Saturday, February 07, 2009

Southampton Trawl - Addenda

A substantially amended rant about Southampton - accurately described by the subs as a 'major port turned mega-retail park' is in this week's BD. It's worth actually getting a copy on this occasion, as it has a very nice spread across the two pages. Here's a bit of addenda, plus some photos from the walk I had round there with the most elegant and urbane Yorkshireman in history, Joel Anderson, who took the photos, plus these, unused in the BD article.

Wyndham Court, 'best 20th century building in the city by far'

Well, obviously I would say so. Joel was absolutely flabbergasted by the greatness of this building, which was very satisfying - 'it's like the Brunswick Centre, but better'. Neave Brown, Camden Council architect of such almighty brutalist monsters as Alexandra Road worked for Lyons Israel Ellis for a bit, and I wonder if he had a hand in Wyndham Court - it has the right white-grey beton brut. While taking photos of it we saw a large rat darting around the strange park/bomb site that faces it, leading to the station. A group of Sotonian youth walked past us snapping away at this astonishing structure and told us, in Soton's rapid-fire half west country half cockney tones 'it wasn't my fault my Dad didn't know that Johnnies could split.' A horrified Joel asked me to translate from the local dialect, and was alarmed that this young person was essentially apologising for his existence. One of these pictures seems to show a fluid-based protest. Soon, recession pending, Wyndham Court will have these awesomely crap flats next door.

I'm prepared to have some debate about whether the 20th century built anything better in the city. The 1930s was a boom decade for Southampton, when the rest of the country was screwed - in English Journey, to which I am paying oblique tribute in the BD cities series by starting in Soton and going North, J.B Priestley took a long time to find slums in the city - although when he found them they were as bad as anywhere else. There were two great streamline moderne buildings in Southampton, both of which went in the 80s, after surviving the Luftwaffe, and neither of which I remember - the Supermarine Works, where the Spitfire was produced; and the Ocean Terminal, which even features in various Ocean liner posters and was replaced by the generally rubbish Ocean Village*. Either of them might have been better than Wyndham Court, but due to the council's architectural philistinism I'll never know. Some might argue that Eric Lyons' very un-Span Castle House is better. It isn't, but it's pretty damn good, with a weird intricacy which only becomes clear on close inspection - the balconies and internal walkways being meticulously detailed in wood and concrete - and it boasts that rare thing in a council block, a well designed, welcoming entrance, where various old or ill tenants looked at us like we were mental.

Mayflower Park

I don't think I've ever been instantly hit with so much love and hatred for a place as I was on going to Mayflower Park for the first time in about a decade, which we did because it faces possible remaking/erasure under proposals for the 'Spitfire Wing' tower. It's pretty crap, really - amazingly cold and desolate, albeit with a riverside promenade that has a certain end-of-the-line charm. What made me go 'crikey' was the shelters. I must have seen these shelters many, many times, and I probably always assumed from their chunky stones that they were medieval, part of the same rather impressive remnants as the nearby city wall. Obviously this is extremely unlikely, given the bench and the googie roof. So this seems like the atelier of the city's 1960s architect L Berger (anyone know what the L stands for? Lang Rabbie, any ideas?) giving a bit of late Frank Lloyd Wright/Taliesin a go, merging the city's two most architecturally interesting periods - the '60s, the 14th century - together into one. I hope these stay, if nothing else. Also, the incongruously prissy derelict pier is now 'Kuti's Royal Thai Pier', to my immense surprise.

* Ocean Village didn't get a visit, but was probably worth one, as one of the few places to try and do anything with the waterfront. The 1980s buildings there are of course dreadful, although I have all kinds of memories mixed up with them - most of all, falling over as a child in a shop full of nautical tat, right onto a load of ornamental coral, gashing my arm and both worrying and embarrassing parent. There is one very good building here, the Harbour Lights cinema, a superior bit of '90s Scando housing one of the city's few bits of yer proper 'culture' - but it's so surrounded with 20 years' accretion of postmodernist and pseudomodernist bilge that it seemed best to avoid it.

Le Havre, and Auguste Perret

Just so we remember, this is the sort of thing Southampton's French twin town built in the 40s-60s, something to bear in mind when you walk down the drab thoroughfare of Above Bar. We could have given it to someone of Perret's talents - we had the architects, Lubetkin, Wells Coates, Holden - but it was no doubt just a bit too daring. Southampton will seemingly never stop being afraid of daring.

This song isn't really very good - from a concept album about Thatcher's betrayal of the postwar dream, impressively, but one I don't think I could ever listen to all the way through - but it does capture the Sotonian middling, windswept grimness very well, and links this post together nicely with another thing I want to link to - music press idol Taylor Parkes, absolutely brilliant on post-Barrett Pink Floyd, of all things.


Anonymous s said...

spot on about soton - the biggest shopping mall in the UK. the new not-yet-open ikea looks like somewhere they built zeppelins. me, i miss arundel towers - shoot in easy, always spaces on the 6th floor, out yr car, up some stairs, yr virtually on the high st. Now ....... ugh.

6:17 pm  
Blogger Steve Ballmer said...

... well written people, I enjoy a good, interesting blog!

6:21 am  
Anonymous Lang Rabbie said...

"So this seems like the atelier of the city's 1960s architect L Berger (anyone know what the L stands for? Lang Rabbie, any ideas?)"

Really, Owen. I know the BD's rates for freelancers aren't generous, but surely you have SOME semi-academic standards of doing basic research before going into print. :)

I always understood that he was Leon Berger.

A quick Google on that brings up a few results such as as BBC technical report on installing acoustic panels at the back of the Guildhall stage.

I'm now going for a cold shower after having stumbled across some real hardcore in the form of a recenly digitised Concrete Quarterly from 1961.

Not only does it contain an image of one of L Berger's park benches for the city (sadly no sign of the Googie shelters), but also an ultra-brutalist hammered concrete medical school building in Hammersmith by Lyons Israel & Ellis, an extended photo-essay of A Visit to Scandinavia and Radiation House, Neasden.


10:22 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Well, I wasn't going to go to the Civic Centre archives - I had deadlines to attend to. Note also that I got your Leisure World fact in the article too. If you want to make a few extra quid (by a few I mean maybe the odd fiver) as a paid researcher, you know what to do...

2:35 pm  
Anonymous Lang Rabbie said...

I shall continue to hold to the dictum that "No gentleman ought to make a profit by his services in the cricket field".

4:27 pm  
Anonymous FStack said...

A friend of mine (whom I've been sending your articles in the subject) is just about to move to Southampton to a 1950's block of flats in the north of the city that (by his description; he knows next to nothing about architecture) sound remarkably Span-like. Any idea what he might be talking about?

3:27 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Yeah - there's a lot of Span-like stuff in the north of the city, with a particular cluster near the (very fine, 60s) crematorium in Swaythling/Bassett but lots more scattered about the place, both spec developers and L Berger for the council did a lot of weatherboarded cubic houses and flats, but I don't think Span themselves did anything (Pevsner says not, but that's 1967) as far as I'm aware, and Lyons I think only did that tower block.

1:24 pm  
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Steve Ballmer...

...glad to see you have an interest in our great city...

I hope you have an interest in its football team too! :)

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