It’s the holy month of Ramadan at the moment, here in the Middle East.
Well I suppose we’re more in the inner east, being closer to Aldgate and Whitechapel than to Bow and the Docklands, but it certainly feels like the Middle East except for the weather. Our local very good Bangladeshi restaurant, conveniently located right next door to our building, has not-so-conveniently semi shut down for the month as they aren’t allowed to cook during daylight hours (although you can share in the cold buffet or buy all the fresh dates you want!). It’s a strange sensation, stepping out the front door in the morning, to inhale the delightfully fresh London air/smog/dirt, instead of curry fumes wafting from the tandoori chimney located a few metres from our front door. Meanwhile, the Mosque up the road has ramped up operations, to the point of gettting the council to temporarily turn the road into a one-way street, a dodgy attempt to gain more car parking spaces. At the start of Ramadan there was even an outdoor prayer session which we could just see from the road, I guess the Mosque wasn’t big enough inside. As I come home from work at night I pass a steady stream of beards and veils heading to the Mosque, and hear the wail of the muezzim, or at least the recording of one. I can almost imagine the red sun setting, sand crunching underfoot, palm trees overhead and spices wafting in the warm air, then I realise I’m hallucinating again and it’s actually the glare of the streetlamp, dirt and rubbish underfoot, tower blocks and street signs, and – oh wait the spices are real. The great benefit is that I have the internet place almost to myself!
The weather here has turned wintry, although remained may be a more appropriate word than turned. I am beginning to notice all the subtle nuances and shades of grey it is possible to achieve in a cityscape. Before I thought it was grey, now I can pick out charcoal, dusty grey, brown-grey, steel, pale grey, well um I’m running out of inspiration now. Actually though the view from our window is quite lovely, with lots of red rooftops and chimneys, leafy trees in the ‘warmer’ months, and at night the composition of glowing windows, the beacon of the Swiss Re building and sometimes (more often than you’d expect) fireworks from various directions. It’s lucky we have the large glass doors and that there’s always something fascinating to see from the window, as otherwise I might go a bit spare seeing the same white walls of our 38 square metres all the time.
Brighton, previously the exclusive playground of the rich and ostentatious, namely the Prince Regent later George 4th, and currently the gaudy seaside escape of half of London, mingled with a laid back hippy vibe which is rather nice as a change from London. My favourite place was the Palace, it may have offended Justin’s delicate modernist sensibilities but I found it delightful! I probably wouldn’t live there, but it was fascinating, detailed and opulent, a true ‘stately pleasure dome’! They certainly knew how to throw a party back then, the banquet hall is huge, with an amazing enormous dragon chandelier suspended from a fine thread over the table, and a gigantic and well laid-out kitchen with row upon row of gleaming copper pots lining the walls, expansive timber benchtops and cavernous fireplaces and ranges, including an innovative (for the time) automated roasting spit, much to the dismay of the jobless spit boys I’m sure. Just think of all the squares of tofu one could line up and roast on that! Apparently Asian interior decor was all the rage at the time of the construction/ongoing decoration of the pleasure palace, so the result throughout is an English interpretation of various Asian styles, created by people who had never actually been there. The dragon and snake motifs feature heavily, which is amusing considering that apparently it is considered bad luck to have these items featuring together in your home in many parts of Asia. Some later decorated areas including the king’s brothers’ bedrooms feature bright yellow patterned wallpaper, which is quite horrendous and not at all conducive to sleep I would think, but again was quite cutting edge at the time. The things people will put up with for fashion. My other favourite part of Brighton was the great vegetarian restaurants! It is one of the best places in the UK for vegos, and is home to a vegan shoe shop (which I now know is closed on Sundays!) Anyway I organised lunch and dinner at two different places and the day was therefore spent in delicious anticipation, delectation of and recovery from meals. Justin also managed to sniff out a doughnut stand and so the day was a little stuffed with food and so were we. The pier was not really my cup of tea, as Justin has suggested, although it’s not so much that I can’t stand the sight of so many people having fun, but rather than I don’t understand how they can find what they are doing to be fun. Flashing lights, slot machines, rickety rides, sticky sugar smeared on children’s faces, teens clutching giant lurid coloured soft toys probably made from toxic materials by slave labour… Well anyway I enjoyed the historic explanations fixed to the side of the pier, and watching the seagulls fight over the prime position on top of the bulbous lamps and then slide awkwardly off, and I liked the pebble beach as you could sit on it without getting dirty. One day there was enough for the time being, but I intend to return, when the vegan shoe shop is open, and sample some more fine cuisine!
Last weekend we participated in London Open House – during which over 600 buildings are opened up to the public, who seemingly embrace the opportunity whether they are connected with the field of Architecture or not. With such an impressive catalogue there was no way we could see everything, in fact we thought 7 was a reasonable attempt in the end. Saturday started with a queue for the Lloyds building, the wonderful inside-out high tech building by Richard Rogers which is one of the most modern buildings in London despite being designed before I was born. Justin was almost hyperventilating with joy at being allowed inside the icon, so I let him stand in the queue for a half an hour and went for a walk, although really someone had to do it as we had very cleverly left our street directory at home. Honestly I think the building is at its most impressive on the outside, however it was interesting to see how much daylighting could be obtained in a building with hardly any windows (hint – a tall glass atrium.) This was followed by a series of smaller buildings around Southwark and Bermondsey including a pyramid shaped office building, a backstage tour of the Unicorn children’s theatre, and the Siobhan Davies dance studio done by my office! which was great to see. On Sunday we met up with Richard Franko, my second or third cousin who is a director of a Seattle architecture firm, (in London for a presentation to BedZed for all those interested in sustainable communities) and took him to see Container City in the docklands area. At first we thought it was going to be a disaster, as we kind of forgot that we didn’t know how to get there, but after treking along a few freeways (always fascinating taking an American to see freeways) we finally found it and fortunately it was worth the trip. For those with an interest in turning shipping containers into flats, offices and artist’s studios, check out www.containercity.com for some interesting ideas. We got to go inside and talk to some of the artists which was great, and enjoyed the other things going on there including London’s only lighthouse, and a number of art installations including a pair of giant metal flapping aeroplane wings – cool!
Well I think that’s probably enough for now, and enough to make up for a bit of a lacklustre performance on the blog front, I am rather busy at work at the moment. Everything is new, everything is a learning curve, but I guess that’s what I came here for! Bye for now.