The Foreign Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a very straight forward purpose – to elevate British interests overseas. And so from within its finely manicured walls derives the safeguarding of our national security, the initiating of prosperity through exports, investment and open markets, the promotion of sustainable global progress and a pillar for all British nationals across the globe to lean against through its consular services. Currently at the helm is of this mighty ship is Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who together with the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary, form the ‘Great Offices of State’, the four most venerable appointments in the Cabinet. Situated alongside Downing Street in Whitehall, it is where Britain extends its rather ornate, gilded hands to the world. But through all its pomp and ceremony this George Gilbert Scott building does exactly what it set out to say, – that we are world players and a force to be reckoned with.

The Foreign and India Office 1866

The Foreign and India Office 1866

The Foreign Office first came about in 1782 with the alliance of both Southern and Northern Departments of the Secretary of State, then splitting into ‘Foreign’ and ‘Home’ sectors. At the time, the vicinity of Downing Street was not the blue-ribbon enclave that it is today, with a hodgepodge of public houses, livery stables, dressmakers, affordable housing for minor MP’s compressed along narrow alleys, with stories of FO clerks acquiring strawberries via baskets on strings, throwing pennies to street vendors and flirtations with the pretty dressmakers across the way by signalling with mirrors. An underground stream made the area very boggy and unstable with a neighbouring house even falling down, with sections of the FO propped up with wooden supports. The FCO came about in 1968 with the amalgamation of the Commonwealth and Foreign Offices. The building itself presently occupies a space that comprised the old Foreign Office, India Office, Colonial Office and Home Office. The architect George Gilbert Scott  initially lobbied for a gothic theme until the PM at the time, Viscount Palmerston, insisted on a more harmonious design and then opted for the Italianate approach. Over the years, owing to the ever-increasing numbers in personnel, much of the building’s fine effects have either been covered up or removed and by the 1960’s it was in such a state of disrepair that demolition loomed until public outcry enforced the Foreign Office to upgrade as a Grade I listed structure. In 1980 it was subjected to a 17-year £100 million facelift, thus returning it to its former glory and for yet another curtain call.


This magnificent court was one of the few sections not designed by George Gilbert Scott, but by Matthew Digby Wyatt. ‘Durber’ means ‘court’ in Indian and is an understated homage to both Italian and Indian techniques, based loosely on Rome’s Palazzo de Cancelleria. Originally intended as an open cortile, the eventual roof takes influence from Wyatt’s work with the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and Paddington Station. The real magic becomes clear as your eyes work up the walls with the detail becoming greater the higher you go up.
























Also the work of Wyatt, this marvel of a room was designed solely for the Secretary of State for India and meetings regarding the subcontinent up until 1947 when India Office ceased to prevail. The central panel above the fireplace was made by Flemish sculptor Michael Rysbrack in 1730, depicts Britannia receiving gifts from the East, with the figure leading a camel representing the East and the figure with a lion, the West.






This staircase is roofed with an octagonal glass dome, graced by goddesses of plenty (canephora) and cherubs illustrating the Roman virtues (Auctoritas, Dignitas, Gravitas, Hospitium, Otium, Pietas, Virtus, etc.) Directly beneath hang a pair of portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, gifted to the East India Company in gratitude of its benefaction to the Paris Exhibition of 1855.








Three successive rooms that were designed by Scott as the main area for diplomatic dinners, functions and conferences. First comes the Cabinet Room, followed by the Dining Room and Conference Room, whose gilded ceiling is decorated with circular majolica plaques bearing national emblems of twenty countries (USA, Turkey, Saxony, Switzerland, Sweden & Norway, Spain, Russia, Papal States, Portugal, Prussia, Austria, Belgium, Bavaria, China, Denmark, France, Greece, Holland, Italy and Japan)






The unforseen pivot behind this awe-inspiring staircase is not the exaggerated and bedazzling ceiling, but in fact the highly illustrious Sigismund Goetze murals that literally float off the walls that encircle the staircase. They depict the genesis, guidance, growth and achievement of the British Empire using a restricted palette of yellow ochre, Venetian red , cobalt and flake white. By fighting shy of bolder colours, Goetze had hoped the murals would stand their ground amongst their bold and brassy surroundings, that the feeling of light and air would not interrupt the structure of columns and the narrowness of the walls.


Britannia Pacificatrix – the notion of Britannia’s influence for international peace

Britannia Pacificatrix – the notion of Britannia’s influence for international peace

Britannia Nutrix – nurturing a resilient nation through the arts of peace (ploughing, music, pottery, wool spinning and reading)

Britannia Nutrix – nurturing a resilient nation through the arts of peace (ploughing, music, pottery, wool spinning and reading)


Silence – the three sopra-portas (silence, strength, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori)

Silence – the three sopra-portas (silence, strength, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori)


Britannia Sponsa – the successive invasions of Britannia over the centuries presided over by the vision of the angel with the grail, a symbol of the Glastonbury legend and founding of Christianity in Britain.

Britannia Sponsa – the successive invasions of Britannia over the centuries presided over by the vision of the angel with the grail, a symbol of the Glastonbury legend and founding of Christianity in Britain.






[The Foreign Office can be viewed by the general public each year through Open House London]

Posted in Architecture, Art, Buildings, Interiors, Landmarks of London, London, Parliament | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TONY CONIGLIARO on the science of good taste

“What is a cocktail?” “Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.”

[First ever mention of ‘cocktail’ – The Balance and Columbian Repository publication, Hudson, New York, May13, 1806]

How does one take one’s cocktail? Well, the imbibition stage is rather easy, but to start with, one usually has to get someone else to make it for you. It is the ultimate end of slog ‘pat on back’. A cold beer, as we all know, refreshes most parts, but a cocktail says, “Yes, you are worth it, even if your boss doesn’t realize it yet”. Originally a mixture of spirits, sugar, water and bitters, a cocktail today can contain any number of ingredients. So may we sit contentedly toying a maraschino cherry around an old fashioned, I ask you? Heck no, certainly not us Londoners. As with any busy metropolis, you find a constant hunger of wanting more, wanting different, a relentless drive for new and ingenious ways of presenting and viewing things. And what with the growing fascination of molecular gastronomy with chefs across the world, it wasn’t going to be too long before the cocktail world would follow suit. What started off with the lyrical layering of the 90’s favorite Friday night tipple, the B52, has now spawned an industry of cocktail wizards. And steering the rudder through these heady waters is London’s very own mixologist maestro, Tony Conigliaro.

IMG_5761Tony Conigliaro knows his drinks, having shaken, muddled, stirred, built, layered, floated and rolled his way up the ranks of London’s top bars, from the likes of Isola, The Lonsdale, and the Shochu lounge at Roka. He is a self-taught pioneer who was not satisfied with merely doing a good days work. Tony paid close attention to the work of the chefs that surrounded him and slowly began to infuse their tricks into his own repertoire. For anyone who has eaten the food of a molecular gastronomist, you will know that the results are groundbreaking, mindboggling, thought provoking and jaw dropping. And through the investigation to the responsiveness of basic ingredients and experimentation with their density and viscosity comes a wish for greater intensities, varieties of seasoning, taste combinations and approach to presentation. Equipment ranges from blowtorches, vacuum sealers (used to combine, preserve and infuse ingredients, including non-edible matter such as tobacco, leather and perfume) the rotavap (a vacuum rotary distillation setup that allows the extraction of aromas, low temperature reduction of juices and the production of flavored spirits) and such techniques like spherification. (forming a liquid into a sphere, much like caviar or larger like an egg yolk) The input is science, but the outcome is pure poetry. Tony opened his trailblazing Islington ‘Bar with no name’ at 69 Colebrooke Row four years ago, blindsiding all the critics and scooping all of the top honors in one swift swoop. The subtle decor is a gentle nudge to 1950’s Italian film noir. In May 2012, the Sunday Times unabashedly voted it the best bar on earth. Favorable libations include the reinvented Prairie Oyster, (tomato yolk, horseradish vodka, Oloroso Sherry, shallots, pepper sauce, celery salt and micro herbs) Terroir (distilled clay, flint and lichen), Apple and Hay Bellini, (yes, you heard correct) the Smoked Old Fashioned (using essence of tobacco, smoke essence and leather essence) and the No.5 Champagne Cocktail, of which came about at the realization that the process of constructing cocktails is very much parallel to that of perfumery, – both of which revolve around the use of top, mid and base notes with the dissolving sugar cube at the bottom of the champagne flute able to bring the notes of the drink to the top. The concept behind the Smoked Old Fashioned was “to put the idea of the drink inside the drink i.e. to sit down in a big leather sofa with a cigar and smoke-swirling drink”. It is this reason why many bartenders across the globe consider Tony as THE go-to drinks authority. Such was the demand that Tony set up his lab the Drink Factory in Britannia Row as a collective space for learning and sharing knowledge in the craft of cocktails. Interested parties include chefs, chocolatiers, perfumers, designers as well as drinks experts.


[69 Colebrooke Row]





IMG_5873[The Drink Factory]









IMG_5815Tony’s next venture was to team up with his Isola colleague and friend, the chef Bruno Loubet along with the Zetter Hotel group (Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyan) in transforming 2 Georgian townhouses in Clerkenwell, which was to become known as the Zetter Townhouse. The approach was totally different in the fact that the place pivots entirely around the made up figure of ‘aunt Wilhelmina’, – “a composite of all dotty aunts”. For every detail and nuance it was “what would aunt Wilhelmina want” and so historical imagination and playful narrative has helped create an immersive experience that will hopefully fire up ones imagination, – a progressive trend that is currently proving very popular in London. Lovingly decorated by the brilliant interior designer, Russell Sage, the result is a riotous mish-mash of oddities, colours, fabrics, textures and exuberant taxidermy. It is organized chaos at its finest form. Nevertheless, it’s homey, snug and inviting to the point where you have to keep reminding yourself to not even think about putting your feet up on the coffee table. The foundations of this 13-bedroom townhouse were built around the 7th Century Priory walls and the food and drink menu gently doffs its cap in homage to both the area’s priory and Dickensian roots. Knowing when to pull back, Tony said he was careful not to overplay the drinks here, basing them largely on 17th/18th Century recipes, remedies, tinctures and infusions. You can eat Scotch egg or Beef daube Bourgignon and wash it down with a Flintlock, (Beefeater 24 gin, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, dandelion, burdock bitters & Fernet Branca) Somerset Sour, (Somerset cider brandy, lemon juice, sugar and Breton cider) or Milk Collins. (Beefeater gin, homemade milk syrup, lemon juice, sugar & soda) The filtered water is even sourced from the very Fleet River beneath ones feet. This is a complete turnabout from 69 Colebrooke Row, in which here it’s the surrounding that does most of the hollering. A man of many appreciations it’s obvious that Tony is sympathetic to subtleties and understands the art of balance, not just in liquid form. Tony, Bruno and the Zetter team have recently trounced again this year, opening up the Grain Store in the newly developed area north of Kings Cross, an energized vegetable and fruit-dominant menu that proves that they are certainly no one-trick ponies.


























Nicholas Kurti, the late Oxford physicist first coined the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ in 1992. He once mused that, “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.” I can hear many balk at the idea of messing around with food as simply unnecessary and to a degree, simply showing off. However, we are now dawning on a regrettable age where there are no more surprises. We landed man on the moon, he wandered and pondered around for a bit, realized his limitations and imperfections…and  he has returned home. It is now time to reflect and look inwardly. I feel people have to remember that there are miracles to be found close at hand, – you don’t have to reach for the skies to find the stars. We look outward to the big things and forget the importance of looking in and noticing the finer details, understanding the balance in the elements. I applaud the genius of the likes of Tony Conigliaro, simply for the fact that he constantly pushes the boundaries, he dares to be extraordinary and refined no matter how far-fetched or simplistic the idea. Tony sums it up, saying “the more practiced you are, the more you become adept at making beautiful and simple things”. I finish off by asking Tony for his thoughts on the perfect Martini…”definitely stirred and not shaken”, he offers resolutely. Sorry, Mr. Bond. This time you were wrong.


This story was made possible by The School of Life, who regularly operate talks and classes with Tony Conigliaro

Alternatively, you can contact 69 Colebrooke Row for their masterclasses directly.

Posted in Architecture, Bars, Food and Drink, Hotels, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Isabella Plantation in full blooming glory.

isabella plantation - richmond park - london

Following on from last year’s secret gardens series, ( West, Central & East, North and South regions of London) I have fulfilled a promise to myself by returning to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park (see ‘West‘ for the previous Isabella story), to see the flirtatious display of Azaleas and Rhododendrons at their blooming best. Not wanting to go overboard, but the colours were so hyperbolically jumping for attention, I likened the experience to walking into a technicolor film. (- for guidance, imagine when Dorothy Gale happened upon Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz) It’s a rare gem indeed. In case you missed it, the best time of year to see the Isabella Plantation is late April and early May. Enjoy.

IMG_7615IMG_7616IMG_7617IMG_7631IMG_7635IMG_7642IMG_7652IMG_7659IMG_7676IMG_7681IMG_7686IMG_7691IMG_7706IMG_7710IMG_7734IMG_7736IMG_7747IMG_7769IMG_7800IMG_7837IMG_7864IMG_7881IMG_7928IMG_7932IMG_7971IMG_7952Visit Richmond Park


Posted in Gardening, Gardens, Parks | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

A visual history of the London Skyline


[Anton van den Wyngaerde]

London Bridge 1554-7

London Bridge 1554-7

Wyngaerde - West London

Wyngaerde – West London

Wyngaerde - Central London

Wyngaerde – Central London

Wyngaerde - East London

Wyngaerde – East London


[Joris Hoefnagel]

Hoefnagel - Fete at Bermondsey - 1569

Hoefnagel – Fete at Bermondsey – 1569

Hoefnagel - 1572

Hoefnagel – 1572


[Claes van Visscher]

Vesccher - panorama

Vesccher – panorama

Vesscher - detail - West London

Vesscher – detail – West London

Vesscher - detail - West/Central London

Vesscher – detail – West/Central London

Vesscher - detail - Central London

Vesscher – detail – Central London

Vesscher - detail - Central/East London

Vesscher – detail – Central/East London

Vesscher - detail - East London

Vesscher – detail – East London


[Mattheus Merian]

Merian - Before the Great Fire of London - 1650

Merian – Before the Great Fire of London – 1650

Merian - During the Great Fire of London - 1666

Merian – During the Great Fire of London – 1666


[Wenceslaus Hollar]

Hollar - 1647

Hollar – 1647

Hollar - 1647

Hollar – detail – 1647

Hollar - Tower of London - date unknown

Hollar – Tower of London – date unknown

Hollar - St Paul's - before and after the Great Fire

Hollar – St Paul’s – before and after the Great Fire

Hollar - view of East London before and after the Great Fire

Hollar – view of East London before and after the Great Fire

Hollar - view from Milford stairs - 1643

Hollar – view from Milford stairs – 1643


[Frederick de Wit]

Wit - 1700

Wit – 1700


[Samuel & Nathaniel Buck]

Buck - Westminster - 1774

Buck – Westminster – 1774

Buck - Somerset House to Bridewell

Buck – Somerset House to Bridewell

Buck - Fleet Ditch to St. Michael’s Church

Buck – Fleet Ditch to St. Michael’s Church

Buck - Old Street Church to The Tower of London

Buck – Old Street Church to The Tower of London


[The Rhinebeck’ Panorama – artist unknown]

The 'Rhinebeck' panorama - courtesy of the Museum of London

The ‘Rhinebeck’ panorama – courtesy of the Museum of London


Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century

Detail of The Rhinebeck Panorama: 19th century


Thames Embankment construction 1865

Thames Embankment construction 1865


[Henry Dawson]

Henry Dawson - 1877

Henry Dawson – 1877


Tower Bridge, circa 1900, shortly after the bridge's completion

Tower Bridge, circa 1900, shortly after the bridge’s completion

Late 1800’2/early 1900’s


Monet - Thames at Westminster - 1871

Monet – Thames at Westminster – 1871

Monet - Charing Cross Bridge - 1899

Monet – Charing Cross Bridge – 1899

Monet - Parliament - 1904

Monet – Parliament – 1904

Monet -  London Parliament in Winter - 1904

Monet – London Parliament in Winter – 1904

Monet - Houses of Parliament, Sunset - 1902

Monet – Houses of Parliament, Sunset – 1902

Monet - Le Parlement, effet de brouillard - 1904

Monet – Le Parlement, effet de brouillard – 1904

Monet - Houses of Parliament - 1905

Monet – Houses of Parliament – 1905

Monet - Waterloo Bridge - 1899

Monet – Waterloo Bridge – 1899


Construction of Tower Bridge - 1892

Construction of Tower Bridge – 1892


London Victoria Embankment - 1930

London Victoria Embankment – 1930


St Paul's during the Blitz of WWII - 1940

St Paul’s during the Blitz of WWII – 1940

Present Day – 2013

[Stephanie Wolff]

Tower Bridge landscape - © Stephanie Wolff

Tower Bridge landscape – © Stephanie Wolff

London Bridge Station - © Stephanie Wolff

London Bridge Station – © Stephanie Wolff

Canary Wharf - © Stephanie Wolff

Canary Wharf – © Stephanie Wolff

Southwark - © Stephanie Wolff

Southwark – © Stephanie Wolff

Tower Bridge portrait - © Stephanie Wolff

Tower Bridge portrait – © Stephanie Wolff

Tower of London - © Stephanie Wolff

Tower of London – © Stephanie Wolff

London Bridges - © Stephanie Wolff

London’s Bridges – © Stephanie Wolff

London Eye - © Stephanie Wolff

London Eye – © Stephanie Wolff

Tower Bridge - © Stephanie Wolff

Tower Bridge – © Stephanie Wolff

Monument - © Stephanie Wolff

Monument – © Stephanie Wolff

City of London - © Stephanie Wolff

City of London – © Stephanie Wolff

Central & West London - © Stephanie Wolff

Central & West London – © Stephanie Wolff

Houses of Parliament - © Stephanie Wolff

Houses of Parliament – © Stephanie Wolff

St Paul's - © Stephanie Wolff

St Paul’s – © Stephanie Wolff

(All black & white photographs in the ‘present day’ series by Stephanie Wolff are now available in a limited edition of prints, obtainable on application – contact details here)

Posted in Architecture, Blitz, Buildings, Churches, Historic, Landmarks of London, London, Parliament, Photography, Thames, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

30 St Mary Axe: the making of a London icon

30 st mary axe - gherkin- london

Had the sight lines that span across London not been so vigorously put in place by government officials, our present city’s skyline would indeed look very different from what it currently is, and more than likely not for the better. Laws are in effect to prevent the obstruction of key vistas when viewed from high vantage points such as Richmond and Hampstead. The obvious suspects are St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament, both venerated sites of interest in the heart of London that makes our skyline so unique and identifiable. This is also how Canary Wharf can get away with numerous high-rises but not the City of London. 30 St. Mary Axe (originally called the ‘Millennium Tower’) was one such victim with its original plans scuppered for a much smaller and sober rendition. Quite right too. For it’s sizeable enough to be used as a navigational tool around the city, yet not presumptuous enough as to detract from the kaleidoscope of neighbouring landmarks such as the Lloyds Building, Bank of England, Barbican Centre, Leadenhall Market, Monument, Tower of London or even our inviolable St. Paul’s. The site of the former Baltic Exchange that had been destroyed with irreparable damage by a Provisional IRA bomb explosion in 1992 had hoped to arise from the ashes a building that would be the tallest in Europe. Standing at 1,265 ft tall with a profile that was essentially two lopsided ovals joined at one end, it was famously at this juncture (9 September 1996) that Guardian journalist Elizabeth Pickering quoted it as “London’s £550m erotic gherkin”, a name that has stuck, much to the despair of it’s eventual designer, the legendary architect Norman Foster.


Plans for the Millennium Tower fell through mainly due to objections by Heathrow Airport claiming it would disrupt their flight paths, resulting in the withdrawal of backing by English Heritage. The site was then sold to Swiss Re and the task of architectural design to Foster & Partners. Norman Foster and his team have designed some of the most thought-provoking ‘functional’ structures across the world, such as Hearst Tower in New York (a tower block that looks almost eaten into by the wind), the Reichstag restoration in Berlin (a marriage of the old and new Germany, complete with the anti-Nazi graffiti left by the Russian army), the HSBC main building in Hong Kong (a feat that saw premium building materials sourced from all over the globe), and the Millau Viaduct in France (the world’s tallest bridge, which at 343 m comes 19 m higher than the Eiffel Tower). Across London, Foster has extended his prowess with the construction of City Hall, the Millennium Bridge, Stansted Airport, the new Wembley Stadium, the awe-inspiring British Museum’s Great Court roof and, of course, 30 St. Mary Axe. He is a man renowned for his tireless enthusiasm with an endless stream of inspiration and work ethic that developed from his own industrious parents and poor upbringing. Foster decided at an early age that he would also prove himself just as indefatigable but that he would turn it around into something considerable and memorable. He developed a passion for airplanes and models at a young age and remembers his first drawing being that of an airplane and imagining what it was like to be inside the machine, to be in control of the machine, the rising and sinking of the air, the way the wind reacts to the shape of the machine and curves over the engine and most importantly how the rivets bring together the sheets of metal. This is very much how he still today approaches the design of his structures. For anyone who has had the lucky chance of driving across the Millau Viaduct in the South of France, you will almost know what it is to be a bird gliding through the clouds. He takes on the somewhat poetic and spiritual dimension of a building, – i.e. not so much how a building looks, but how it makes you feel.

SP105_027 SP105_029 SP105_032

30 St Mary Axe was completed in 2003, measuring in at 591 ft, more than half its originally-planned height. The building cuts it’s energy use in half through intentional gaps in the floor that provides a natural ventilation system called passive solar design, a giant double-glazing effect that sucks out the warm air in summer and insulates during winter. The glass panelled perimeter are joined together in triangulation (one of the strongest structural shapes known to man that also cuts down on the amount of steel used), that spiral round to the top dome, controlling any wind-excited sways. The shafts also allow for extra light passing through the building, making it a more uplifting experience for the people working inside. 10,000 tonnes of steel and 24,000 sq m of glass was used in its external construction and regardless of its round façade the only round piece of glass to be used is the ‘lens’ that sits at the very top. The interior is surprisingly no-frills and understated. Am I disappointed? Far from it, because the main point about the space is the view it affords and the light to inspire the working minds. Many call Foster the “Mozart of Architects” in the fact that he makes something incredibly complex appear very simple and refined.

norman foster30 st mary axe sketchNorman Foster sketch for 30 st mary axedesigns for 30 st mary axe

the building of 30 st mary axethe building of 30 st mary axeabseilers level 40 - grant smith ©the building of 30 st mary axethe building of 30 st mary axespider installation © Grant Smith 2003

Foster was famous for being one of the first to introduce a ‘social utopia’ to the work space, to join the worker and the manager, which up until then had been almost unheard of in the workspace. This radical idea very much stemmed from his progressive education at Yale University and his training by such luminary architects as Paul Rudolph (who studied with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard), Serge Chemayeff and Vincent Scully. Incidentally, it was also the place where he met future collaborators and life-long friends Richard Rogers and Anthony Hunt. Through long road trips across America with Rogers and Hunt, Foster came to idolise the American style of building, and more specifically the skyscraper.

30 st mary axe entrance30 st mary axe entrance30 st mary axe entrance30 st mary axe entrance30 st mary axe restaurant30 st mary axe restaurantvisat from 30 st mary axe restaurant30 st mary axe 'lens' dome30 st mary axe restaurantvista from 30 st mary axe barvista from 30 st mary axe barvista from 30 st mary axe barvista from 30 st mary axe bar30 st mary axe bar30 st mary axe bar30 st mary axe bar

“Architecture for me moves the spirit in all the senses”, offers Foster. When you carefully consider the fact that round buildings usually involve spectators looking to the centre, but 30 St Mary Axe turns everything on its head with the person inside drawn to what’s going on in the world outside. Everything is circumspect, you are given the widest possible point of view, yet when observed externally you remain shielded and the exterior world remains non-the-wiser of what goes on inside, – a double entendre, whether intentional or not. The magnificence of 30 St Mary Axe derives not only from its simplistic aesthetic but also in it its spiritual dimension. I hope in years to come that the authorities at London View Management Framework will deem 30 St Mary Axe a priority in their sightlines of London. Not in the same league as St. Paul’s…but at least with the same respect.

30 st mary axe - stephanie wolff ©

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Design, Interiors, Landmarks of London, London | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

PADDOCK: Cabinet War Room 2

“ A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

[Sir Winston Churchill]

Churchill & Generals 7 May 1945 (Ismay & Hollis standing)On a quite side street in the leafy heights of Neasden & Dollis Hill that screams suburban mediocrity, there is a door on a most non-descript brick wall that is in fact the entrance to one of WWII’s biggest secrets. For this door leads to what was intended as Churchill’s emergency Cabinet War Rooms during the war in response to the prospect that Whitehall’s war citadel was not immune from a direct hit by Hitler’s Luftwaffe. The site of Chartwell Court, 151 Brook Street was the pioneering communications research station (officially the Post Office Research and Development Station of Dollis Hill) where Tommy Flowers built Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, before it was moved to Bletchley Park in order to aid break the Enigma code. Its conception came about as a result of the panic caused after the Munich Agreement of 1938. The settlement permitted the Nazi Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia’s borders that were inhabited by German speakers. It became know as the failed and final act of appeasement towards Hitler and prompted Neville Chamberlain and the other major powers of Europe to re-evaluate their own defences. It’s a perfect case of cloak and dagger, for until recently, the general public have not known of its existence and more surprisingly, even the government forgot where they had built it.

paddock aerial view

paddock - old building entrance

paddock map

paddock upper basement plan

paddock sub basement plan


The final proposal for an underground, bombproof war headquarters was put forward on October 14th, 1938. Sir Warren Fisher (Permanent Secretary of the Treasury and the first ever Head of the Home Civil Service), Major General L C Hollis (Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee) and General Sir Hastings Ismay (Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defense) headed the undercover operation of building the two-storey citadel 40 feet below ground. A facsimile of CWR1 in Whitehall, the 37 rooms incorporated a map room, a Cabinet room to seat up to 30 people and ancillary offices. A 5ft layer of concrete formed the protective ‘roof’, making it near impossible to destroy. The entrance was discreetly hidden inside the GPO research station as a decoy to suspicious eyes. Construction amounted to £250,000 and was completed in 18 months. Essential staff instantly manned the site in readiness for the unfolding threats of WWII. The codename ‘Paddock’ was coined by Winston Churchill (who succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister on May 10th 1940), perhaps in reference to the adjacent Willesden Paddocks racing stables on Paddock Road. When the Blitz of London began on September 7th 1940, Churchill immediately came to inspect Paddock, suggesting that the War Cabinet give it a dry run to ensure the bunker was capable of realizing its purpose, stating, “We must make sure that the centre of Government functions harmoniously and vigorously. This would not be possible under conditions of almost continuous air raids. A movement to Paddock by echelons of the War Cabinet, War Cabinet Secretariat, Chiefs of Staff Committee and Home Forces GHQ must now be planned and may even begin in some minor respects. War Cabinet Ministers should visit their quarters in Paddock and be ready to move there at short notice. They should be encouraged to sleep there if they want quiet nights. All measures should be taken to render habitable both the Citadel and Neville’s Court. Secrecy cannot be expected but publicity must be forbidden.” However, after Paddock hosted its first Cabinet meeting on October 3rd 1940, Churchill realized how damp and claustrophobic the conditions were inside the bunker. He wrote, “The accommodation at Paddock is quite unsuited to the conditions which have arisen. The War Cabinet cannot live and work there for weeks on end…Paddock should be treated as a last resort.” A second meeting utilized Paddock on March 10th 1941, but more as a PR stunt to dazzle the Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. The meeting was chaired by Clement Attlee (the Lord Privy Seal and eventual successor as Prime Minister to Churchill), since Churchill had a sudden case of bronchial cold. In June 1941 the Axis alliance turned their attentions toward Russia and it suddenly became apparent that Paddock might not be required at all. The site was reduced to a skeleton of staff. When the German threat of V-weapons became apparent in 1943, Churchill decided to use the purpose-built North Rotunda (‘Anson’) in Westminster instead and had all the best furnishings moved over from Paddock. In 1944 the site had become superfluous and was locked up and left forsaken. The research Station closed in 1974 with the Post Office moving out in 1976 and since the 1980’s the site has been left to the forces of nature. When the land was rebuilt with new housing in 1998, Brent Council made it a requirement to maintain the bunker, to pump out the two feet of water that had seeped in over the years and to make safe and open it up to the public twice a year.

main entrance

main entrance paddock

entrance stairs

main entrance and airlock

paddock upper basement spine

paddock upper basement stalactites

paddock upper basement condensation

paddock upper basement room

paddock stalactites

upper basement stalactites

upper basement room

upper basement stalagmites

paddock upper basement stalagmites

paddock upper basement ceiling

paddock air conditioning plant room-1

paddock air conditioning plant room-2

paddock air conditioning plant room-3

upper basement air vents

paddock filter room

spiral staircase to sub-basement

south end spiral staircase to sub-basement

sub-basement spiral staircase

paddock sub-basement filtration plant

control cabinet for standby generator

sub-basement standby generator

map room-windows for naval army & air force offices

paddock map room

message/telegraph hatch of map room

sub-basement map room

BBC studio

radio studio

paddock cabinet war room - n.b. extractor fans for heavy smokers

paddock sub-basement room-3

paddock sub-basement room-1

paddock sub-basement room-2

paddock main distribution frame

dust covers over batch of relays on the main distribution frame

GPO main distribution frame

upper basement emergency exit

paddock kitchen


paddock wall mould

paddock sub-basement spine

Although the pumps are still in place, a dark, mildewy and dank undercurrent still pervades. The mould and condensation hinders inquisitive fingers and the scarcity of furniture, the disparaged clues of its former life, the deafening drip-dripping from stalactite to stalagmite that penetrates the solitude, the stifling lack of fresh air reminds you of a sadness born of a life unlived, a vision unfulfilled. Such a massive effort was afforded in its undertaking: with blast-proof doors; massive ventilation shafts to combat all the heavy-smoking; a BBC studio and broadcasting room with fitted acoustic tiles; map rooms complete with window views to the army, naval and air forces; a battery storage room with floor tiles to combat corrosion from leaking battery fluid; tiny message and telegraph hatches; and even angled light fittings to highlight the map-room walls, – and for what? You can take it either way: nostalgia and remorse for its unfulfilled role in the war effort: or relief in the knowledge that we didn’t need to use it. Utilizing it would have meant that Hitler was gaining the upper hand. Churchill brought much wisdom and courage to the people of Britain during the darkest days of the war. He once famously said, “ A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I believe Churchill saw the importance of Paddock for the sole reason that he hoped he would not have to use it, that not using it meant we were not defeated. The fact that Churchill disliked the space inside Paddock is also completely understandable, – it’s not supposed to be a livable or breathable space. Hitler eventually gave up bombing London because Londoners simply got back up, dusted themselves off and started rebuilding again. He could not get the better of the spirit of the British people…which is why the rousing words of Churchill played such an important to his people…as did the idea of Paddock to Churchill.

PADDOCK is open to the public in September each year as part of the Open House Weekend. (2013 dates – September 21st & 22nd)

Posted in Architecture, Blitz, Buildings, Historic, Landmarks of London, London, Military Citadels, Parliament, War | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Deutsche Bank Art Collection

“Art builds. Art questions. Art transcends borders. Art works.”­

(A philosophy by Deutsche Bank)


[Turning the World Upside Down III’, 1996 by Anish Kapoor and ‘Biotin-Maleimide’, 1995 by Damien Hirst]

‘Diversity’, – it’s a word frequently used by Deutsche Bank as a way of analysing and solving problems, to methodically examine from all angles using different mindsets. This, DB hopes, will lead to an acceptance of all views of all ages and cultures on the global stage of business and banking. This also may be the key factor as to why DB started its art programme 30 years ago that now amasses the largest corporate art collection throughout the world. If you imagine the way our brains function, with the left side dealing with logic and the right with emotion, DB understands that to have a well rounded perspective you need to activate both sides of your brain. Since the late 1970’s DB has been cultivating and championing artistic brilliance, of both established and emerging talent, as a way of a) supporting the arts and b) of bringing stimulation, inspiration and enjoyment to both their clients and colleagues. The collection is not, as one might suspect, an investment. There is no storeroom, it’s all out there on the trading floors, offices and meeting rooms that span 70 countries and is accessed daily by over 100,000 employees. Prize pieces of the collection include works by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor. I am fortunate enough to be given a private tour of Winchester House in the heart of the City of London by curator Alistair Hicks.


The rules of the selection process are thus laid bare. DB’s intentions are to garner talent that has endurance and a length of life, meaning that new graduates are often over-looked simply due to their fallout rate. Auction houses are not approached because DB want to directly support the artists. Alistair Hicks is the networker of DB’s Art Programme, who scours the galleries and studios of the U.K. for emerging talent. The works are mainly of figurative and abstract content and are considerate in the sense that they are not setting themselves up to offend. “There’s a line that has to be drawn”, claims Alistair, and so for this reason you will not find any suggestive nudes or themes that might be distasteful to certain cultures or beliefs. There are 3-4 annual meetings where the art committee (comprised of departmental executives) decide on around 20 additions to the collection. The average price paid for a piece is £1000 and the average age of an artist is 20 to 35 years. Generally, the pieces are of photographic, print or paper format, of modest size in a way to make it approachable even to the faintest of art lovers. DB rarely commissions work, reasoning that it might impinge on the artistic process. Key factors for approval are the marriage of expressiveness, emotion, innovation and longevity. Ultimately, and quite understandably, the budget for art purchasing is the first thing to be cut when DB revenue is down.


Guided through the conference rooms and upper floor offices (that take on the names of the presiding artist), the sounds are hushed and the décor sober. The annunciation comes from the art itself, softly spoken, yet very much in evidence. I almost miss the Francis Bacon…but not quite. However, it’s when you get to the 2 main entrance halls that reduces you to a state of fixated awe. In the Great Winchester Street entrance you are confronted by Anish Kapoor’s ‘Turning the World Upside Down III’, an enormous inverted sphere inside a sphere that gives the viewer a reflection of himself and surroundings upside down when viewed face on. In other words, walking past it every morning, employees are forced to see themselves from a different perspective. On the far wall hangs ‘Biotin-Maleimide’, one of Damien Hirst’s ubiquitous Spot Paintings. Crossing the foyer to the London Wall access we are confronted by Keith Tyson’s mind-blowing polyptych, ‘12 Harmonics’, a series of 12 paintings specially commissioned by DB. Each panel is loosely based on a number from 1-12, and using symbols and symmetry explores ideas, theories and varied concepts of our world. On introducing his work to 400 employees, says Alistair, “Keith explained that the 12 pieces explain how parallel systems work in the world”, a theory that can be applied to all walks of life. Like all great art, the audience has their own personal response to these panels in accordance to how you view the world. Alternately, you can walk past this piece on 100 occasions and see something different every time. The overall experience is quite intense, a feeling that you do not get in a normal art gallery. It feels half way between you happening upon someone’s personal home collection to a gallery space that caters for one viewer at a time. A privileged experience indeed. And beside each piece comes a mini bio about the artist. Staff and investors are frequently invited on guided tours of the DB art collection as well as artist studio visits, so there’s an educational element for a better understanding of the arts with its varied levels of communication that will hopefully reflect in business terms. All London employees are also given ‘culture cards’ that gives free access to most major art galleries.


[Francis Bacon ‘Study for a Pope Innocent X’, 1989]


[Jorma Puranen, ‘Icy Prospects #18’, 2005]


[Jorma Puranen, ‘Icy Prospects #27’, 2005]



[Caro Niederer, ‘Shella and Manda Beach’, 2005]


[Caro Niederer, ‘Shella and Manda Beach’, 2005]


[Anish Kapoor ‘Wounds and Absent objects’, 1998]


[Wang Taocheng, ‘My History’, 2008]


[Ralf Peters ‘Indoors’, 2003]


[Anish Kapoor ‘Turning the World Upside Down III’ 1996]


[Anish Kapoor ‘Turning the World Upside Down III’ 1996]


[Anish Kapoor ‘Turning the World Upside Down III’ 1996]


[Damien Hirst ‘Biotin-Maleimide’, 1995]


[Keith Tyson ’12 Harmonics’, 2011. Image © John Wildgoose]

In an age were banks are crumbling left, right and centre, Deutsche Bank has proved both stalwart and ever productive, and one of the few Banks to still be showing a considerable profit (except for a slight wobble in 2008). In 2012, DB was named ‘Best Global Investment Bank’ in the annual Euromoney Awards, with the International Financing Review acknowledging DB as both ‘Equity House of the Year’ and ‘Bond House of the Year’. This success has come mainly from its break as a German-centric organisation in the last 5 years, with investments growing more towards the global market. But still, these are difficult times and one could question if an office would really miss that nice painting on the wall. Many banks have in fact had to divest their art collections in recent years to help combat their own economic crisis. On September 15th 2008, the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the artist Damien Hirst raised £111,000,000 at Sotheby’s in a direct auction of his works. Weeks later, however, the contemporary art index fell 20% and works by Hirst were failing to sell in the US. Has modern art seen its day as a form of investment? 


[Keith Tyson ’12 Harmonics’, 2011. Image © John Wildgoose]

Whatever the argument, DB has never seen art purchasing from this angle. For them, it’s a mind-release from the stats and numerical spaghetti-junction of investment banking. Alistair finishes by saying, “we’re very lucky that the concept was actually designed back in the 70’s and it was designed as much for the difficult times as good times. The idea was to make the art a small but integral part of the company’s DNA and because of that we do not spend extravagantly. It’s very cost effective, – if you’d given the job of making the walls for the last 30 years to a designer, decorator or architect it would have cost 20 times as much.” We should also remember that Art always has the last laugh. In archaeological terms, the things we create determine best how we are remembered. You can tell so much about the attitudes of an era from the clothes, implements, wall markings and art that we create, more so than written historical documents because they speak our needs in expressionistic and emotional terms. Deutsche Bank has shown humanity in their valiant support for the arts, and a wish for longevity that I hope will in time reflect back on them. 


For more reading on DB’s Art Collection

An explanation on the ’12 Harmonics’ by Keith Tyson

N.B. Viewing the collection is by appointment only and can be arranged through the Contemporary Art Society. A large selection of DB’s art can also be viewed each year at the Frieze Art Fair.




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