Thursday, 21 February 2013

Concrete Rules

I must have watched Mary Mungo and Midge at a very impressionable age: high-rise living has always appealed to me.  Maybe it was the pretty, pastel colours of Mary’s tower block; the sweet, 60s daisies in her window box; the view from her window of the idyllic, little town; the playground; her cute pets… I don’t know but I guess it was the root of my Barbican obsession.  Yes, I know that millions of tons of concrete can’t be described as pretty and window boxes are forbidden in the towers but if you read this article, written by Jonathan Glancey in 2001, just as the buildings were listed, you will get a sense of just how idyllic urban living can be.

From my south-facing balcony, I look across mature gardens to the dome of St Paul's Cathedral.
For any Londoner, and particularly one with a love of architecture, it would be hard to beat a view of this, the greatest of all domes. This view and the light captivated me. The huge skies above the Barbican are things denied to Londoners living in two-, three- and even four-storey homes. The moon seems bigger and more splendid here than it ever can from the pavement, glimpsed through the interstices of city streets. Early-morning jets bound for Heathrow etch silent vapour trails across the sky. Turboprops nosing into City Airport thrum as they turn over St Paul's, animating a skyscape unexpectedy rich in bird life. 
And so it was that yesterday I managed to persuade an estate agent to take us to the 30th floor of Lauderdale Tower. Standing in the groovy, triangular lobby, I could just see Mungo stood by the lift doors with Midge perched on his nose, pressing the button.
This is the view…

On a crisp, sunny day, the towers of the Barbican rise like the best 50s sculpture up through Piranesian car-park basements and flower-bedecked podiums into the bird- and plane-graced City sky. To date, only Tower 42, the former NatWest Tower, designed by Colonel Seifert, has the temerity to look down on London's tallest housing. On misty days, the Barbican towers vanish, as the Empire State Building does so magically in Manhattan, their sculptural bulk suggesting some ruined castle, Tintagel or Richmond, perhaps. They are never less than a haunting sight.
Sigh... couldn’t have put it better myself.
Hang on! What’s this?
The sheer mass of all those millions of tons of concrete means that homes here are as soundproof as they come this side of the padded cells of an asylum. Maybe there are people here who play the Chemical Brothers or Deep Purple in Rock at full volume. Maybe there are dogs howling illicitly through the night (no dogs, by order: one of the shortcomings of Barbican living). Perhaps there are babies bawling for attention. Yet the Barbican sleeps on, its urban dream pinpricked by the occasional police siren.

Right. I’ve never liked all that dark, brutal concrete. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
Fairytale Chateau in the French countryside.. That’s the way to go. They like dogs in France.
Bet the BBC bought that Mary, Mungo and Midge off Frog TV…

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