Tuesday, November 30, 2010


click photo to enlarge
Today's photographs show Palestra at 197 Blackfriars Road, London. The building was designed by Will Alsop and Buro Happold and completed in 2006. Among the accolades it has received are the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Regional Award (2007) and Private Eye magazine's "Sir Hugh Casson Award for The Worst New Building (2006)". Will Alsop's designs seem to appeal to Private Eye: in 2008 he got the same award for The Public, West Bromwich. Interestingly, the general public have christened this community arts centre and office space, "The Fish Tank" and "The Friesian Cow". I'm not aware that Palestra has gained any popular appellations, but perhaps it has become less noticeable now that "The Shard" is rising above it not too far away.

A recent BBC News website feature posed the question, "Why do tall buildings have such silly names?" It's a fair question, though it should perhaps have been re-phrased, "Why do tall British buildings have such silly names?". London's Swiss Re building (2003) at 30 St Mary Axe, designed by Norman Foster, started the fashion in the UK in recent years, its curved point provoking "The Gherkin". Some, though not all, subsequent additions to the London skyline have attracted names where their shape has prompted a popular analogy to be made. One of the most noticeable is Robin Partington's, "The Razor", properly known as Strata Tower. It will soon be joined at 122 Leadenhall Street by  "The Cheese Grater". The BBC article shows other examples and names across Britain. Elsewhere in the world the given name tends to stick better, though there are exceptions such as Daniel Burnhams' Fuller Building (1902) in New York, known as the "Flatiron Building".

Irreverence in naming buildings is a feature of long standing in Britain. One of my early blog posts mentioned this in connection with the magnificent medieval church of St Botolph in Boston, Lincolnshire. It has a very tall tower capped with a lantern that is visible for miles across the flat, Fenland landscape, and fairly soon after completion it had acquired the popular name, "The Stump". It is still called that today. Perhaps a local wag will spot something in Palestra that prompts a humorous name, though nothing springs immediately to my mind. However, having said that, and with "The Stump" in mind, and in contrast to the elongated sharpness of the adjacent "Shard", perhaps it could be "The Lump".

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

First photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 48mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On