BOMPAS & PARR: An earnest discourse with Sam Bompas on all things wobbly.

[Harry Parr, left, Sam Bompas, right]

It was the red velvet bow tie that caught my eye first…then the huge fluffy winter coat…then the electric green Turnbull & Asser socks…then the sharp, windswept slant of a blonde quiff…then the perfect pouty lips. There was nothing else for it, – I simply had to say hello. For Sam Bompas, – jellymonger, architectural foodsmith, cuisine conjuror, and one half of Bompas & Parr, – is one of those people that you just don’t easily forget. His natty mien, as he himself proclaims, is ‘Vincent Price on ether’ due to his penchant for fluorescent slime green. A lasting ramification from his mother’s fancy dress parties that now blurs the line between work and play for both Sam and his partner Harry Parr. Placed together as children in Eton’s school orchestra and reciprocal in their apparent lack of skill (Sam on the violin, Harry on the cello.), a friendship arose that grew beyond their school days when one night Harry cooked a feast of sorts that culminated in a show-stopping jelly…thus beginning the adventures of ‘Bompas &Parr’.

[mercedes drive thru]

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

bompas & parr - mercedes drive thru

How one could feasibly believe there was a niche in the market for jelly is beyond anyone, but ‘niche’ is indeed what they have found. Their first venture saw a table full of architectural jelly shapes concluding with an unintentional food fight, that has followed up with glow-in-the-dark gin & tonic jelly,  ‘Absinthe Jelly Ronson’ created specially for DJ Mark Ronson’s  birthday bash, aphrodisiac jellies in the form of boobs , ‘flaming jelly’ and even an entire Christmas dinner jelly. Sam recalls, “with a distinctly misguided spirit of adventure, we once created an entire Christmas dinner in one tall and very wobbly striped jelly. There were layers of sprouts, parsnips, potatoes, stuffing, bread sauce and, of course, turkey consommé studded with artfully positioned mini sausages and bacon rashers…(with) foothills made of champagne, burgundy, port and sherry.” It’s this principal guideline of humour, precariousness and escapade that permeates through all of Sam & Harry’s work. Since setting up business together in 2007, Sam and Harry have ventured with Alcoholic Architecture with a breathable gin & tonic, an Architectural Punchbowl where they flooded a Robert Adam building with 4 tonnes of Courvoisier Punch enough for 25,000 people, Scratch & Sniff Cinema where key moments of the Peter Greenaway film ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ were accentuated with such aromas as rotting meat and dusty books, flavour-changing chewing gum, levitating plates of strawberries, a five tonne chocolate waterfall and the roof of Selfridges that was transformed into a green lake complete with boats and a waterfall to row through. (umbrellas were kindly provided in full knowledge of how easy it is to row a boat and hold the implement at the same time) The following year saw the exact same roof converted into a mini golf course with punters having to cautiously monoeuver around a setting of giant cakes. In the last 3 consecutive years Sam and Harry have also found the time to churn out their illustrious and eye-popping books ‘Jelly’ (includes both a wedding and funeral jelly), ‘Cocktails’ (ether cocktail and the “blisteringly expensive” Royal Usquebaugh) and the latest ‘Feasting’ (caped turkey and glitter ham!), – all focussing on the creative and spectacular side of cooking and entertaining.

[chocolate waterfall]

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

bompas & parr - chocolate waterfall

While Sam seems content in imagining up the fantastical narrative side of things and deliberating the audience reaction, it comes down to Harry and his architectural learning to look at the plausibility and technicalities of each project, which is what makes the whole operation sound. They function together like shadow and light, a yin to the other’s yang, creating a perfection in balance. Sam recalls, “our best ideas come out of Harry and I having a massive argument. I hate what Harry comes out with and he thinks half of what I say is rubbish, but what we get at the end is better than anything either of us could come up with on our own.”

[the truvia voyage of discovery]

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

bompas & parr - the truvia voyage of discovery

When you stand back from it all you have to admit that it is the kind of job you can only dream of, I mean, hands up who didn’t want to be Willy Wonka when they were growing up? To have taken a bonkers idea to such extraordinary heights and make it financially viable is simply unheard of. When the famed Victorian chef Alexis Soyer took over Gore House (now the Royal Albert Hall) in 1850 for his pop-up dining experience, ‘Soyer’s Universal Symposium of All Nations’ to coincide with the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, so extravagant was the undertaking that they were forced to close the doors at the end of the exhibition with a loss of £7000. The Standard reported on Monday April 28th, 1851, – “You enter the doorway, and stand in the Vestibule de la Fille de L’Orage, you read, ‘Soyer’s Symposium’, struck by arrows of lightning from a hand clenched convulsively over the head.  From this you pass into L’atelier de Michel Ange, the walls of which are covered with the existent marvels of architectural and engineering art – the Pyramids, the Palace of Westminster, St. Paul’s, Pompey’s Pillar, the Tubular Bridge, and the like, shouldering each other with amusing defiance of time and concord.  Turning to the right, the visitor finds himself in what once was the Blessington Library, but now La Salle du Parnasse in plainer and less metaphorical English, a spacious dining-room, brilliantly fitted with mirrors, marble consoles, and Grecian vases, the prevailing characteristic of white and gold being extremely effective, and affording a delicate contrast to the ‘Salle des Noces de Danaë, the speciality of which is the Alhambra spirit of the ceiling, displayed in its gorgeous varieties of colour, while gem-like tears cover the pale green walls, dropping, as it were, from the heavily gilt cornice.  The eight globes of silvered glass which are to hang here will produce an ensemble, when reflecting the floods of gas with which the salle will be charged of which, we can form but little conception….the ante-chambers of the mansion of which is striped and starred a la Jonathan.. La Cabinet de la Pompadour – embellished with  flutings of white and pink, and a triumphant arch of roses and foliage; La Foret Peruvienne, the colour of which is blue.. La Chambre ardents d’Apollon a circular apartment, intended for the Ghebirs, who can, if they like, before they eat their curried spiders, prostrate themselves before the before the brazen sun which fills half the plafond with its circumference..Grotte des Neiges Eternelles encrusted with sparkling pendents…Vintage Palazzo, Italian Saloon enclosed in a trellised gallery overhung with vine leaves, through which the eye looks upon the plains of Lombardy, the fastnesses of Calabris, and the ruins of Campagns…Bourdoir de la Valliere, enter the state bed-chamber, papered with zig-zag stripes and diagonal bands of black velvet and silver lace… Pagode du Cheval de Bronze, Chinese hall, tea-chest, crimson curtains, statuettes of Fo and Buddha, fat-bodied bronzes and lantern.”

[feast book launch]

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

bompas & parr - feast book launch

The theatrical immersion of Soyer strikes very similar to the heart of what Sam and Harry are trying to achieve. However, they take it one step further in the fact that the audience has to participate and becomes part of the experience. For example, with the chocolate waterfall, one had to walk the rickety bridge over the cascading chocolate, without doing an Augustus Gloop, in order to bottle your own prize, and with the Truvia lake on top of Selfridges one had to row through a waterfall and completely drench oneself in order to reach the cocktail bar. The pioneering Soyer went on to introduce gas ovens and portable cookers that enabled the setting up of soup kitchens in the Irish Great Famine (1845-52) and hospital catering during the Crimean War. He cooked flamboyant feasts for Royalty and High Society, yet died a penniless man. He lived beyond his years and beyond his purse strings. In short, he had the vision but not the sense to go with it. This is why I think Sam and Harry have got it right. They have a strong team, friends and family that are always ready to muck in and backers that believe they can go all the way. Besides…it is their time. And with my own Willy Wonka dreams firmly dashed, I can only comfort myself in the knowledge that two people out there actually made the realization come true, are having their cake (or should I say jelly) and eating it too.

[cocktails book launch]

bompas & parr - cocktails book launch

bompas & parr - cocktails book launch

bompas & parr - cocktails book launch

I managed to corner Sam to explain himself…

Your work encompasses so many extraordinary skills and feats, just how would you coin your job description – food magicians, sensatory chefs perhaps? We’re not exactly precious about labels and definitions. Over the last year we’ve exhibited at the Garage Centre of Contemporary Culture, built a cake based crazy golf course on the roof of Selfridges, published a book on feasting and fabricated cooking equipment from the dawn of time. The most important thing is doing epically brilliant work. These days there are no boundaries to creativity. It can make for a confusing and furious life though. We’re quite competitive this means all cooks, architects, designers, artists, photographer, art directors and curators are potential rivals. At the moment it takes so long to explain the sorts of things we do that at parties I just say I’m an accountant.

What’s a normal day on the plate of Sam? Is it glow-in-the-dark jelly for breakfast, popping candy for lunch, breathable gin and tonic as an aperitif before donut burgers for dinner? Do you have any particular favourite restaurants in London? For the most part our noses are two the grindstone. A great shame as this means Topps Pizza, and the local news agent (for beers) benefit most from our business. Hardly fine dining but it keeps us buzzed on a sugar, fat, salt high. Given the chance we escape to the Boot and Flogger, the UK’s only venue allowed to serve alcohol without license. The owner is a freeman of the city and Vintner so gets a special dispensation. Or we go for meat at Hawksmoor; their dishes are savage. On grand occasions, high days and celebrations Viajante holds the key. Nuno Mendes is the master.

When planning events, where’s your starting point, – the ingredient, the narrative, or the location? Projects involve joining up a whole constellation of ideas, locations, ingredients, skills and resources. The trick is to try to conceive something that you don’t totally know how to do. That way you learn on the way and get another tool for the box. The more tools in the box the better.

The spaces you and Harry create often render the audience to regress to childhood delight, a playground for adults of sorts. Would this be intentional on your part? We don’t go for childishness but do rather encourage visitors to lose their inhibition. The best installations will induce the sensual pleasure of childhood enhanced with the learning that comes with age. So you may be boating across a lake of alcoholic punch (Architectural Punch Bowl) but this experience is further enchanted by the months of research, design, collaboration with engineers, architects, mixologists and so forth that support the project.

Does it bother you that people constantly compare you and Harry to Willy Wonka and Heston Blumenthal? It can take quite a long time to explain what we do so it can be handy for people to use references. It’s cool if they want to do this. After all both Heston Blumenthal and Willl Wonka have been hugely inspirational and guiding stars.  Harry is actually at Dinner in the Manderin Oriental right now. He’s been taken for his 30th Birthday.

What do your friends and family reckon on your work? At first they probably though it was absurd, but they’ve all been valiant in providing support. Our parents have been staunch allies when we chucked in proper jobs to work with jelly. At the Jelly Banquet (one of the first events we did) Harry’s parents were the first on site fixing up the 10m self-wobbling jelly table while mine were the last off site. At the time we hadn’t realised that 2000 people jelly wrestling and having a jelly fight would cause such a mess! We are hugely grateful.

You didn’t train as a chef, so how do you get your knowledge and expertise? Do you seek advice from other chefs? Do they ever turn their nose up at your food designs? We’ve now worked in the food industry longer than any other industry. Is that a qualification? In all fairness we don’t set ourselves up in competition to chefs. On many occasions we have been lucky enough to work alongside and learn from some of our culinary heroes. It was pretty wild doing the dessert course for a dinner the mighty Fergus Henderson was cooking for the Oxford Food Symposium some years back. We ended up realising the Great Fire of London in jelly spread across 6 tables.

You’ve certainly found your niche, but before things became big, did you have your doubts? The key is to just plug away.

You’ve moved away from jelly more recently, any plans of it making a comeback or have you taken it as far as it can go? What other tricks have you got planned for the future? The jelly is still a strong theme. Each week we work on several jelly commissions and the strange thing is there’s still more to explore with the medium. Probably my favourite project this year was jelly based setting Brunel’s SS Great Britain in a fruity gel matrix. The lime jelly measured the length of two Olympic swimming pools and weighed 55 tonnes. I guess it’s a world record. And the future? Next year’s pretty busy. We’re fairly well booked up. First up is an ice project with scanLAB who voyaged to the Arctic to survey the disappearing iceflows. Check out their release attached. We’ll be providing visitors to their show at the Architecture Association with Talisker based lollies. They’ll be exact scale replicas of the ice flows they scanned so you can run your tongue over the grooves of the disappearing forms of Arctic ice.

Your parents took you to Dennis Severs’ House as a young child, – was your childhood quite progressive and was there a big encouragement in your creative growth? My mother’s an art teacher and father is a wonderful storyteller. Beyond that they were determined to let me make my own choices (and mistakes) in life.

You often cite the innovative chef Alexis Soyer as a great influence. What mainly attracts you to him and do you often look to the past for ideas? Soyer is an absolute hero of ours. The Victorian equivalent of Jamie Oliver, a showman with great swagger and panache but with a big enough heart to try to solve the Irish Potato Famine. We look to the past as history is a great editor. If something is still being printed or documented 200 years down the line it’s probably pretty good. There’s an added bonus too. If you look to the past for ideas no-one’s alive to accuse you of ripping of their work. Being dead, they can’t punch you out at the next soiree. That said there’s no point slavishly copying. You’ve got to find your own way to make it special. At least if you are looking at projects that are hundreds of years old they aren’t all over the internet which is where everyone else is looking. We spend a good deal of time tearing through the archives of the London Library. There’s a great wealth of forgotten knowledge that can be used to re-enchant what people put in their mouths. Every so often we’ll run to ground an obscure menu, ancient food treatise or most recently a Memoir of a Stomach that will serve as inspiration for a future project.

Tell me about the dynamics of the way you and Harry work together? Since Harry studied architecture, does he concern himself with structural soundness and you with the visual soundness, or do you mix roles around a bit? The best analogy is probably restaurant based. I do the front of house work while Harry is the powerhouse in the kitchen with all the heat and sweat that entails.

Your first event apparently ended in a massive food fight. Is this true? The Jelly Banquet descended into an all out jelly fight. The greatest London has ever known. It took a solid five hours to clean up and stained an entire lawn red for weeks.

Choose 5 people, living or dead, that you would love to cook a feast for.

Ivan Day – the brilliant food historian (alive)

Vincent Price – horror actor and connoisseur (dead)

Josephine Baker – rights activist, spy, banana dancer (dead)

P.T. Barnum – showman, mermaid importer (dead)

Aleister Crowley – mountaineer, Satanist, mixologist (dead)

What 5 household items prove indispensable to the world of Bompas & Parr? Gaffer tape, bin bags, ultrasonic oscillators (used in fish ponds), gelatine, pigs heads.(actually easy to find just ask your butcher)

What has been yours and Harry’s happiest moment so far? Building Alcoholic Architecture a breathable cloud of G&T that intoxicated through the lungs and eyeballs. It was just me, Harry, lovely Robin from Robin Collective and our girlfriends giving it the final paint job yet the results were felt around the world. You never got a hangover either from alcohol by eyeball.

How would you spice up the Christmas celebrations? All our secret tips and tricks are outlined in great detail in Feasting with Bompas & Parr.

Do you have an exciting recipe for a Christmas jelly you could give me?

For sure:

Hippocras Christmas Pudding Jelly

There is real scope to bring back the jelly as a Christmas dessert and alternative to heavy Christmas puddings. Stomachs need to be respected – indeed, the Victorians often referred to them as amiable gentlemen – and a light jelly makes a spectacular and much more manageable alternative. We’ll demonstrate that you can ditch the Christmas pudding but lose none of the traditions. For this jelly, we use a recipe once enjoyed by Henry VIII and which the notorious serial killer Gilles de Rais called ‘Jelly Hippocras‘. As with traditional Christmas pudding, it’s important that 13 ingredients are used to represent Jesus and his disciples. Interestingly, Christmas puddings were banned by the Puritans in 1664 for being lewd. If they had seen the wobble on this Christmas pudding, they’d have been even more shocked. The golden age of jelly and the origins of Modern Christmas both come from the same period: the Victorians are responsible for both. Christmas trees were not popularized until 1848, when the Royal Family were pictured standing in front of one. At this date, jelly was considered a fine centrepiece and was often laid along the table for the entirety of the meal. Sadly, jellies no longer take centre stage at Christmas, though they continue to play important supporting rolls. We’re all familiar with cranberry and red-currant jelly. And jams and preserves, close relatives to jellies, come in to their own at this time of year, as fresh fruit is in short supply. The Victorians set lots of small keepsakes within their Christmas puddings, which were used to foretell the future. If you set items in the jelly, you can do the same. If you discover a ring, the next year brings true love; coins bring wealth; and thimbles are the booby prize. If you get this in your pudding, you remain single forever!

To make the Hippocras

Hippocras improves with resting, but if you don’t plan a meal a month in advance it will still be just fine. This recipe give you more than you will need for a Christmas pudding for four, so you can serve the rest at drinks parties around the festive period.

3 bottles red wine

200g/7oz/1cup sugar

1  cinnamon stick

2 tsp ground gigner

1 tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp crushed cardammon seeds

10 black peppercorns pinchr

All you have to do is add everything to a large stock pot and place heat gently for 1 hour. At this point, it can be strained and stored in sterilized bottles as necessary. Traditionally, the wine would steep in the spices for a week or more before being strained.

To make the Christmas Pudding Jelly

5 leaves of gelatine

500ml/18fl oz/generous 2 cups hippocras

2 tsp rasins

2 tsp candied citrus peel

1 ring

1 small coin

1 thimble

Cut the leaf gelatine into a heatproof bowl with a pair of scissors. Add 100ml/3½fl oz/scant ½ cup of  hippocras to cover the gelatine. Leave the gelatine to soften for 10 minutes. Bring a pan of water to the boil and place the bowl of softened gelatine on top of the pan. Once the gelatine has totally melted, add the rest of the hippocras to the mixture before passing the lot through a sieve (strainer) and back into a bowl. Place the bowl with the cooling jelly over a larger bowl filled with ice. Now stir until the mixture starts to thicken. At this point, you can add the raisins, candied peel and metal! You need to stir the jelly to the point that you can get all your objects evenly distributed but not so much that the jelly is excessively lumpy. It still has to be able to fill all the contours of your mould (or pudding basin). When the jelly is just right, encourage it into a mould and place in the refrigerator to finish setting. All that’s now left is to unmould the jelly and discover who is going to be unlucky in love for the rest of their life. If you’re going all out, garnish the jelly with holy and pour over 1 tablespoon of rum before igniting the jelly. Happy Christmas!

Lastly, your fantasy party – what, where, who and why? At the moment it is probably this fellow: ‘Horses up the Skyscraper’ (1903): The millionaire C. K. Billings held a feast for the Equestrian club of New York at the top of a skyscraper. Billings brought 32 horses up to Louis Sherry’s restaurant in the lift. Guests ate on horseback, ripping into pheasant in feed bags and drinking champagne from rubber casks.

Party on!

bompas & parr - feast book launch

Now Available at most good bookshops:

Jelly-with-Bompas-and-Parr-1

f84c12_0ba6994bbd660f3f6c1d2ade7a538ba0.jpg_1024

9781862059382

WISHING YOU ALL AN AMAZING CHRISTMAS & NEW YEAR!

Posted in Alternative Living, Celebration, Christmas, Design, Events, Food and Drink, For kids, Interesting Men | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Secret Gardens and Hideaways of South London

The Shard - Southwark

North and South: the great divide of our ‘united kingdom’. Southerners just love to compartmentalize Northerners as uncouth hard nuts who drink too much, whereas Northerners love to pigeonhole Southerners as softies who don’t drink enough. This North & South stereotyping also translates to London where the choice is simple, you’re either one or the other, but definitely not both. It’s an intrinsic and deep-rooted sense of right and wrong, of heaven and hell, where for one, the other simply has nothing to offer, – “not my scene”, “nothing to do”, “dangerous on the streets at night”, “can’t understand their incoherent claptrap”, etc, etc. As you all know, I am a bit of a ‘London whore’, – I’ll go anywhere as long as the money’s right. However, having spent 90% of my life residing above the northern shores of the Thames I can only fairly concede that I am firmly in the North camp. This is not to say that I am quick to dismiss what the South has to offer, on the contrary, on contemplating this last instalment of my Secret Gardens and Hideaways of London, I very much revelled in the idea of getting lost around Borough and Bermondsey. And what else could I expect? For every quaint corner of Clapham, Putney, Dulwich and Greenwich there’s the divergent Tooting, Peckham, Lewisham or Plumstead Common. But maybe these polar vibes are exactly what makes South London so exciting and unique to itself. Up until a while back, South of the river was regarded as outside the city limits. No buildings of great note were built here. The fact that Renzo Piano decided to plant his Shard in the heart of Southwark more recently has indicated that the tide has indeed turned. And so for my last green jaunt of London, here goes the South…

SURREY DOCKS FARM

This working city farm stands intrepidly in the shadows of Canary Wharf and other structural monsters of the Isle of Dog’s Quarterdeck. It gives families the chance to appreciate and observe non-caged animals at close hand. There are educational possibilities concerning not only farming but about food production, animal welfare, cooking and nutrition. The farm’s Café is fronted by Craig Morris, who creates a daily specials board loosely based around the produce of the farm and neighbouring markets. However, don’t be surprised if one of the stray chickens ends up as a luncheon companion. It’s all part of the fun.

[map]

canary wharf - london

surrey docks farm - london

IMG_1825

IMG_1812

IMG_1811

IMG_1821

IMG_1824

surrey docks farm - london

IMG_1834

IMG_1830

IMG_1829IMG_1835

surrey docks farm - london

canary wharf - london

LASSCO – BRUNSWICK HOUSE

This lone Georgian mansion stands forsaken amidst the spaghetti junction mayhem of Vauxhall. The architectural salvage company Lassco shares the premises with the Brunswick House Café, where you can sit amongst the random hodgepodge of splendid antiques while perusing the concise yet rather sumptuous menu. The standards for food and cocktails are very high here, in spite of the decors undisciplined manner. It’s idiosyncratic, unique and cool without trying too hard. Jackson Boxer started the café slowly in 2010 with only £1000 saved in tips. He only recently managed to buy a proper oven for the kitchen, showing that he is less concerned for big corporate ideas and targets and more about doing it with thought and care.

[map]

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

lassco brunswick house - london

BONNINGTON SQUARE GARDENS

The Bonnington Square community has evolved from being a bombsite during WWII to a derelict playground and squat during the 70’sand 80’s, to the co-operative housing and gardens that it is now. The ‘Pleasure Garden and Paradise Project’ has brought local residents together to lay claim to the wasteland to stop developers from buying it. The gardens and square sidewalks are lovingly maintained, with shrubs and tropical plants climbing even higher than the houses themselves. The gardens are an homage to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens that used to reside 100m north from here some 300 years ago. The community spirit really comes alive at the Bonnington Café that is run by a worldwide co-operative of chefs that offers great homely and cheap food. If you’re lucky, there could be an impromptu performance on the piano. This square is so off the radar, but you’ll be glad you made the effort.

[map]

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

bonnington square gardens

RED CROSS GARDEN

This newly restored community garden has been preserved to its Victorian glory with the help of Heritage Lottery funding. Originally conceived in 1888 on the site of a derelict paper factory it was celebrated many a concert and fete in its heyday.  The park reopened in 2005.

[map]

red cross garden london

red cross garden london

URBAN PHYSIC GARDEN

It’s essentially a pop-up physic garden that grows and distributes medicinal plants to community spaces all around the neighbourhood. There are lunchtime talks where guests are invited to listen and have lunch at the onsite café, -‘Rambulance’.

[map]

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

urban physic garden southwark

MALTBY/DRUID STREET

The arches of Maltby and Druid Street have become a popular jaunt for the locals of Southwark who have in recent years become bothered by the hoards of tourists at Borough Market. The queues at Monmouth Coffee are so diabolical these days that you need to arrive even before the early birds. Personally, I blame Jamie Oliver zipping around on his Vespa plucking the most superlative selection of vegetables, for the ruination of one of London’s finest secrets, but hey, that’s how it goes these days. One step better is Maltby and Druid Street that serves as the source warehouse for most of Borough market. Not a market in the traditional sense, but more a collective of producers keen to connect directly with their consumer. For this is where Monmouth roast their beans, where St. John bakes its legendary bakery goods (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried one of their custard donuts, seriously), where you can sample the Neal’s Yard entire range of cheeses as well as the freshest oyster stalls and home-smoked salmon. I only hope Jamie doesn’t find out.

[map]

borough market

monmouth coffee - borough market

monmouth coffee - borough market

neals yard - borough market

borough market

borough market

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street

maltby street - st john

maltby street - st john

maltby street

ELTHAM PALACE

Lauded as an art deco masterpiece of modern design, Eltham Palace was designed by Swedish designer Rolf Engstromer for Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930’s. Highlights include the Great Hall, the dramatic Entrance Hall and the main bedroom, complete with an en-suite gold bathroom. But for me the true majesty remains in the surrounding gardens that have a whimsical and fairy-tale quality that will stay with you for a long time yet.

[map]

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace

eltham palace______________________

See other secret gardens:

Central & East London

North London

West London

______________________

steve wheen - the pothole gardener

AVAILABLE TO BUY NOW: Steve Wheen’s (aka the pothole gardener)

‘LITTLE BOOK OF LITTLE GARDENS’

Posted in Animals, Architecture, Buildings, Environmental issues, For kids, Gardening, Gardens, Markets, Organic Living, Outdoors, Parks, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Secret Gardens and Hideaways of Central & East London

“A brilliant morning shines on the old city. Its antiquities and ruins are surpassingly beautiful, with a lusty ivy gleaming in the sun, and the rich trees waving in the balmy air. Changes of glorious light from moving boughs, songs of birds, scents from gardens, woods, and fields – or, rather, from the one great garden of the whole cultivated island in its yielding time – penetrate into the Cathedral, subdue its earthy odour, and preach the Resurrection and the Life. The cold stone tombs of centuries ago grow warm; and flecks of brightness dart into the sternest marble corners of the building, fluttering there like wings.”

(The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens)

St Dunstan-in-the-East

Situated half way between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, this parish church was mostly destroyed by Hitler’s Luftwaffe during the Blitz of WWII and now serves as a public garden. Only the bell tower, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1695, survives intact. Following the War the Anglican Church decided not to rebuild St Dunstan’s, with the City of London Corporation opening it to the public in 1971. Melancholic and romantic in equal measures it just goes to prove that not everything has to be saved.

[map]

______________________

St Mary’s Secret Garden

This horticultural venture in Hackney incorporates four distinct zones – a natural woodland area complete with beehives, a food growing area, a herb garden and a herbaceous border. The garden encourages locals of all ages to use the space as a learning facility and to ultimately strengthen the community spirit as well. (more on st. mary’s secret garden)

[map]

______________________

St Alphage Gardens

This garden surrounds a section of the old London Wall on the edge of the Barbican Centre. Originally part of the northern section of the Roman Fort (built in AD 120) it decomposed and was rebuilt during the Saxon era. A great stop when exploring the rest of London Wall. (more on London Wall)

 

[map]

______________________

Barber Surgeon’s Hall Gardens

Abutting the Museum of London, this stretch of green contains a medieval tower section of the London Wall. If you look closely you can observe how this tower was even used as a home at one point with evidence of modern bricks, stairs to a second floor and the outline of a fireplace. At the end of the garden you will find the enchanting herb garden of Barber-Surgeon’s Hall. (more on London Wall)

[map]

______________________

Postman’s Park

A short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral, this former burial ground has been resurrected as a memorial garden to Heroic Self Sacrifice, in recognition of ordinary people who died saving the lives of others. Each dedication tile pulls the heartstrings, thus transporting the space into a deeply contemplative one. (more on Postman’s Park)

[map]

______________________

Camley Street Natural Park

Hard to believe you’re a stones throw away from Kings Cross rail terminal here. Camley Street Natural Park is two acres of idiosyncratic land sitting snugly on the banks of the Regent’s Canal. Arising in 1984 from it’s former life as a coal yard it progressively kick-started the regeneration of the whole area. The space offers peace and quite primarily, but also an education and a way of engaging Londoners with wildlife in how we can help nurture and protect it amongst the bustle of city life.

[map]

______________________

The Phoenix Garden

This most unforthcoming haven is located amongst the shadows of St Giles-in-the-Fields parish church behind the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross. (It’s okay…I didn’t even know about it’s exsistence till now either!) A community garden built in 1984 on the site of an old car park, that is now maintained by locals using sustainable methods that try to encourage a safe habitat for as many species as possible with the hardiest of plants.

[map]

_______________________

Inns of Court

The white-collar associations for barristers in England and Wales comprising of Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner & Middle Temple. Situated in close proximity of each other between Temple and Chancery Lane tube stations, each Inn of Court provides a self-contained area for barristers to train and practice, providing professional accommodation, library & dining facilities with an adjoined church or chapel. The gardens within these courts are manicured to perfection, have an air of studious and dignified hush, and more importantly are also open to the public.

 

[map]

______________________

Victoria Embankment Gardens

Immediately behind the Savoy, this well hidden green sanctuary serves well as a refuge from the hurly burly of Trafalgar Square and the Strand. It also houses a most grandiose display of memorials.

[map]

______________________

Mount Street Gardens

Originally the burial ground of St George’s of Hanover Square until the 1854 Act of Parliament proscribed interment within central London, this space has since been redeveloped from its workhouse roots into an oasis of calm and colour. And should the plushness of Mount Street’s boutiques or the drinks bill at Scott’s, Harry’s Bar, Le Caprice or the Connaught prove too much…then you’ll know where to catch your breath. (or call the bank manager)

[map]

______________________

Kensington Palace Orangery Gardens

When Queen Anne succeeded the throne from William of Orange in 1702 she took it upon herself to restore to glory the somewhat dilapidated gardens at Kensington, with an ‘orangery’/conservatory completed in 1704 as a summer supper house and a destination for entertaining, of which it still remains today. The gardens are surrounded by a charming tunnel of vines, and provide respite from the hordes herding themselves to and from Kensington Palace.

 

[map]

Posted in Cemeteries, Charles Dickens, Churches, For kids, Gardening, Gardens, Historic, Memorials, Parks, Roman | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Secret Gardens & Hideaways of North London

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

[‘To Autumn’ by John Keats, poet and Hampstead resident]

In continuation of secret gardens and hidden nooks of ‘hush’ across London, I bring you the North…

______________________

St. John’s Lodge Gardens, Regent’s Park 

An extension of the lodge that was completed back in 1819, these grounds had an unceremonious layout until 1888 when its owner the 3rd Marquess of Bute enlisted Robert Weir Shultz to design “a garden fit for meditation”. From within the structural scalloped hedges do creepers run riot and where closeted seating areas allow ones mind to run in leaps and bounds. Situated along Regent’s Park Inner Circle between Chester Road and the Open Air Theatre, it is open daily to the general public and probably the only public space to encourage feet on seats.

[map]

________________________

Regent’s Park Rose Garden Island

My back yard as a child. I’ve always thought of the Regent’s Park, and especially the Rose Garden’s Island as ‘my garden’. I have never really wanted to share the knowledge with a single person and a little bit of me is still today a touch tight-lipped in indulging this scoop. Everything about this island is both Japanese and bijou. The paths are barely big enough for children, let alone adults, but marvelling at the rockery and navigating the stepping stones is as much a joy as it ever was. Situated in Queen Mary’s Garden to the right side of the Jubilee Gates, it is open Monday to Friday.

[map]

______________________

Culpeper Community Garden, Islington

Named after the 17th century herbalist and Islington resident, this land has been metamorphosed by the local community since 1982 to provide a space to illuminate and encourage children to grow and be responsible for plants and vegetables. This hidden oasis provides a space for the broad variety of locals to come together, nurture, chat, harvest and relax. Open every day.

[map]

______________________

Queen’s Wood, Highgate

Abutting the more popular Highgate wood, Queen’s Wood is 70 acres of blissfully undisturbed ancient oak-hornbeam woodland. A few minutes walk from Highgate tube station, once immersed you cannot fathom you are still in London. I even caught myself muttering, “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

[map]

______________________

Fenton House, Hampstead

A 17th century merchant’s house that has been part of the National Trust’s portfolio since 1952. Its large walled garden is home to exquisite topiary greenery, a working kitchen garden and a 300 year old orchard that harvests both apple juice and apple-blossom honey. The view from the top balcony offers not only a sneaky glimpse of Ridley Scott’s garden but also the most breathtaking panorama from possibly London’s highest vantage point. Open Wednesday to Sunday. Check here for entrance fees.

[map]

______________________

The Pergola & Hill Garden, Hampstead

Essentially a raised walkway overlooking breathtaking gardens, the Hampstead Pergola was constructed between 1905 and 1955 by Lord Leverhulme who visioned this Edwardian indulgence for garden parties and summer eventide walks. Saved from dereliction by London County Council and opened to the public in 1963 its faded splendor makes it an impossibly romantic utopia.

[map]

______________________

Hampstead Swimming Ponds

Outdoor swimming in London has never been so wild. And I mean that quite literally. Of all the open lidos and lakes in London, Hampstead’s are by far the most sizeable and secluded. These three freshwater swimming ponds (one female, one male and one mixed sex) are reinforced by the headwater springs of the River Fleet. Originally dug in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs these pools are popular throughout the year. The only word to describe it is ‘exhilerating’. Admission – £2.

[map]

[mixed pond]

[ladies pond]

[mens pond]

_______________________

Next time on London Insight: Secret Gardens of Central and East London

_______________________

Posted in For kids, Gardening, Gardens, Parks, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Secret Gardens & Hideaways of West London

You dreamed us, and we made your dream come true. We are your vision, here made manifest. You sowed us, and obediently we grew, but, sowing us, you sowed more than you knew and something not ourselves has done yet the rest.’                                                                          [‘The Garden’, Vita Sackville-West]

The late and greatly lamented gardener, Geoff Hamilton, once laid claim that ‘seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all…it’s optimism.’ For if this is so, then to still oneself and luxuriate amongst the labours of ones yardwork should surely be the nearest thing to a panacea for all life’s woes. In Victorian times ramshackled and grubby patches were cluttered with washing lines that speckled the urbanscape of London. Charles Dickens even noted in Nicholas Nickleby that ‘some London houses have a melancholy little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by four high whitewashed walls and frowned upon by stacks of chimneys, in which there withers on from year to year a crippled tree. People sometimes call these dark yards ‘gardens’.’ Well, we’ve come a long way since then, with many a Londoner spending as much time, endeavor, ingenuity and hard cash as they do intramurally. And for every people-shoving, car-honking main road you are invariably seconds away from a certain ‘hush’ and mere minutes away from an open garden. In short, us Londoners are overindulged with quiet and green  spaces. The famous utterance by Dr Samuel Johnson in a discussion on September 20th, 1777, that ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” still rings very true. And for those of you shaking your heads, well, it means you probably haven’t looked hard enough. Over the next weeks I shall endeavor to visually and emotionally escort you across London to all the clandestine public-spaces and surreptitious nooks that I have zealously tracked down over these last Olympic weeks. (If only it was an Olympic sport…sigh.) Starting off proceedings in the West, I hope a few surprises ensue.

______________________

PETERSHAM NURSERIES

Hands down the most charming restaurant and whimsical gardening nursery in the whole of London. The dappled light dances through the canvas canopies and vine-entwined balustradings across the bricolage furnishings and hand-picked floral arrangements on to the bare dust floor. Sitting snugly at the base of Richmond Hill between the unperturbed, grass-chewing cows of Petersham farm and limelight-stealing deer of Richmond Park, this sanctuary serves as garden/nursery, café, teahouse, recharger of batteries and first port of call for home improvement motivation. Such is the floral display on offer that one might even find the audacity to pit oneself against Sissinghurst. Still healing from the departure of the exceptional Michelin star-winning chef, Skye Gyngell, the reigns have recently been handed over to Momo’s Greg Malouf. Owners Gael and Francesco Boglione salvaged and restored this dilapidated nursery from the greedy hands of developers, opening in 2004, with the visualization of re-embracing classical English gardening traditions alongside an emphasis on sustainability. It has a beauty that will stay with you long after you’ve left.

Opening hours:

Monday to Saturday: 9am – 5pm

Sunday: 11am – 5pm

[map]

______________________

EEL PIE ISLAND

Housing a mere 50 houses and roughly 120 inhabitants, this tiny island on the River Thames is situated on the Tideway at Twickenham and can be reached on foot solely by the bridge from the north side of the river bank. An enclave of artists studios, shipyards, small businesses and the Twickenham Rowing Club, this bijoux islet also housed the celebrated Jazz/Rock venue, Eel Pie Hotel, seeing the likes of David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Who treading the boards until succumbing to fire in 1971. The wide diversity of architecture only adds to the wonderment of this place.

[map]

______________________

YORK HOUSE GARDENS, TWICKENHAM

This lavish house, once known as ‘Yorke ffarme’ and dating as far back as 1630, holds stunning gardens and tennis courts open to the public, complete with a sunken lawn, secret ponds, hidden seating areas and impertinent squirrels. Feed them at your own risk.

[map]

______________________

CHELSEA PHYSIC GARDEN

Situated on the Thames next to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, this botanical oasis of green also serves to educate with over 5,000 edible, medicinal and beneficial plants. Established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries it served as one of the worlds most influential centres of plant exchange. The wall of age-old trees surrounding this garden provides a microclimate, enabling such plants as grapefruit trees, pomegranates, ginkgos, eucalyptus and olive trees to flourish even through the English summer.

Opening hours:

Monday to Friday: 12-5pm

Saturday: closed Sunday: 12-6pm

Admission: £9/£6

[map]

______________________

THE ISABELLA PLANTATION

The best time of year to visit the Isabella Plantation is in late April/early May when the Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in full bloom. It’s like a rainbow exploded, literally. This enclosed 40 acre woodland sits in the heart of Richmond Park, has been slowly developed since 1831 and is designed to have colour throughout the year: Camellias and Magnolias in spring; Irises, Lilies, Primulas in summer; Guelder Rose, Rowans and Hawthorns in Autumn; with Witch Hazel , Mahonia, Himalayan Birch, Tibetan Cherry and Snake Bark Acer coming through in the winter. The exotic greenery hugging the edges of the streams humidify the air, almost tricking you to believe that you’ve been relocated half way round the world. The area is maintained organically without the use of chemical pesticides and has, thus, encouraged much wildlife to feed and breed here freely.

[map]

_______________________

NEXT INSTALLMENT: Secret Gardens of North London

_______________________

EXCITING NEWS!

The Little Book of Little Gardens – the new book by Steve Wheen, aka ‘the Pothole Gardener’ is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

 

Posted in For kids, Gardening, Gardens, Outdoors, Parks, Uncategorized, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The London Olympics

“Sport has no language or barrier, it’s the easiest way to communicate in general, and I think it’s the best tool for people to create opportunities, friendships, peace, and everything else.”

 [Nadia Comaneci, the first Olympic gymnast ever to score a perfect 10 and winner of 3 gold medals in the 1976 Montreal Olympics]

 One could wholly dismiss the Olympics for simply being a major sporting spectacle. 2 weeks of aggressive TV watching with the pretense that we’re all suddenly experts in the field. Yet to many it’s where dreams are both born and made. Sadly, I have reluctantly come to the realisation that I have as much luck of being awarded an Olympic gold medal as I have an Oscar statuette, but to watch the emotions and tears of people accomplishing their ultimate goals is always heart wrenching to say the least. On a social level you could go as far as to say that it has changed us mostly for the better. In this world forum the discriminations of each nation are brought forward and laid bare. When we remember how the Olympic movement increased support for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, how the growth of the Paralympic Movement has impacted on the consideration of the disabled across the globe, how the Australians were forced to re-assess their treatment of the Aborigines and Indians with their regionalism issues, and with the anti-doping campaign and Olympic Truce Foundation, – can we readily admit that the Olympics is just entertaining TV fodder? No, it is the world’s stage where all competing nations ‘show their hand’ and hopefully that fairness pervades and the glorious conquer all. But yes, it’s also about who wins the most prizes.

London is the first city to host the Olympics for the third time. The first was held in 1908 with 22 nations contesting 24 sporting disciplines such as hockey, jeu de paume, lacrosse, polo, rackets and tug of war, of which you might be amused to know that Great Britain won all gold, silver and bronze medals. Apart from helping to initiate the rules standard and to select judges from different countries, these games were marred by quarrelsome nations: the US flag bearer refused to dip the flag to King Edward VII, with a group belief that “this flag dips for no earthly king”; the Irish did not like competing as part of the United Kingdom, despite still being part of it; the Finnish team were at the time part of the Russian Empire and ordered to march at the opening ceremony under the Russian flag; both the Swedish and US flags were not displayed above the stadium so the whole Swedish team refused to attend the opening ceremony; and many say this is another factor as to why the Americans refused to dip their flag to our King. The White City stadium was a wonder for its age and was built for £60,000 within 2 years. The final tally saw Great Britain the clear winners with 56 gold medals with the US in 2nd with 23 and Sweden in 3rd with 8. The White City site is now home to the BBC with the only evidence being the marathon finishing line.

[images courtesy of Getty]

Two World Wars later saw the Olympics return after a 12-year absence for the games in 1948 in what became known as the ‘Austerity Games’. Still reeling amongst the rubble caused by Hitler’s Luftwaffe and the propaganda machine that was the 1936 Berlin games, King George VI took this as an opportunity to restore fairness and pride amongst the nations that came. Germany and Japan were both conspicuous in their absence (simply ‘not invited’). With rations on eggs, milk and cheese still in place and their ‘mend and make-do’ mentality still in check, the athletes were encouraged to bring their own food and offer any surplus to hospitals. They ate cheese sandwiches, wore homemade shorts, brought their own towels and slept in wooden army huts. The Americans had enriched white flour and steak flown in daily, while the French had regular shipments of Claret. Despite a few laughable moments, – where a handful of teams were greeted by the wrong anthem, the Australian teams kit was stolen by striking dock workers, the Union flag disappearing just before the opening ceremony, and miscast advertising slots for companies such as Guinness, Ovaltine and Craven A cigarettes, – nevertheless came together in its celebration of peace. The stadium stood where the new Wembley stadium has been erected, with the only remnant being the broadcasting house and the Olympic walkway between the stadium and the train station. Costing £750,000 to put on, the games even managed to turn a small profit.

[images courtesy of the BBC]

And what of the current 2012 London Olympics? London has had 7 years to prepare since the news broke on the 6th of July 2005. The elation of our city was abruptly silenced the very next day with the 7/7 bombings that killed 52 and injured hundreds more on the public transport system. But doing what Londoners do best is brush off the dust and march onward. These 7 years have brought forward discussion and many a heated debate on how best to tame our feral city. On whether the transport system will be able to cope with the huge influx of athletes and tourists is yet to be answered. (Though already there have been reports of athletes lost for hours on the muddled and unruly London road system.) Advertising slots have yet again been given to ‘unsuitables’, (Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s and McDonald’s, who has even gone so far as to get the Olympic committee to ban any other food vendor within the Olympic Park from selling the humble chip. Only to be outdone by Visa that states that official Olympic t-shirts can only be obtained with a Visa card.) thus proving that the flip side to the Olympics is not entirely deep-rooted in promoting sport, fairness and healthy living. Also, businesses across the capital not directly related to the games now have to employ an extra body to stay overnight and receive deliveries that can only be transported between the hours of 10pm and 6am, which in these hard times could demonstrate to be a crippling factor over the summer months. And yet, with the ongoing struggle for gender equality, Saudi Arabia has at last caved in to public outcry and along with Qatar and Brunei will send two women to compete in the games for the very first time. An almighty yet small step for mankind. Sebastian Coe has vigorously fought for these Olympics to not make the same mistakes of those before. The London Olympic legacy has not only regenerated a disused and poor part of the city but intends for the stadium to be in full use after the games, the venues have been designed to be as sustainable as possible, the athletes quarters will be transformed into affordable housing and there are even real talks about moving the basketball stadium to Brazil for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games. For a city to provide venues for 26 different sports, including 4 different aquatic events, 4 different boating events, four different cycling events and 3 different equestrian events, as well as housing for the thousands of athletes, officials and a centre for broadcasting, it is often the case that Olympic venues struggle to find purpose beyond the games, thus proving a massive waste on taxpayers’ money. Of the 31 venues built in Beijing, only 8 were temporary and the investment was so huge that it brought up the price of steel across the globe, affecting all major construction projects. Despite Beijing showing the world possibly the most splendid games the world has seen, they used it as a power tool and many of the remaining venues are now wasting to ruin. London is hoping to take a very different and progressive route, taking conscious steps as it goes.

An anthropologist once put it that the Games have done their part in “making the world a little safer for differences”. As tolerant as a city can ever get, London celebrates its diversity and the London Olympic legacy hopes to encourage this throughout the world. And so, as the circus rolls into town and the sun finally shows its fashionably late head can we apprehensively say, – “camera, lights, and action…”

_______________________________________________________

Posted in Environmental issues, Events, For kids, Historic, Landmarks of London, Sport, Thames, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Inside Mother London.

“To make great work, have fun and make money. Always in that order.”  [‘Mother’, creative advertising agency – London, New York, Buenos Aires]

There is the age-old argument over whether advertising actually works that continues to divide many. I myself would not be the first to jump to the claim that advertising does not affect my judgement in what I buy. Yet most companies budget 3 to 5% of gross annual sales for advertising. According to the Advertising Association, UK advertising expenditure reached £19.4 billion in 2007, and is up 4.2% year-on year. Is this simply money down the drain, or are we ignorant to the subliminal effects of ‘the ad’?

It is quite simple, really. Ad companies understand the futile repercussions of contretemps or ‘call to action’ strategies, that we as the consumer respond negatively to this and that to get our attention for the long haul requires something a bit more underhand. The way things naturally operate and progress is mostly by word of mouth and by testing things out for ourselves. We may buy into certain lifestyles but generally if something is not working for us, we move on. The advertising world registers that we’re not gullible, so it works on a different tactic…positive memories, an idea that leaves an impression upon us that is stored away for a later date. In short, advertisers want to affect our thinking not for the present but for the future. The most ballsy and madcap of these companies is ‘Mother’. Founded around a kitchen table in 1996 it now employs over 400 people, operating in London, New York and Buenos Aires. It is famous for their overtly imaginative campaigns, – for who can forget ‘Al and Monkey’ for PG Tips, Boots ‘Here come the girls’, ‘It’s Pimms O’clock’, ‘Pablo the drug mule dog’ for Frank, Coca Cola’s ‘Move to the beat’, Stella Artois ‘Triple filtrée, with a smooth outcome’ and the hilarious Orange Gold spot campaign? Mother has rewritten the book, spreading beyond traditional advertising into film (Somers Town in 2008), graphics novels (for Time Out), one-off design projects (the uncarriable carrier bag) and producing musicals. (for Pot Noodle at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival) Mother also commemorates each football World Cup in its own very special way. (1996 had airfix plastic models of football hooligans, English sushi for 2002 and a diving winker Ronaldo toy in 2006 after Portugal kicked England out in the quarterfinals) Creating a whole new way of working, where account executives were ostracised and doors dismissed, with the entire reserve of skilled copyrighters sitting together around one big table. In 2004, Mother moved into the ‘Tea’ warehouse in Shoreditch and employed the architectural talents of Clive Wilkinson to transform the huge industrial space into an area that would hopefully inspire fun and unrelenting creativity.

Clive Wilkinson Architects has a long history with advertising clients such as TBWA\Chiat\Day and Foote, Cone & Belding. So, CWA already understood the need to create a workspace that kept ones imagination alert and for this reason kept the space communal, airy and open with doors, walls and closed areas banished. Access to the 3 floors was limited by elevator, so the first thing was to drive a 14 foot wide concrete stairwell to connect all the floors, doubling up as a tiered seating area for viewing films and projections. Galvanized steel chain link fencing was used where one would normally see walls, a sealed off pen on the first floor was reserved for football and other de-stressing sports. The meeting room/break out areas employed meat-packing plastic curtains, again no doors, and quirky one-off pieces of vintage furniture whose lack of uniformity could only enhance one’s thought process. The entrance is a blue glass box, an intentional witticism on Damien Hirsts formaldehyde tanks, opening out to what used to be the loading bay. It now serves as reception, cafeteria (where a community lunch is served everyday), exhibition space (Tim Barber, hipster photographer and close ally of the painfully cool artist Ryan McGinley, was on show) and chill-out area complete with remnants of old ad campaigns dotted about the area. (above which there is a wall containing framed pictures of all employees mothers – their reasoning is that “everything we do, we do to impress our mothers”, so is in place as an inspirational tool) The stairs continue up to the top floor where you literally walk on to the table space. Constructed like the ring of a cycling track, this concrete structure curves around the entire top floor. (Should you be a credentialed skater, you could in fact have hours of fun negotiating yourself around ipads and mouse cables) Staff are provided with their own trolley for personal belongings and are required to move places through a randomly selected seating plan every six weeks. This means that employees never know whom they’re going to be sitting next to and what new ideas are going to bounce around as a result. Employees are encouraged to dress as individuals and are free to come and go as they please.

In short, Mother London has left me with total office-space envy. But it also raises important questions for employers, like “how can I get the most out of my staff without going down the slave-driving route?” and “ what kind of environment will enhance and maintain a happy work force?” It’s always easier to skip corners and go down the cheap route for short-term results. However, Campaign, UK’s leading trade magazine, named Mother London the Agency of the decade in 2009, so it must be doing something right. Mother London seems to only know how to move upwards and onwards, something which can surely be attested to their careful planning and circumspect attention to detail. If only we could all work there.

   ____________________________________________________________

View: Mother London show reel

View: ‘Monkey and Al’ homage to Morecambe and Wise

_____________________________________________________________

Posted in Advertising, Architecture, Art, Buildings, Design, Interiors | Tagged , , | 3 Comments