Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New uses for old porticos

click photo to enlarge
Our weekend walk along the South Bank in London involved a detour due to building work. This took us along a road I'd never been on before, one that presented me with a puzzling sight.

Number 57 Stamford Street is a modern block of flats, not especially different from many other expensive developments in London. The facade facing the road is concave, mainly black, with a grid of balconies and supports. The side has similar (though flat) balconies set into a background of orange brick. Had this been all the building amounted to I'd have passed it by with a glance, a brief thought or two, and nothing more. What caused me to pause, think a little more deeply, and then take this photograph, was the incongruous and anachronistic looking hexastyle portico in the Greek Doric style right in the centre of the Stamford Street elevation. It is painted white, looks quite severe, and initially made me wonder whether it was some kind of Post-Modern architectural joke. However, a closer look revealed that it was from the 1800s and probably dated from the time of the Greek Revival in the early part of that century. It serves as the main entrance to the new block, and was clearly either re-sited or had been retained when the site was cleared for the present building. Then I wondered about the white painted (stucco?) first floor. Was any of that original? My final thought was this: the old portico on the modern structure doesn't really work because there's not enough connection between the new and the old, and the contrast in styles between the two is simply too great.

When I got home the modern wonder that is the internet revealed that the portico was from a Unitarian Chapel of 1823 designed by Charles Parker, which does indeed make it a Greek Revival piece. Parker built quite a few churches and houses, though he is better known to many for publishing Villa Rustica (1832), a book that brought Italian house design to the attention of British architects and was influential in popularising the English villa with an "Italianate" tower. His chapel was demolished in 1963, but the portico was retained. This sort of architectural salvage is something I've seen happen in a few cities, for example this facade of the former Hull Co-operative Institute (1833) that is incorporated into modern flats. The source I found didn't say whether the London portico is in situ or has been moved, but I'm guessing it's the former.

So, how do you photograph such a thing in the narrow, dark canyon of a London street with the sun low in the late afternoon. I decided that symmetry demanded symmetry and stood directly opposite the portico - you can see my reflection in the glass of the entrance door. The original shot had converging verticals from me having to tilt the camera upwards. I have corrected these in post processing.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On