Monday, 5 March 2012

writing about architecture: building

Unprecedently I have now been present at one address for more than 12 unbroken months. From our upstairs bathroom window I have seen the Shard creep up above the horizon of the opposite terrace, from its Mace mushroom beginnings to its Christmas tree glittery grandeur, topped by that strange awkward angular angel craning in tinsel and candy canes. I get to see such festivities come a second time, and am being awakened to the wealth of wisdom's comparative adjectives, to speak of place and the turning of seasons. And by the gradient of these, to learn to sense the trajectory of change in the spirit of a place. None of this here. I must write 300 words on a building. Go.

It was God who found me a room to lodge within this sleeping giant of a terraced house, a handsome handbuilt home, and there is an architecture to this, overlooked as vernacular, overlooked as speculator Georgian, commodified as mere property, parcelled out and auctioned off. It bears a revisiting.


Turning right out of Oval tube we sally through Lambeth's plastic patchwork of sporadically updated public furniture, along the rarely tree-lined artery of the Clapham Road down which a feud of lorries and cyclists impatiently flee from not-London to London-proper: we are their no-man's-land. Right again into the gentler Richborne Terrace. Scarcely registering the invisibly mundane revival huddle, sawn off at the knee by building regulations, one is lead on to the prouder, dishevelled huddle of brick, render, and soilstacks. A noble family of houses who still muster a remembrance of the sublime, whose war-weathered gentlemen, unashamed of their neglect and stoic against their occupants' efforts to modernise, are visible through unkempt magnolia, as a troop, in unsteady syncopation, brandishing their ordinary adornment, wearing the unpolished medals of cracked stucco and striving clematis on their shoulders. And, selectively, by addressees more self-conscious, the unevenly cleaned, occasionally repointed yellow bricks permit a melancholic honey ochre in the dusklight of a sunset's fall calculated to cut in half this symmetrical urbanism.

Half way up, or down the street, we arrive with a click and whine through a fifties gate, treading upon this elder statesman's broken toenails of seventies fractured tiled steps to a nineties catalogue imported door handle, I am living in all of history at once. My body's memory leans its weight unconsciously into the door swing and we are in the hallway. Peace and Sebaldian dust hang in the air above my head, in the 4 feet before the ceiling, 4 feet where my soul has room to roam, and the dreaming spirits of many occupants-past have been dignified by these few additional inches of air.

Climbing to the kitchen, even in the warming ecobulb gloom, careless chips into the painted banister reveal a rainbow history of long loved colours, pregnant, every surface with a diversity of domesticites and the unselfconscious idiosyncrasies of this happy bricolage. Arrived, we settle in folding chairs while skip-saved lilies preside over my favourite room in the world, a room whose yawning huge windows drink in the sky and all of the backstage of this terrace, like a newborn baby's eyes feasting gazes from her father's shoulder, amazed at everything on the pew behind her in church.

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