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On Jews Walk

Andrew Saint: Eleanor Marx’s Blue Plaque

9 October 2008
... A sodden afternoon in Sydenham. A trickle of sober pensioners converges on Jews Walk, overhung with wet branches. They turn into a deep, unkempt front garden, dip their umbrellas diffidently at the gate, divide into huddles, converse in undertones and wait. There is the air of an impending religious service. A hallowing, almost an expiation, is about to take place: the unveiling of a blue plaque to ...

In Le Havre

Andrew Saint: The rebuilding of France

6 February 2003
... gone, but the sea is still just about the only way to get there from London. On a moonlit winter evening, as the shore approaches, the town lays itself out beneath an electric halo, the Church of Saint-Joseph lifting its lighthouse-like campanile majestically behind. The ferry barges across the seafront for its dock with categoric straightness, welcome after the shambles and indirection of ...

When Chicago Went Classical

Andrew Saint: A serial killer and the World’s Fair

1 April 2004
Devil in the White City 
by Erik Larson.
Bantam, 496 pp., £7.99, April 2004, 0 553 81353 6
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... Just two of the fabled world exhibitions of the 19th century are still remembered. They are the two with the best claim to have reshaped the culture of their times. London 1851 was a paean to industry and progress sheltered within a structure to match; its theme has been invoked in world’s fairs ever since. The other contender is Chicago 1893. After more than a century, the gleaming White City on ...

Diary

Andrew Saint: Foscolo’s Grave

20 September 2007
... them Père Lachaise. There was plenty of ancient precedent for extra-mural burial. But when the policy was extended to the Napoleonic puppet Kingdom of Italy, in a decree handed down to Milan from Saint-Cloud, Foscolo was outraged. In his eyes the law symbolised creeping despotism and the imposition of a chilly, impious bureaucracy on Italian custom and affections. Not that Foscolo was any kind of ...

What architects said before they said ‘space’

Andrew Saint: The vocabulary of modern architecture

30 November 2000
Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture 
by Adrian Forty.
Thames and Hudson, 335 pp., £28, April 2000, 0 500 34172 9
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... All this talk brings the ears so far forward that they make blinkers for the eyes’: thus Edwin Lutyens on architectural discourse. In Lutyens’s day it was still possible, just, to believe that the good architects got on with designing and building while only the second-raters taught and wrote. Books were chiefly for reference – for illustrations, rules and technicalities. If there had to be ...

Diary

Andrew Saint: Goodbye to the Routemaster

26 January 2006
... It’s the noise I miss the most. The Kennington Road is a barren speedtrack. Buses can get up a good lick there, if passengers at request stops don’t flag them down. Even if your head was in the newspaper, you could tell a 159 was coming from the gurgling roar of the Routemaster’s engine, stick out a hand just in time and hear the machine change register, grind to a halt and turn over in moody ...

Walls, Fences, Grilles and Intercoms

Andrew Saint: Security and the City

19 November 2009
Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st-Century City 
by Anna Minton.
Penguin, 240 pp., £9.99, June 2009, 978 0 14 103391 4
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... In the perpetual struggle between security and liberty, the city stands in the front line. From time immemorial people have found freedom in cities, yet urban coexistence can’t go on without countless checks and regulations. Lately these have been getting out of hand. All over the transport system disembodied voices boom out their futile admonitions; cameras track our every turning as we walk; city ...
2 October 1997
Corbusier’s Formative Years 
by H. Allen Brooks.
Chicago, 506 pp., £51.95, June 1997, 0 226 07579 6
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... Did the fact that he came from Switzerland’s drabbest town have something to do with it? La Chaux-de-Fonds has little excuse. Lifted high in a bowl of the Jura, it is fringed by mountains and pines, in which Emeritus Professor Allen Brooks, musing from the tranquillity of retirement, revels at leisure. ‘Allow time to climb the road,’ he admonishes readers eager to tick off the Villa Fallet, Charles-Edouard ...

Aldermanic Depression

Andrew Saint: London is good for you

4 February 1999
London: A History 
by Francis Sheppard.
Oxford, 442 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 19 822922 4
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London: More by Fortune than Design 
by Michael Hebbert.
Wiley, 50 pp., £17.99, April 1998, 0 471 97399 8
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... A hundred years ago, when London ruled half the world and the snarl-up in front of the Bank of England passed for ‘the hub of the Empire’, only dedicated puffers and slummers plus a smattering of tourists had much good to say about Britain’s capital. Literary folk like James and Conrad slipped into the illusionary language of the dark sublime. London was dismal, blackened, sick, cruel and unplanned ...

How to Save the City-Dweller

Andrew Saint: Cities

21 May 1998
Cities for a Small Planet 
by Richard Rogers.
Faber, 180 pp., £9.99, December 1997, 0 571 17993 2
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... Cities that are beautiful, safe and equitable are within our grasp.’ So says Richard Rogers at the end of this reworking of his Reith Lectures of 1995, and we must do our best to believe him. Suppose, however, that the lecturer had pronounced instead on another of the basic building-blocks of society – the family, for instance. We might admit that he was right to exhort us, but we should know ...

Successive Applications of Sticking-Plaster

Andrew Saint: The urban history of Britain

1 November 2001
The Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Vol. III: 1840-1950 
edited by Martin Daunton.
Cambridge, 944 pp., £90, January 2001, 0 521 41707 4
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... Do the authors of this volume of the Cambridge Urban History know how gloomy a book they have written? Pessimism suffuses these pages from start almost to finish. ‘Why have so many of Britain’s great cities fared so badly in the 20th century?’ Peter Clark, the general editor of the series, asks in his preface. Turn the page, and Martin Daunton’s introduction descends with unconcealed relish ...

I had to refrain

Andrew Saint: Pre-Raphaelite Houses

1 December 2005
Philip Webb: Pioneer of Arts and Crafts Architecture 
by Sheila Kirk.
Wiley-Academy, 336 pp., £29.99, February 2005, 0 470 86808 2
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... It was Ruskin who flung down the challenge in the last of his ‘seven lamps’. The style of architecture a nation picks to build in does not matter, he says. It can be Classic, Romanesque, Gothic, anything you like, so long as it fits the climate and the temper of the people. But once a style has been chosen, it must be stuck to. So the last of the lamps is the ‘lamp of obedience’. There follows ...

Swiping at Suburbs

Andrew Saint: The course of British urbanism

31 March 2005
Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City 
by Tristram Hunt.
Weidenfeld, 432 pp., £25, June 2004, 0 297 60767 7
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... How Blake would blench at the ends to which the English left has turned his poem. The vagueness of his vision of Jerusalem helps to make it the handiest of slogans. Officially appropriated as the New Labour anthem to replace the robust ‘Red Flag’, here we have it dusted down again by Tristram Hunt to front a passionate, kaleidoscopic but wilful defence of the Victorian city. Building Jerusalem ...

For the Good of Our Health

Andrew Saint: The Spread of Suburbia

6 April 2006
Sprawl: A Compact History 
by Robert Bruegmann.
Chicago, 301 pp., £17.50, January 2006, 0 226 07690 3
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... Just beyond Croydon – I will not share its exact whereabouts – there is a lane I take whenever I drive to visit my father in his retirement. For six precious minutes, it unfolds up and down hill through unspoilt Surrey countryside. There are just three houses along its length, one a farm. I seldom meet another car, but often see pheasants and once encountered a badger. On the way home, from its ...

The Danger of Giving In

Andrew Saint: George Gilbert Scott Jr

17 October 2002
An Architect of Promise: George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-97) and the Late Gothic Revival 
by Gavin Stamp.
Shaun Tyas, 427 pp., £49.50, July 2002, 1 900289 51 2
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... to the English authorities and resumed something like normal life. But in 1888 he was caught breaking windows in Yarmouth and cutting his toenails in a bank. He was taken now to the excellent St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton, where he enjoyed many amenities but contrived to destroy a piano. After nine months he was again discharged, but his wife had had enough and soon left Hampstead with the ...

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