Sunday, October 21, 2007

London City Hall

Immediately west of Tower Bridge is this Norman Foster creation, London City Hall.

It is complimented by a plaza of rectangular glass structures and a below-grade amphitheatre. The spire looks as if it was spirited in from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

Three icons of London

Standing near the front of the Design Museum, I captured this shot with Tower Bridge (1894), The Tower of London (1078 - 1285) and looking like the spaceship from Destination Moon that's touched down within its walls, the 30 St. Mary Axe (popularly known as The Gherkin) (2004). This is modern London at a glance, the old, the very old, and the very new, all side by side.

Design Museum

The Design Museum is just east of Tower Bridge. I was surprised to read that the exterior design is not original, but constructed to look like vintage International Modern Style. There's a bookstore and cafe on the ground floor, then two floors of exhibits. It's not terribly large and there is an entrance fee. Currently there is an excellent exhibit showcasing the career of architect Zaha Hadid. The first room was so theatrical at first I didn't know what I was looking at. The shot above is simply a table of architectural models in front an entire long wall of projected images. Hadid's work ranges from modern 21st century to certainly where no man has gone before. Her buildings are highly imaginative, many of them quite organic.
One of the many cases of models.

A chandelier from one of her buildings.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sights along the Thames

This is one of the many houseboats moored along the river. Note the potted plants on its deck.
More houseboats are clustered near a charming old church. Beyond is an ultramodern residential tower, one of the many that have almost completely replaced the old industrial buildings on the shores of the Thames.

There are also boats resting in canals.

I spotted two swans getting drowsy in the fading light.

Albion Riverside

About a mile down the Thames from my flat is this spectacular new residential building, Albion Riverside. It was completed in 2003, designed by Foster and Partners, founded by architect Norman Foster. The firm is responsible for some of the more exciting new buildings in London, including London City Hall, Wembley Arena and 30 St. Mary Axe, popularly known as "The Gherkin."

While the sides of the building are curved, leaning on angled posts,

the front side is rippled, like the surface of the river it faces.

The rear of the building continues to surprise.

John Piper's British Gas Mural

I noticed the mural on this building near the Thames in west London shortly after I moved to my flat just across the river. A little research revealed it had been a British Gas building, now converted to flats. Clearly, the structure itself was greatly altered but someone was smart enough to retain the mural, by British painter and designer John Piper (1903-1992). Unfortunately, they didn't have the foresight to showcase their treasure with reflecting pools and gardens, which it certainly deserves. Even as your eye is drawn to the wonderful colors and shapes of Piper's designs, it is assaulted by one of the ugliest fenced parking lots I've seen in London, which I have struggled to avoid showing here.

The Tate Britain Museum in London has a strong collection of Piper's work, including a photograph of him making the panels.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Great beauties of General Motors' past

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, my friend Richard Stanley tells me that General Motors is planning to include his 1928 La Salle 303 Roadster (above) and his 1938 Cadillac 60 Special V8 (below) in a book marking their upcoming centennial. These two rare and glorious diadems are the crown jewels of Richard's classic car collection and I've been priviledged to ride in both of them. I had never before ridden in cars that old, and was surprised how fun the LaSalle was. I remarked at the time it was like being in an amusement park ride. I simply couldn't stop smiling. Produced just ten years later, the 1938 Cadillac demonstrated enormous strides forward in the automotive world. It set the standard for all luxury cars (including Rolls Royce). Now nearly seventy years old, gliding through the streets of Los Angeles (a city hardly lacking in automotive splendor) she is still turning heads. How many grand old dames can say that? Incidentally, these stunning photographs are Richard's own; he's a professional photographer as well as a noted realtor. You can see his current listings and more of his photography here.

Sunday browsing at Camden Market

Today my Brazilian friends Ennio and Adriana breezed into London for a holiday. The Torresans now live in Los Angeles, but I met Ennio at Amblimation when I lived here before, in 1989-91. Here's his website. They were determined to ignore their jet lag (though Ennio said he was sure the ground was occasionally tilted), so we wandered for hours through the vast Camden Market, which stretches several blocks (if there is such a thing as a 'block' in London). The market has grown over the years, spreading under old trestle arches, former warehouses and most notably, an old horse trolley barn, complete with its old brick curved ramp. As you can see in the picture above, one arch now sports an enormous old chandelier. This is typical of the market's funky splendor. Literally hundreds of stalls sell every sort of merchandise: some old, some new. One store sold outrageous club ware that very literally recalled The Jetsons. Adriana very nearly was tempted to become Jane Jetson. She resisted, possibly because we still aren't quite ready for flying bubble cars. There's also stores and stalls of furniture, toys, vintage clothing, jewelry, crafts, and numerous food stalls, much of it at fairly reasonable prices, which for London is saying a lot.
Here's Adriana and Ennio Torresan and their good friend Beatriz, who is also from Brazil but now lives in London. She was our fearless guide.

In the middle of Camden Market is the Camden Lock. Some people aren't aware there are canals in London.

We finally left past 7 PM. I was surprised many of the stalls were still open.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Leicester Square Odeon

Since Sir John Soane's house is really not terribly far from Leicester Square, I strolled over and that's where I bought the Dufy. I took a few shots of the Leicester Square Odeon, which looms over the square like something out of Metropolis. Here's where you want to go when you must see a Big Film on a Big Screen. It's akin to the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Here's more information about this cinema.

Sir John Soane's house of treasures

Very close to the Holborn tube stop is this elegant, leafy and quiet street called Lincoln Inn Fields overlooking a pretty little park. In the middle of the row of extravagant townhouses is Georgian architect Sir John Soane's rather incredible residence.
The facade looks a tad eccentric, yes, with those partial columns and stone maidens on the third floor, but nothing prepares one for the interior. Sir John left his house to Britain in 1837 with one minor clause: nothing was to be changed. I didn't quite know what to expect other than an old house, but the place is crammed from floor to ceiling in most locations with jaw dropping objects from antiquity, including Seti I's sarcophagus (the British Museum was offered it for 2,000 pounds but rejected it, and let's just say it's not exactly a piece of junk). Only a few people were let in at a time (and it was free) which made the viewing rather pleasant throughout. Much of the house does feel like a museum, that is, the way museums used to be before more thought was given to actually viewing pieces with some breathing space around them. Most amazing is the atrium, which stretches from the basement through three floors to a glass domed roof. The reception rooms on the ground floor are beautiful yet odd, with rather startling colors and murals on the ceiling. Besides loads of old Roman busts and pieces of ancient decor (one clearly sees where he got his inspiration for his own Neo-Classical designs), there's the Hogarth Rake's Progress paintings in one room (1734). The downside: no interior photography allowed and the books for sale aren't very good. However, interior photos can be seen here.

I'm in London again

I moved to London in July 2007 to do story work on an animated film, Gnomeo and Juliet, for Miramax, directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron). I've lived here before, in 1989-1991 when I headed effects for An American Tail 2 - Fievel Goes West. After twelve years at DreamWorks in Los Angeles (1995-2007) I felt it was time for a change. I discovered this stone face above a doorway on Milbank Street as I walked towards Parliament.