Friday, 30 January 2015

Café: Husk

A Danish word originally: husk, a remembering or being mindful. The cafe offers various glimpsed memories of its former existences as a chapel for Danish sailors. There's been a church here since the 1890s, the current luxurious sprawl of spaces, however, is the extended form of a postwar structure, the angular brick inner sanctuary, complete with organ and maritime trusses, hosts the gallery space.

The enterprise is invisibly overseen by London City Mission, the spaces are refreshingly devoid of tracts, clutter, or indeed any trace of an agenda beyond excellent coffee hospitably offered. I prodded for a vision statement, a how-would-you-measure-the-success-of-the-exercise. Ally Gordon, artist-in-residence begins to describe Jesus, meeting people in the street ~ that third space of warmer climates. The collection of rooms very successfully plays the informal sprawl, and indeed I chance to bump into not a few Jesuses in my hours spent loitering over my flatwhite.

The spaces are sensitively balanced, allowing a full range of inhabitations, from the roadfront DLR-facing benching, through the uncynical domesticity of armchairs, rugs and bookshelves, right back to a starker co-working hive of skylit industry and artist's studio. Husk has been given the gift of an existing 50s modern structure which allows the relaxed and worn Eamesie furnishings to roam without any sense of affectation. Strip lighting, would be a minor complaint, flattening what could be more intimately light-pooled corners. The thin paper artworks on display compete unsuccessfully with other artefacts, sewing machines, hymn numbers etc.

The sheer volume of space available allows the coffee-as-catalyst mode of missional presence to be worked out to a greater degree than at Wren, Host or Kahaila. The coffeeshop floor is well curated as a safe space, with a gradiation, all manner of ambiguities are accommodated in the roomy front-of-house, which serves as either a buffer for the unwilling or invitation to the willing - inviting a deeper involvement, in the work of the gallery, classrooms and studio out back.

But it is not just volume: the explicit diversity of uses which symbiotically sit alongside mutually reinforcing the other's mission is where the magic happens here. On the one hand, coffee's familiarity gathers a broad audience to an more typically elite class of use the 'art gallery' allowing a license for more ambitiously challenging curation than concern for access might otherwise allow.

While equally in this complementary relationship the transformative mission of art gives to the coffee space a depth and an orientation, comparable to Hive's efforts with local food. Hive being possibly even more successful than Husk in emphasising coffeeshop-as-gateway - a coffee-shop-as-tip-of-the-iceberg mode of mischief.


I'm still on the lookout for socially provocative experiments using the vehicle of coffee. Do be in touch if you want to chat or have any recommendations ~ London or further afield. 07729056452

Thursday, 29 January 2015

200words: Westminster Cathedral

"Silver and gold have I none.." Acts3v6

I have long misunderstood the fabulous gloomth that stretches up into Westminster's vast Hogwartsian ceiling. There is no Gothic depth intended in this ancient charred expanse of cosmic night, no mystique of a hewn subterranean cavern, not even as a dark canvas backgrounding to the lower earthly lights. "If you come back in 300 years..." begins a guide effusively offering tidbits to the unsuspecting: it will all glitter, apparently. The tour continues with an emphasis on the gold invested thus far, assuaging none of my prejudicial conceptions of Catholic architecture. I wanted so very much for a route of conscience to shortcut this industrially sordid opulence, to access the material splendour on its own terms, but the guide was unrelenting: millions of pounds, if it is to be 24 carat.. I feel a bit ill, a sugar migraine brought on by saccharine polychrome excess, a dizzying Byzantine orgy of razzle dazzle, pomp and glory, shock and awe, a garish wedding-cake Harrods concession inside a Romanesque themed spa. And yet, it is a public building, sumptuously, generously civic in its nurturing craft: the mosaics are made, by makers, from Northampton. I confess I'm too quick to slight these efforts, forgive me.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Café: Iris & June

Victoria as a district is bland done to excess, with ambitions to surpass itself with acres more of angled glass vying for the significance of tedious spectacle. Just back a street from the main mêlée, however, we find Iris & June, named after the proprietor's grandmothers for their giving refuge in this café's small oasis of maternal calm.

Our aeropress comes, a warm vial of silky smokey Ethiopian scented mountain air, perhaps I prefer more fruit in the palate, but it is, nevertheless a subtle distinctive and very enjoyable brew from Ozone. Our flatwhite, is a textbook pleasure. However, what really rocks my universe at this unexpected cafe are the almond croissants, dense muscular pastry tightly coiled about a nutty aggregate core the texture of love, knitted by bees - my hearty congratulations to the Little Bread Pedlars.

The compact space rendered in pallid bleached pine is all of a zen spartan stark scandi, saved from complete anaemia by a dash of Sandows blue on the chisseled flanks of the bare concrete pillars, and quite exquisite architectural floristry ~ a deeply enjoyable pleasure.

A slightly irrelevant note on airconditioning units ~ there is a gap in the market for a ceiling mounted unit which does not anticipate a ceiling-tile surround and so, undressed, feel strung with a collar and bowtie, but no shirt. Perhaps Marzocco could apply themselves to this design problem. @IrisandJune1 @LBPedlar @OzoneCoffee

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Café: Hive

Housed in a shipping container, Hive runs rugged urgency as an emphatic theme, like a Swiss army knife of social action and versatile goodness, a macchiato on a mission to speak a message that another world is possible. The luxury of zero-ground-rent, and a cornered heterotopic bubble of campus students, is not made an excuse to be less than aggressively ambitious in plans for the radical local economy. Organising students, in my experience, is like herding cats, and Hive have achieved an astonishing broad portfolio: bikeshop, vegbox scheme, farmers market, live music - all vehicles reinforcing the local locality of reinvestment. They grow-their-own, serving as HQ for an eager network of student polytunnelers, herb gardeners and further off-campus, local farmers. Hive is a must-visit to anyone who would know the capacity of coffee to be the catalyst for relocalisation.

Matthew Algie's beans espress a creamy double shot, perfect pitch black. And I try a Feel Good Bakery sandwich for the first time. Masses of flavour, the roasted veg are superlative, zinging and a good texture bedded in smooth rich humous. The packaging has a handmade, handwritten charm, perhaps a heavier belt with letterpressed/diecut logo might raise it above its present sandwich-undergarment feel of unboxed cheeseburger wrapping. This is cosmetic, my chief critique would be the bread, which is underwhelming: it is a very pleasingly soft wholemeal but limply fails to hold the whole. Shop-bought sandwiches go awry on many levels, but they mostly appreciate the importance of the edge, the sculptural cut where the plastic window gives a crisp sectional view of the sandwich's anatomy. Plastic windows we don't need, but this eater wants for a more muscular bread to shoulder the load and contain its valuable cargo in the way mild sourdough might. And at £3.55, it would like to be artisan bread - even conscious that the price is carrying a matching meal within that price for their one-for-one scheme.


Café: Host

Come as you are, bring yourself, bring your own lunch. Crisp, still, winter light falls on Victorian tiles: noumenal, yet nonchalant, eternal, yet everyday, the air has a meditative quality, dwelling on the gift of entirely ordinary pleasures. An easy rich flat white, with a free, needlessly excellent, chocolate chip cookie ~ just because it's Monday! Moot illustrate that this is the most obvious thing to do with sacred space: give it away, give it away. In this way the life of it is vitalised. The thoughtfully lightweight scattering of chairs is a lesson in loose-fit architecture ~ humble and intuitive.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Natural History Museum

Waterhouse's Hintze Hall is heavy with joy, playful pleasure runs up every column. I cannot go to the Natural History Museum without absorbing some measure of the child-like delight taken by the terracotta designers in layering creatures on textures on geometries. In imitation of a vital ecosystem, thronging and humming, this Victorian cathedral rings with a chorus of harmonic variety. To my taste the balance between structural adventure and ornamental loading is found exactly, the figurative work is never ponderous, the effect of terracotta cladding never an excuse for fakery. The light filled canopy of steel rafters is an array of nimble fronds, while equally the launch of stairs feels contemporary in its acrobatics. Building like this begins with wonder, I pray I never lose it.

The Rolling Bridge

Heatherwick is the mad professor of contemporary British steam punk, and the rolling bridge is a little essay in piston powered urbanism, a manifesto in the potential to mechanise and make-magic the otherwise pedestrian experience of all cities everywhere. Health and safety has taught us to relegate our more eccentric dreams to virtual realities where no one can get hurt. Here (yellow jackets in attendance mind) a spring loaded imagination is let loose, like a venus fly trap animating what ought to be static,  Aladdin's carpets floats an inch off the cobbles and the bridge yawns into life, quivering a gang plank of mischief, into a scorpion's tail, and finally the clam closes a clenched fist around a motorcycle's circus cage. And then all again in reverse, slow as a prayer that we might see such graces abound on every street corner. Tragically, it is a bridge over water untroubled by any maritime activity, festering in Paddington's backwater of over-developed cynicism and aluminium cladding, the bridge is cruelly gratuitous and safely out-of-sight, a folly dormant all other hours but 12pm on a Friday.