Finsbury Health Centre

Located in what was once one of London’s most deprived areas, Finsbury Health Centre is the embodiment of the Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin’s famous maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. Lubetkin left Russia soon after the Revolution but remained a committed socialist throughout his life. In the 1930s he moved to London and founded the architectural practice Tecton. A regular client was the Labour-controlled Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury (now part of the London Borough of Islington) and the Health Centre was one of a number of ambitious projects put in hand by the Council. Unfortunately not all their schemes came to fruition: one that did – rather controversially – was the erection of a statue of Lenin, which Lubetkin also designed.

Sadly this magnificent building is now very delapidated, although it remains in use.

© Christopher Seddon 2008

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Ziggurat at Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell

The fortunes of Clerkenwell have risen and fallen over the years and its revival as a desirable location is comparatively recent, dating to the late 1990s when many light industrial works were converted to residential use. One such conversion is this splendid Modernist building located at Saffron Hill. Known as the Ziggurat, it was formally a print works. When converted in 1997 prices started at £125,000 for a one-bed apartment. A space in the secure underground car park located in the basement of the building cost an extra £10,000. Despite the current property slump, these prices now seem ridiculously cheap!

© Christopher Seddon 2008

Rainbow

Thunderstorms are uncommon in late November but on the morning of 25 November 2006 thundery showers persisted for several hours. Eventually, just after nine o’clock, this spectacular rainbow appeared. Note that the sky inside the bow is significantly lighter than it is outside. The optics involved in this phenomenon are fairly straightforward and are due to raindrops “inside” the bow from the viewer’s perspective reflecting sunlight back at the viewer.

© Christopher Seddon 2008

Seating on the 271 Bus

The photos below, taken with a mobile phone, show the seating configuration on the buses used on Route 271 from Highgate to Moorgate, compared with a normal bus.

The lack of legroom is such that it is physically impossible for a person of my size to be seated without either occupying both seats, with my legs splayed apart, or sideways on the outermost seat, with my legs in the aisle. Either way is singularly uncomfortable! Admittedly at 6 ft I’m quite tall, but I’m hardly in the Peter Crouch league.

Below is the rather condescending reply I got when I raised this matter with TfL back in March. The buses were converted to facilitate disabled access, but rather than accept a slightly reduced capacity they hit on the brilliant idea of reducing the legroom. The assertion that the majority of passengers can sit without difficulty is nonsense – I have a friend who is 5ft4 who finds them uncomfortable. I doubt if anybody but a young child could be seated in comfort.

Dear Mr Seddon

Thank you for your recent email about leg room on the route 271 buses.

I am sorry to learn that you have found the seats uncomfortable and too close together. Please accept my apologies for any discomfort and inconvenience you have suffered as a result. We do try to operate an efficient service for the benefit of all our passengers.

Since the beginning of 2006, all London buses have been of a low floor, accessible design. In order to accomplish this we had to alter the seating layout on new buses so that overall passenger capacity was not reduced because of the accessible design.

I can assure you that all London buses operated on our behalf meet the necessary legal regulations (including those related to safety). All public service vehicles in the UK must comply with the legal requirements before they can enter service.

We do have a Bus Design Forum which provides us with passenger feedback about the diverse needs of commuters and the barriers they encounter. We ensure that the Forum is representative, by recruiting members from different user groups. This includes older people, young people, wheelchair users, passengers using buggies and people with learning difficulties or physical impairments. All buses are built to standards specifications which fulfil the standards detailed by the Disabled Passengers Transport Advisory Committee.

The comments received from the Forum are fed into our discussions with bus operators and manufacturers about bus design. Our decision to ensure that all new buses have a vertical grab rail at the end of every seat on the lower deck of buses is one such outcome from discussions with the Forum.

The seat dimensions on buses enable the majority of passengers to stand or be seated without difficulty. I appreciate that you have found the route 271 buses to be restrictive in this respect. Once again, I am sorry about this.

We will continue to work with the operating companies, bus manufacturers and the Bus Design Forum to ensure that each new bus design is better than the last.

Thank you for contacting me about this matter. Please let me know if I may be of any further assistance.

Basically, given a choice between a slight reduction in capacity and making the upper deck of the bus horribly uncomfortable for just about everybody, they opted for the latter. As is all too often said these days, you couldn’t make it up!

© Christopher Seddon 2008

Highpoint

Located on top of Highgate Hill at one of the highest places in London (hence the name), Highpoint comprises two apartment blocks designed by the Russian imigre Berthold Lubetkin and constructed in two phases – Highpoint 1 in 1935 and the adjascent Highpoint 2 in 1938. It is a classic example of Modernist architecture, though local estate agents regularly display their ignorance by referring to apartments on their books as Art Deco.

View from the south, taken from adjacent carpark.

Another view from the south of the complex.

One of the two caryatids supporting the porch of Highpoint 2. Although completely out of keeping with the Modernist design of the building, they are an attractive feature.

A view of the front aspect of the complex.

View from the north, the only picture actually taken on the site.

© Christopher Seddon 2008

Architecture at London Zoo

Opened in 1828, London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoological garden. From the beginning, renowned architects have always been hired to work on new buildings, and in addition to its extensive animal collection, the zoo site hosts many structures of outstanding architectural merit. Currently there are two Grade One and eight Grade II listed buildings on the Regents Park site.

The Lubetkin-designed Penguin Pool was built in 1934 and is now a Grade One Listed Building, but is no longer considered to suitable for penguins and has been empty for some years. It is to be hoped that one day a way will be found to return this Modernist classic to use, without affecting its architectural integrity in any way.

Also listed is the former Elephant and Rhino Pavillion, a fine example of Brutalist architecture, designed by Sir Hugh Casson. It opened in 1964. The pavillion now houses smaller animals, including pigs, camels and a number of birds.

The Snowdon Aviary, designed by Antony Armstrong-Jones, Cedric Price and Frank Newby, and constructed in 1964 is still in its original use and it continues to house birds.

Also of note are the Mappin Terraces, a man-made mountain landscape, completed in 1914 which housed bears for many years. They are currently closed for renovation (this picture was taken in 2003). Below the terraces is the aquarium, opened in 1924 by King George V. In my childhood, this was the highlight of any visit to the zoo, but sadly it is now very dilapidated. A wonderful original 1920s exploded diagram of the aquarium can still be seen within.

© Christopher Seddon 2008