Sunday, February 15, 2015

St Mary Somerset among the towers

click photo to enlarge
I never cease to be surprised by the relative modernity of some of the buildings that are demolished in the City of London. The centre of our metropolis is a magnet to large, successful modern businesses and such undertakings require modern buildings. Consequently structures erected in the 1960s and 1970s - 1980s even - are often lacking the necessary technological infrastructure and adaptable spaces required by modern business, and frequently cannot be retro-fitted with the desired features. So, down they come to be replaced by a new tower that externally proclaims its up-to-dateness and individuality, and internally has all the fixtures and fittings that the twenty-first century requires. Such buildings are sometimes fine examples of the architect's art and craft. Others less so.

Mercifully our planning legislation of the twentieth century and after limits what can be demolished and what can be built so moderating influences are at work, even if they are not always evident. A group of structures that remain unchanged despite the frenetic activity around them are the collection of City churches built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. One such building is shown in today's photograph - St Mary Somerset. It was built to replace a medieval church lost to the flames and, unusually, it isn't a complete church. Only the tower remains. In 1871 the nave and chancel were pulled down because the congregation had become too small to support the building. Its parish was amalgamated with that of St Nicholas Cole Abbey. At the instigation of the architect, Ewan Christian, the tower was allowed to remain. It stands today with a small garden adjacent to its old stones.

There are those who look at such a sight and rage against the juxtaposition of the old and the new, regretting the mismatch of materials, scale and purpose of the buildings. I don't mind seeing the ancient and the modern side by side. It wouldn't do if that was all we saw and no old, intact streetscapes were preserved. However, where this isn't possible the contrast of old and new is thought provoking, sometimes invigorating, and frequently injects a sense of the passage of time where all new or all old buildings would not. I relished seeing this tower looking like it was squeezed between the sharply angular steel, glass and granite facing of the recent buildings. I choose not to see it as oppressed, rather as something proudly, resolutely and assertively claiming its place in the modern city.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 60mm (90mm - 35mm equiv.) - cropped to 4:3 ratio
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On