West End, City and Docklands, the book follows the same format as How to Read Paris.


"Rather wonderful"


  – Don Brown, The London Society


Ivy Press, 2017  


ISBN 978 1 782404 52 1  

final cover L

Chris is one of more than a dozen specialists whose essays fill this fresh examination of the charms of Paris, which is edited by John Flower. Looking at the French capital's history, culture and districts, each item can be read in just half a minute and is illustrated with its own collage-style spread.


Ivy Press, 2018  


ISBN 978 1 782405 44 3  

Portfolio - cover BSMC

Commissioned from Chris by the Chief Magistrate for England & Wales to mark the closure of Bow Street Magistrates' Court, this pamphlet celebrates the world-famous institution and its final home. It was given exclusively to guests at a commemorative reception.


"I really like both the research behind it, and its clarity and accessibility"


Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive, Her  

   Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service  


Private press, 2006        


The Twentieth Century Society’s new peer-reviewed Journal on commercial architecture in Britain since the 1920s includes Chris’s piece on Fitzroy Robinson's pioneering atrium buildings in the City of London. The piece is founded in original research including archive imagery, interviews and site visits.


Twentieth Century Society, 2020


ISBN 978 0 955668 76 0