My Backyard… Building Blocks

Today I was reading an interesting piece on Fevered Mutterings on what constitutes ‘travel’ and the premise that we tend to think about the packing of a suitcase, backpack or even overnight bag as an activity inextricably linked to travelling. 

When I think of travel, I think of going from point A to point B (which is the definition that comes to my mind given the Transport for London website exhorts me to ‘travel by foot’ for a portion of most of my journeys) but this is not a vision that will keep me going in the depths of winter darkness. Thank goodness Mike Sowden suggested that redefining travelling as ‘venturing somewhere new’ means it is right under our noses – that ‘travel *is* our own backyard’.

And last Sunday it was my own ‘backyard’ that I ventured out into to have a gander around Old London Town. I’m not sure that under normal circumstances, I would be up for an architecturally themed stroll on a wintery Sunday morning but I enjoyed Blue Badge Guide Paula’s trek around Shardlake’s London so much last September that it was an easy and enthusiastic ‘yes’ when the flyer came through for her guided walk through Post-War City Architecture

So we started at Barbican tube station and followed Paula – and her post-war story – through the City of London. Here’s what we saw…

Standing outside Barbican station on a crisp January morning

Following the bombing raid on London on 29th December 1940, much of Greater London was flattened. But contrary to wider plans, the City took its own view of its rebuilding and commissioned architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon to create urban villages for the working class…


The Golden Lane Estate was originally positioned outside the City boundaries until ‘re-zoning’ brought it into the fold – perhaps that explains why a 2 bedroom apartment here goes for around £680,000.
…and the more affluent inhabitants of the City.
The Barbican Estate was opened in 1969 (that makes it as old as me) and stretches over a 40 acre site. It contains more than 2,000 flats, of which a 2 bedroom version will set you back about £900,000. Oh and check out the upside looking windows top right.

We then ambled around the back of the Museum of London, took a quick peek at the Pedway System (a scheme based on raised pedestrian walkways which never really took hold) then crossed London Wall to Wood Street.

Traditional building blocks adorn the home of the City’s Police Force (yes, a separate force from that of Greater London). Standing with your back against the wall will give you a great view of the tower reflected in the building opposite.
The tower of St Alban stands in the centre of the street in stark contrast to the architecture around it and here the Norman Foster designed 100 Wood Street forms a geometric backdrop to Christopher Wren’s deft touch. But walk through its checkerboard frontage and you’ll find a veritable oasis. Soaring windows angled outwards bring light into the old churchyard and provide space for the old plane tree’s leafy boughs.
Next it was a trot down Gutter Lane to emerge on Cheapside – crossing the road, we found ourselves standing in One New Change with this rather spectacular view…
The dome of St Paul’s pierces the sky right opposite One New Change. Thirteen ‘views’ of the cathedral are protected by the London View Management Framework which prevents the construction of any buildings which may impinge on the view. There’s even a protected view from Richmond Park’s King Henry’s Mound several miles away.

We headed out of One New Change and down to Bank Junction where the architectural contrasts abounded again.


This is No 1 Poultry: the street, like those around it (Milk Street, Bread Street) named after the market produce originally sold here. The building, designed by James Stirling for Peter Palumbo, carves a ship-like post modern silhouette against the sky and has caused much outcry from those – including Prince Charles – whose more conservative sensibilities it offends.
Turning from the post-modernist perspective, we found more traditional architecture clustered around the junction with the Royal Exchange (top left) and the Bank of England (bottom left) dominating the view.

We headed up Cornhill, our guide Paula setting a brisk pace…

The Leadenhall Building (the ‘Cheesegrater’) looms above the stone buildings along Cornhill while St Michael’s doors (right) are tucked a few neat steps back from the street.

…and came to a stop on the corner of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe, finding ourselves both surrounded and dwarfed by edifices of steel and glass…

The famous Lloyd’s of London ‘inside out’ building (right) was designed by Richard Rogers (who also designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris with Renzo Piano) on the site of both the previous Lloyd’s building and before that, East India House. The construction style (called Bowellism) is notable for having its interiors – stairwells (spirals), restrooms – the boxes behind the piping which contain electrical and water conduits –  and air conditioning ducts easily accessible to ensure that building never need close due to any malfunction of its ‘essential’ services. This 1986 building was Grade I listed in 2011 much to the chagrin of Lloyd’s (the listing means that the building cannot be changed in any way) so the insurance company’s ‘overflow’ will be moved right across the road to…
…the Cheesegrater (official name The Leadenhall Building). Situated at 122 Leadenhall Street, this building is nearing completion and is expected to open in Spring this year.

And not to be outdone, just a stone’s throw away stands The Gherkin.

The Gherkin‘s official name is the Swiss Re Building – or that’s what previous owners Swiss Re insisted on. Another Norman Foster design and completed in 2003, 30 St Mary Axe was built on the site of the former Baltic Exchange which was damaged in a Provisional IRA bombing in 1992. I thought it seemed rather fitting that The Cheesegrater is within arms reach of The Gherkin…

And with that, it was a short walk to Bishopsgate and the end of our tour. Almost 3 hours (including what Paula likes to call a ‘warming coffee break’ at the Costa Coffee halfway point).

I strolled back towards Moorgate tube station filled with excitement at what a dynamic and fascinating city I live in. The time had flown by and I was so glad that I had dragged myself out of bed and braved the chill to explore this amazing ‘backyard’ of mine. I kept gazing around, wondering about the stories of the buildings that loomed over me and as I reached the intersection of London Wall and Moorgate again, I couldn’t help but take just one last parting shot.


The old and the new right next to each other again.

I don’t know their story. But I am sure it’s fascinating.

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