The world is filled with amazing photographers, both past and present.  The list is endless of gifted and talented image makers.  Here are five of my favorites:


richard avedonRichard Avedon was an American photographer who brought an elegance and sophistication to everything he shot.  In the NY Times obituary following his death in 2004, Andy Grundberg said, “His fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”

He worked for many years with Harper’s Bazar, Vogue, and Life Magazine, His oeuvre includes such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, and Audrey Hepburn.

He has published many books.  Those of particular interest are Portraits and In The American West.

WILLIAM EGGLESTONwilliam eggleston

William Eggleston is an American photographer who secured color photography’s place as a recognized and respected art medium.

While teaching at Harvard, Eggleston discovered dye-transfer printing.  For three years he read and experimented with the technique until he put together his portfolio entitled “14 Pictures” which was exhibited at the MoMA just two years later.

Eggleston’s work largely focuses around common, everyday objects, such as his most well known image of a tricycle.


jeff wall mimicCanadian Jeff Wall is known for his large-scale, back-lit illfochrome images, mostly of common, ordinary events.  However, these seemingly casual photographs were meticulously planned out and coordinated, designed to look as if they were happenstance.

Mimic, (1982), is a classic example of Jeff Wall’s one frame cinematography. It seems as if Wall just snapped this shot, but in reality, it was a grand production, a recreation of a scene the photographer had witnessed before: The bearded man, walking along side his girlfriend, is making a racial gestures towards the asian man on his right; he is pulling the corner of his eye out to the side, slanting it, in mockery of the asian man’s eyes.

MICHAEL KENNAmichael kenna nazi concentration camp

Englishman Michael Kenna is best known for his stunning black and white landscapes, although he has done color and commercial photography, as well.

Over a period of 15 years, Kenna photographed Nazi prison camps, the resulting in a magnificent and haunting collection of images published in his book, “Impossible to Forget: The Nazi Camps Fifty Years After.”  Kenna was criticized for this work because his imagery was too beautiful.


Annie Leibovitz is an American photographer who got her start as a staff photographer for the newly launched Rolling Stone Magazine.  And her career has just gone up from there.

Leibovitz took the last photograph of John Lennon in 1980, five hours before he was murdered.  The image of he and Yoko appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.annie leibovitz


Film Screening of Citizen Architect

Film Screening of “Citizen Architect: Sam Mockbee and the Spirit of Rural Studio”
Architectural Association School of Architecture
24 January 2012


citizen architectDESCRIPTION

The film screening of “Citizen Architect” was put on by Community Cluster,  a new organisation within the AA that strives to act as a forum for “people interested in socially and environmentally responsible design, with an emphasis on small-scale, self-built projects in the UK and abroad… the aim of which is to raise awareness about the role the built environment can play in international development and disaster relief. “

“Citizen Architect” is a documentary about Rural Studio, a hands- on architecture program at Auburn University in Alabama.  Rural Studio was created primarily to teach architectural students how to design small, inexpensive, functional dwellings by building homes in Hale County, Alabama, the poorest county in the United States.

Sam Mockbee, a 5th generation Mississippian, dedicated his life to creating architecture that improved the lives of those living in poverty.  Mockbee believed that architecture makes the world a better place and can greatly improve one’s quality of life.  Mockbee also believed architecture to be a “shelter for the soul.”  In 1991, he abandoned his architectural practice and taught full time at Auburn University until his untimely death from complications of Leukemia in 2001.


This film was very well done.  It had a healthy balance between interviews with the professors, the students, the residents, and other professional architects, including Peter Eisenman, Cameron Sinclair, and Andrew Freear. 

Rural Studio is a reaction to the majority of architecture programs where students are taught to design “god-awful” Dubai-monstrosities for the über wealthy, when architectural students should be learning how to design homes for the 99% of the world who cannot afford multi-million dollar homes.

Second year students in the program spend a year in Hale County, Alabama, building one home for a resident of the county, chosen by the county on a needs basis.  Fifth year students spend their year building a pubic building, such as a church, community centre, animal shelter, or park pavilion.  In order to keep costs down, these structures and made mostly from recycled and reclaimed materials.  One year, the students built a church out of old tires (similar to the method used in Earth Ships) and corrugated metal for $8,000.  The brise soleil on one of the homes was made from old signage.  These buildings, although not perfectly constructed and crafted, are architecturally interesting and are improving the quality of life of the people who live in them.

The architect Peter Eisenman was interviewed and had some interesting comments, most of which contradicted Sam Mockbee’s views.  He believes that “architecture does not solve problems, it creates them” and that people for whom he is designing should not be asked what they want because they are not “educated enough” to know what it is they want.  By the end of the film, I don’t think that Eisenman likes what Mockbee is doing.

Other people around the country are doing similar projects to Rural Studio, such as Hank Louis of Bluff, Utah with his organization Design Build Bluff, who is building homes way out in Bluff, Utah for American Indians on the reservation.  One of these homes provided a 60 year old man with running water who had never had it before in his life.

This film inspired me to seek out this and other like-minded organizations to work on projects that are for the 99%, the ordinary people who need, and deserve, well thought of, properly designed homes.


Speakers: Jonathan Hines, Architype, Neil Jefferson, Zero Carbon Hub, Marco Marijewycz, EON, Allan Thompson, Gentoo Construction, Chaired by Alasdair Young, Buro Happold
The Building Centre
18 January 2012



Part of an ongoing series on energy, carbon footprints, and sustainable building, “Zero Carbon, a Goal Too Far” tackles the question of the attainability of zero carbon emissions in the UK.   This year, the government has once again redefined the meaning of “zero carbon,” making attainment even more questionable.  Builders complain about the added construction costs in order to meet building regulations.

The speakers were: John Hines from Architype, who specializes in passivhaus techniques and sustainable development; Neil Jefferson from Zero Carbon Hub, a non-profit organization that focuses on delivering low and zero carbon homes to the masses; Marco Marijewycz from EON, the UK’s largest integrated power and gas company; Allan Thompson of Gentoo Construction, a construction company focused on green building techniques; moderated by Alasdair Young from Buro Happold, an international consulting engineer company.

Each person was given the floor to discuss the issue from their perspective.  A wide range of expertise and opinion were presented.  Afterwards, the floor was opened up for questions from audience members.


This lecture was very well thought through and had a nice variety of participants.  I appreciated that multiple professional fields were represented in the panel: the builder, the government, the developer, the engineer.  Each gave his opinion from his point of view, and, as can be expected, they did not see eye to eye on much of anything.  Although each could be justified in thinking the way he did, I really did not agree with all of the oppinoins, either.

A major point of contention is that the UK government keeps redefining the term “zero carbon,” alluding to the fact that by changing the definition, the UK can achieve (or is closer to achieving) zero carbon emissions.

Another point of conflict is that the building regulations set out by the government add enormous costs to building “green” houses.  In order to achieve the highest level of green and sustainable building standard in the UK, a Code 6, on the average single family dwelling, it would cost the builder and extra £40,000/dwelling.

Of all the panel members, I thought John Hines from Architype had the most compelling argument.  He said that there is no answer to the question because the wrong question is being asked (can the UK attain zero carbon emissions?).  The question should be, what can the UK do to decrease her energy consumption?  Only after people are aware of the energy crisis and are compelled to use less energy will these low and zero carbon technologies make a difference in the amount of C02 released into the atmosphere.  Only then the question be asked if zero carbon emissions is possible.

I completely agree with John.  Unless people actually use less energy, there is no way these renewable energy sources like solar and wind power will begin to put a dent in our carbon footprint.   It makes me think of the diet soda problem:  statistics show that people who drink diet soda actually weigh more than people who drink regular soda because the diet soda drinkers justify the consumption of more calories throughout the day with the false assumption that they have “saved” calories in their diet drink.  So it is, I feel, with the power generated from solar and wind.  A person may feel justified, even validated, to use more electricity because the energy he is using is green, renewable, and sustainable.  All energy consumption, regardless of its source, should be monitored by the user with a conscious effort and knowledge of using the least possible amount.

Lecture on the 2012 London Velodrome


Lecture: London 2012 Velodrome:  An Example of Integrated and Sustainable Design
Lecturers: Mike Taylor, Gustavo Brunelli and Ed Mc Cann
Architecture Association School of Architecture
17 January 2012


london velodrome
2012 Olympic Velodrome, London. Hopkins Architects.
Photo: Richard Davies


London 2012 Velodrome is the second lecture in a series of discussions about sustainable architecture design.  Presenting at the lecture were three of the key designers for the London Olympic Velodrome, a light-weight, double-curving, cable-net roof structure meant to reflect the shape of the cycling track.  A major focus of the project was sustainability and the use of enviornmentally responsible materials.  A series of thoughtfully placed skylights floods the interior with soft, diffused light, avoiding the harshness of direct sunlight.

The Velodrome can be naturally ventilated most of the year, eliminating the need for air conditioning, thus reducing its energy consumption and C02 output.  In terms of design and construction, the Velodrome is the most sustainable venue in the Olympic park.

Construction on the Velodrome began in 2008 and was completed in February 2011.

Presenters at the lecture were: Mike Taylor, a  Senior Partner of Hopkins Architects, Gustavo Brunelli, an Associate Consultant of BDSP Partnership Consulting Engineers, and Ed McCann, Director of Expedition Engineering.


The new Velodrome for the 2012 Olympics is an amazing structure!  From building techniques to its energy efficiency, I must say to the design firm Images + Architects, Bravo.  The woman giving the introduction to the lecture said that if medals were given out in the 2012 Olympics for architecture, the Velodrome would receive the gold medal.

As with any building project, especially with Olympic buildings, cost is at the front of every one’s mind.  Because of the tight budget restraints, the Velodrome is actually a very simple building.  There are no frills, no finishes.  Everything one sees serves a purpose and has a function.  All of the panels on the exterior are actually flat, which brings down costs, however, they are assembled to look as if they are curved.

The roof is particularly interesting.  Because of its enormous span, a double curve was implemented.  Double curves are more stable and efficient on these large roof spans.  The foundation of the roof is a steel net, borrowing from the principles of a spider’s web.  The steel cables were cut within millimetres of their required length and then simply stretched over the building and put into place, much like a cargo net over the bed of a pickup truck.  The entire roof took only eight weeks to put on.   For comparison, the entire Velodrome was built in the time it took the builders to put on the roof of the new Olympic aquatics building.

The Velodrome had very rigid guidelines regarding temperature, air movement, and light.  The internal temperature had to be around 28ºC because cyclists perform better in warmer temperatures.  Air movement has to be restricted (from the heating/cooling systems) because of the lightness and speed of the bikes.  The slightest gust of air can throw a cyclist off balance.  During the Olympics in Athens, many such problems occurred because the Velodrome was outside. The new Velodrome also needed to have a lot of natural light. The Velodrome solved these problems in a fairly straightforward, practical, and ecological manner.  Some of the interesting solutions they came up with include: using the same vents (“gills” as they called them) for both natural and mechanical air intake; installing heated floors to localize the heat around the athletes; and harnessing as much of the heat in the air as possible (from the interior).

Although the building looks curvy, high-tech, and is very large, the architects actually used simple, efficient building techniques and materials, which saved millions of pounds.  Just goes to show that one really can’t judge a book by its cover.

Forgotten Spaces Exhibit, Sommerset House, The Strand, London

Forgotten Spaces exhibit Sommerset House
Forgotten Spaces Exhibit, Sommerset House, The Strand, London
Photo: Yin&Yan

Forgotten Spaces is a shortlist of the Call for Entries for architects, students, designers, and other creatives to submit their design solutions for neglected, redundant, and overall forgotten spaces in and about Greater London.  The project aims to get people thinking about urban design and city planning in new ways, of examining the potential for the overlooked nooks and crannies that are ubiquitous in every city, especially London.  Forgotten Spaces exhibits the proposed schemes for the regeneration of alleyways, rooftops, churches, tunnels, vacant lots, spaces between buildings, etc., where these spaces can be transformed into something the public can usurp as well as making the city more enjoyable.

The Forgotten Spaces exhibit displays about 30 projects from the 138 that were submitted.  These projects range from the fantastical to the practical.  Some of the entries include turning church belfries into artist studios, a vacant lot into a bee aviary, and using one of the south pillars of the Golden Jubilee Bridge as a café on (literally) the mighty Thames.

The exhibition was held at Somerset House in a forgotten space of its own – the old lightwells and coalholes surrounding the Fountain Court and a hidden passage known as the Deadhouse.  This maze of passageways dates from the Tudor period and can be let out for private functions.


This was a wonderful exhibition, not only because of the subject of the exhibition itself, but because of the setting in which it was held.  I arrived at Somerset House from Embankment and entered the exhibit through a small doorway lined in thick, black plastic, much like a garbage bag.  Immediately, I found myself in a narrow alleyway, feeling a bit like a small mouse in a canyon of dingy off-white brick.  (I certainly would not like to be there alone at night.)  Along the corridor are a series of recesses (about 3 feet deep and 6 feet wide) where an entry is displayed.  This usually was in the form of text and a diagram on illustration board, at times accompanied by a 3D model, lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling (stalactites also hung from the ceiling).  Turning the corner, the corridor widened where other proposals lined the corridor and recesses.

The projects varied greatly and were lumped into general groups, such as social, residential, community, environmental, etc.  Some of my favorite proposals are: The Urban Physic Garden, which proposes using an abandoned lot for growing medicinal herbs; The Limehouse Curve, a project similar to the Highline in New York, proposes using a redundant section of an elevated railway as green space open to the public and local community; (IN)Spires suggests using London’s many church belfries as artist studio spaces;  Play&Grow suggests using the space created by the 1980s addition to the Barbican Centre as a greenhouse for residents; and Station Farm, which proposes using the undeveloped Ruskin Square as an urban garden and outdoor public space.

The exhibition was very well attended when I went (on a Saturday), and the overall response (from snippets of conversations and reactions I heard from the guests) was generally positive and energized by the creative designs.  I thought this was a productive exercise in starting a dialogue of what a city can do on a small scale to improve its less desirable and forgotten spaces.  I’m hopeful that some of these projects will not just stay ideas, but will become realities.

Spencer House, London

spencer house london
Rear elevation of Spencer House facing St James’ Park at 27 St James’ Place
Photo © Heather Shimmin

Spencer House was built by the first Earl Spencer, John, in 1756-66, on the edge of Green Park, just across the park from Buckingham Palace.   It was one of the most ambitious aristocratic homes ever to be built and today it is the only surviving private mansion from the 18th century in London.  Between land-hungry developers, the cost of repairs, and the war, the fact that Spencer House has survived is rather miraculous.

Earl Spencer first hired John Vardy to be the architect of Spencer House.  Not terribly happy with the progress, Spencer hired John “Athenian” Stewart, in 1758, who had recently returned from Greece.  Stewart began to apply accurate classical details into the design of the house, having seen them first hand, making Spencer House the first example of Neoclassicism in England.  The style caught like wildfire and soon everyone was going Grecian.

Spencer House has nine staterooms, ideal for the Earl’s love of entertaining.  Spencer House was known for its lavish parties, and today is still is the place to through a party.


Spencer House has just completed an ambitious ten year restoration, returning the house to its original state of grandeur.  Spencer House has been restored to the earliest date possible, yet retaining Henry Holland’s alterations of the 1780s and 1790s, rather than as first completed in the 1760s. 

Every fixture, doorknob, chair rail, skirting, moulding and architrave were carefully copied from the originals.  Only a few chairs are the originals; the other pieces have been meticulously copied from the original, or are from the period. Some of the originals are currently house in the V&A, The Royal Academy, and the Royal Collection.  Many of the paintings hanging on the walls are on loan from Her Majesty, the Queen.


Spencer House is amazing. The front‘s unassuming exterior left me unprepared for the mansion’s grand interior.  Not only is Spencer House the only surviving 18th century aristocratic mansion, but it is the first example of Neoclassicism in England, an astonishing thought when one realizes the improbability of being the house that is still standing.

My initial impression upon entering the reception area was that of stepping into another world; a time machine had transported me to the 1780s in a house that was dripping in marble and gold leafing. 

The Palm Room, to me, was the most impressive and memorable.  Designed largely by John Vardy, the Palm Room is bright and cheery and reflects the Neoclassical idea of combining architecture and nature.  Bursting of gold and green, the Palm Room’s whimsical design was inspired by Inigo Jones’ theatrical flare.   After dinner, the Earl and the other gentlemen would retire to this room for brandy and cigars, while the women went upstairs to Lady Spencer’s Room on the first floor.   I didn’t get to see Lady Spencer’s Room, but I doubt it was as elaborate as this.  Men.

The Earl Spencer’s theme for the house was Art, Wine and Love.  Figures of Apollo, Bacchus, and Aphrodite appear throughout the house. Spencer House plays on these themes throughout, the Earl’s love of these things evident.  I am really enchanted by the idea of a house having a theme.  It seems the Earl Spencer was more French than English in his interests.  My favorite saying about life comes from the French – good food, good friends, good wine. 

The Neoclassical back façade faces Green Park.  Fitting that the grandest and best side of the house faces the park, where many more people can see and admire it.  Obviously, the side for “show” would face the park where it would be seen by the most people.

The Earl Spencer was known for his lavish parties, a gathering of London’s who’s who.  The same clout continues at Spencer House, which is let out for 60 parties a year.  The charming tour guide said, “The best way to have a party at Spencer House is have your rich friend have a party here and invite you to it.”

Open House London 2011: The Globe Theatre

the globe theatre london
Exterior of the Globe Theatre on the South Bank, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside.
Photo © Heather Shimmin

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is the result of one man’s vision to have an accurate recreation of the Globe Theatre built not 300 yards from where the original theatre on the banks of the Thames stood until 1642 when it was shut down by the Puritans.

Sam Wanamaker, an American actor and producer, came to London to work on a film and was appalled that the memory of the Globe Theatre was nothing more than a deteriorating, dingy plaque on the side of a building stating he Globe Theatre once stood there.  The theatre where England’s most famous and influential playwright’s plays were performed deserved more.  This event sparked a 30 year campaign to built a meticulously accurate replica of the Globe as close as possible to the original one.

Wanamaker was adamant that the Globe be as authentic and true to the original as possible.  The Globe was made using the same tools and techniques that the Elizabethans used; wooded pegs hold the English oak beams together; the thatched roof is made of local water reeds; every beam is hand cut, the jagged marks of tools visible to the passerby.  Corners were not cut just to save time or costs.


The more I learn about this building, the more amazing it is to me.  Authenticity and accuracy don’t stop at the construction of the building.  It carries over into the costumes, the stage, the props, and even the acting techniques.

All of the costumes are made using Elizabethan sewing and construction techniques.  The Globe relied heavily upon Janet Arnold, the industry expert in Elizabethan clothing construction.  Arnold has compiled several volumes of books detailing construction methods, patterns, and materials based on years of research.  The costume for Queen Elizabeth has over 1,400 pearls sewn on it.  Since no velcro, snaps, or zips existing during that period, it would take two people 90 minutes the dress the actress, fastening an elaborate set of hooks.

The fabric was based on 16th century patterns.  All fabrics are hand dyed using traditional dyes, such as berries and beetles.  The level of detail is astounding.

Queen Elizabeth costume globe theatre london
Costume won by Actress Jane Lapotaire in Elizabeth I.
Photo © Heather Shimmin

In Shakespeare’s day, they would cram 3,000 people into the theatre.  Today, they sit about 1,600.  The Groundlings stood body to body, and with no public toilets, they would just relieve themselves wherever they were.  I bet the smell was lovely.

Many unexpected surprises have come out of the Globe from a researcher’s point of view.  Audience reaction and behavior has been studied during performances at the theatre and the findings were very interesting.  Audience members are much more aware of the actors and of each other because the performances are done during the day, using only natural light.  Instead of sitting next to strangers in the dark, as in a traditional theatre, the audience can look around and daydream or be influenced by the reaction of other audience members.

The actors, too, have a different relationship with the audience, especially the Groundlings.  Being in such close proximity to the stage, an energy passes between them, an unspoken language. Having gone to a performance of Dr. Faustus at the Globe a few weeks earlier as a Groundling, I understand exactly what that connection is.  It is powerful and unique and amplified by the setting.

The Globe Theatre is an amazing building and has proved the skeptics wrong.  Some critics even went so far as to say that Wanamaker was going to turn Shakespeare’s Globe into an Elizabethan theme park.

How wrong they were.

Open House London 2011: Apsley House

apsley house open house london
Front elevation of Apsley House, 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London
Photo: English Heritage

Number One London is Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington.  Little has changed in the home’s interior since he lived there in the 19th century.  The Duke of Wellington moved into the house after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.

Apsley House was built for Lord Apsley and originally was a red brick structure designed by Robert Adam.  The house passed through several owners before the Duke purchased it in 1817.  Over the next few years, the Duke made many alterations to the house.

Apsley House boasts one of the finest art collections in London, including works by Rubens and Velazquez.   The Duke of Wellington captured much of the collection from the Spanish Royal Collection.  It is filled with Italian masterpieces from Corregio and Romano, and many works from Spain’s “Golden Age” of painting.

The colossal statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker by Italian artist Antonio Canova, stands at the foot of the grand staircase, and is dramatically lit from one side.  He is holding a gilded Nike in his right hand and a staff in his left.  The statue used to be on display at the Louvre in Paris.  In 1816, it was purchased from Louis XVIII by the British government and given to the Duke.

Apsley House is a Grade I Listed building. Currently, the 8th Duke of Wellington lives in part of the house.


Apsley House was fantastic.  The imposing corinthian pillars and the symmetry of the bays, make a grand impression.  Truly, Neoclassicism is the language of the Empire, visually showing to the world that whoever lives there is very powerful indeed. 

napoleon as mars the peacemaker
This statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker
used to belong to Louis XVIII.  Photo: Wikipedia

The interior is no less stately and imposing.  The grand staircase, with the statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker was breathtaking and so unexpected.  It set the stage for the rest of the house in all its grandeur.  It also makes a very bold statement about England’s victory over Napoleon and the French to have the statue greet everyone who walks into the house.

I loved the Waterloo Gallery.  I’ve seen similar layouts before, where paintings hang on the wall from floor to ceiling on both sides of a gallery with velvety benches down the centre, but this one had an heir, a presence that was amazing. 

The statue Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker used to belong to Louis XVIII.  Photo: WikipediaI just sat down and absorbed all that stateliness.  The soft velvet benches, the thick, rich carpet, the exquisite chandeliers.  Even though the house was busy due to Open House London, I could still feel isolated and away from the rest of the world.  As a whole, Apsley House had that effect on me.  To look around a room and see Pieter de Hooch,  Jan Brueghel the Elder, Rubens, Correggio, and Velázquez  was thrilling.

The collection of silver and porcelain is also worth mentioning.  In the dining room, a long table was set with I don’t know how many pieces of silver.  There were pieces that were gifts from this dignitary or that queen, candelabras, plates, cups, and things that I have no idea what they were used for.

Going through the house, I saw what one wealthy man did with his money.  He created a museum filled with art and culture, a monument worthy of Number One London.  I doubt any wealthy person today has the desire, the taste, the knowhow, to create anything remotely similar.


Open House London 2011: St George’s Bloomsbury

st george's bloomsbury london
Front Elevation of St George’s Bloomsbury, 6-7 Little Russell Street, London
Photo © Heather Shimmin


In 1711, worried about England’s spirituality and the deplorable lack of churches, Queen Anne ordered 50 churches to be “built of stone and other proper materials, with Towers or Steeples to each of them” in the City of London and Westminster.  Only 12 were constructed, 6 of which were by Nicholas Hawksmoor (the other 5 were Christ Church, Spitalfields; St Mary’s, Woolnoth; St George’s in the East, Wapping; St Anne’s, Limehouse; and St Alfege, Greenwich). St George’s in Bloomsbury was the last to be built. St George’s was consecrated on 28 September 1730 and replaced the old parish church of St Giles-in-the-Fields.

Nicholas Hawksmoor was England’s master Baroque architect.  English Baroque is a less flamboyant version of the Continent’s over the top Baroque style.  Hawksmoor created complex interior spaces, playing with the relationship of space and light. St George’s is eclectic and bold.  The focus is a large Corinthian portico above the entrance inspired by the temple of Bacchus at Baalbek, Lebanon.

chandelier st george's bloomsbury
Brass chandelier on long-term loan from the V&A.
Photo © Heather Shimmin

Over the next 50 years, major changes to the structure were made in order to accommodate the growing congregation; the last major change was reconfiguring the orientation of the nave from east/west to north/south in 1780.  The gallery was also dismantled and the ornamental screen covering the alter was moved from the east end of the chapel to the south end, as well.


All of these structural changes to the church must have made Nicholas Hawksmoor turn over in his grave.  I’m getting a little ill just thinking about all them.  St George’s was designed for a specific purpose: it was designed as an “auditory church,” a church for the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.  By making all of these (horrible) changes, the building’s acoustics, not to mention aesthetics, suffered greatly.  Before the restoration began, the walls were painted blue and gold.

This was the last church that Hawksmoor built.  This is the probably one of the compelling reasons for the major restoration of St George’s.  England loves Hawksmoor.

The restoration began to bring the church back as Hawksmoor intended began in 2002.  The restoration is coming along nicely.  The gallery has been restored (or completely rebuilt since was dismantled  entirely) and the alter has been moved back to its original east/west orientation.   I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of completely moving the altar in a church.  I just don’t see it.

Pieta at st george's bloomsbury
Variation of the Pieta, the sculpture is bathed in natural light coming in from the first storey windows.
Photo © Heather Shimmin

They are looking to all of Hawksmoor’s drawings and designs to make the church as accurate to his original intension as possible.

A new addition to the parish church is a magnificent, 17th century, three tier brass chandelier which hangs in the centre of the square nave of the church.  It is on long-term loan from the V&A.  It hung in the main reception of the Victoria and Albert Museum for 100 years!  The V&A replaced the brass chandelier with something else and was wondering what to do with this one. They thought it would be fitting to hang it in St George’s and how right they were.  It fits the space very nicely.  I took a moment to sit down and sketch the chandelier.  It’s amazingly complex, with dozens of swooping arms coming out in organized chaos, topped by electric candles.

The church feels light and airy, clean and inviting.  I sat a while inside and enjoyed the space.  I wondered around and took some photos, really enjoying Hawksmoor’s understanding of light and how it filters in through the windows.

Open House London 2011: Sir John Soane Museum

Sir John Soane Museum & House
12-14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

The Soane Museum is a set of three houses, Numbers 12, 13, and 14, on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.  Soane designed the house as both a home to live in and as a space to display his vast collection of plaster casts, statues, artifacts, drawings, paintings, and much more.  Not all of the spaces are open to the public.  One of the houses is to devoted to research and study and is closed to the public.

Sir John Soane was appointed Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806.   He invited his students to come to his house to study and to sketch from his growing collection the day before and the day after each lecture.  By the time John Britton published with first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an “Academy of Architecture.”

In 1833, Soane negotiated with Parliament to preserve his house and his collection for the benefit of “amateurs and students” in architecture, sculpture, and painting.  The house was turned over to a trust in 1837 when Soane died.  The trust aims to keep the house as close to what it was to the time of his death and to keep it free for students and the public to come and see his amazing and eclectic collection.


I walked up to the entrance of Sir John Soane’s house, which was open for London Open House.  I had just missed the tour, so I went next door to take a gander at the Soane Museum. I figured it would give me a better sense of what I has seeing in his house next door if I went and looked at the museum first.  I was not prepared for what I walked in to.  I don’t think the shock came from the sheer volume, but from the fact that what I was looking at was real: actual mummies from Egypt, real pieces of corinthian capitals from ancient buildings in Rome, 17th century Flemish stained glass windows, Indian ivory tables and chairs.  I found it absolutely enchanting.  I would like to go back and see it again.

One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered about his collection is  in regards to the sarcophagus of Seti I.  In 1824 the British Museum had first dubs on the sarcophagus but they didn’t want it.  (This was pre-Rosetta Stone so no one could read the hieroglyphics on it to identity its former occupant.)  Soane snatched it up for a mere £2,000.  The sarcophagus is a 3,000 year old casket carved out of a single piece of alabaster.  So proud was Soane of his new acquisition, that he threw three separate parties to show it off.  Women would bless their stars at its age and wonder who in the world was buried in it.

For London Open House, they opened up the house next door used by researchers and academics.  It was mostly archives, but The Adam’s Room on the second floor was quite spectacular.  They had several glass model cases arranged in the office just as Soane would have had them. (They closely studied photographs of the office from the time of this death in 1837 to know where to place them.)  Inside the cases are the original cork models from the 1830s that Soane and the Adams Brothers made.  The trust is working on expanding the museum to incorporate this office where Soane worked.  The Adam’s Room has 85% of every drawing the Adams Brothers ever made.

All three buildings are currently connected, which was not the case in Soane’s day.