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Peter Murray

 

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures

By Roma Agrawal (Bloomsbury, £20)

Reviewed by Sarah Eley

Reviewed in the Journal of the London Society no. 473

 

Roma Agrawal’s passion for her subject, the structures that make up the built world we live in, shines through in her book. Agrawal takes us on her journey of discovery of the wonders of structural engineering, beginning with her experience of Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers, a city she visited as a child when her engineer father took up a job in the US.

Simply titled ‘Built’, Agrawal starts her book with an exploration of force and the way it flows, as this influences the form that structures take. Hand drawn illustrations, which are peppered throughout the book, keep the reader’s mind on track and help to simplify concepts.  The subsequent chapters explore the building blocks of clay, metal and rock, building up into the sky and down into the earth, tunnelling through and bridging over, and the essential delivery of clean water and the taking away of sewerage. 

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Peter Murray

 

A Place for All People

By Richard Rogers and Richard Brown (Canongate Books, £30)

Reviewed by Lettie McKie

Reviewed in the Journal of the London Society no. 473

 

There are some architects whose reputation precedes them. And then there is Richard Rogers, the original starchitect.

From the first moment of this excellent coauthored autobiography the reader is plunged into Rogers’ Technicolor world of optimistic, egalitarian, wildly experimental and unapologetically modern architecture. It is impossible not to emerge starry-eyed and breathless.

He and Richard Brown tell the Rogers story in a fun, accessible style that mixes personal anecdote, highlights from his career, a potted history of 20th century architecture, and political commentary. It is readable and enjoyable even for those who aren’t normally interested in architecture.

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Peter Murray

 

Cook’s Camden: The Making of Modern Housing

By Mark Swenarton (Lund Humphries, £45)

Reviewed by Jonathan Manns

Reviewed in the Journal of the London Society no. 473

Cook’s Camden is a comprehensive, inviting and ultimately appreciative work of scholarship on the borough’s council house building programme from 1965-1973. Well evidenced and attractively designed, it concisely assesses both aspiration and delivery through the lens of those who shaped the programme. In doing so, it simultaneously functions as an introduction, reference and guide.

The book takes its name from Sydney Cook, Camden Borough Architect from 1965 to 1973, who oversaw a period of expansive and progressive public-sector building which pushed the boundaries of design. In 1965 the newly formed Borough of Camden was the richest in London and had a clear left-wing leaning: housing was an expression of its power and politics. A new policy of ‘municipalisation’ (buying existing properties) rather than construction was then introduced in 1973, which marked the beginning of the end; even the architects’ department disbanded in the 1980s amid a backlash against such projects, fuelled by cost overruns and the recessions of the 1970s.

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Peter Murray

Don Brown (@donbrownlondon) reviews ‘Bus Fare: Collected Writings on London’s Most Loved Means of Transport” by Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr, published by AA Publishing.

More than the tube, more than the car, more than the railways, or the bicycle, or the cab, it is the bus that moves London. Over 8,000 scheduled buses across 700 different routes lead to nearly 2 billion bus journeys being made every year.

And the red double-decker is an instantly recognised symbol of – in fact, a shorthand for – the capital, featuring on countless postcards and uncountable photographs.

We can thank George Shillibeer who, 190 years ago – 4 July 1829 – introduced the first service (based on the Paris ‘omnibus’) running from Paddington to Bank along the New Road (now called the Euston Road). The fare was one shilling – a reasonable sum, and beyond the pockets of the working class.

How this bit of inspired entrepreneurism from a Bloomsbury coach-builder grew to its current network is told in an excellent new book called Bus Fare, a collection of reportage, fiction, history, letters, biography, facts and figures, and other writings on and about buses and their cultural impact, edited by Travis Elborough (who has form, having previously published a book on the Routemaster) and Professor Joe Kerr, “an architectural historian and bus driver at Tottenham garage”.

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Peter Murray

 

A new book has a slightly different take on the capital, looking at the life of the city through the eyes of 24 individuals (one for each hour of the day). Tim Barron reviews the book.

“London Lives –   24 iconic people & places around the clock” is exactly what it says it is, 24 times and locations in text and photographs summing up the life of the capital’s working inhabitants.

The photo locations often dictate who is interviewed but sometimes it is the other way round. So we meet Tower bridge keeper Chris Earlie (overseer of 900 bridge lifts a year) and Zandra Rhodes, fashion designer (self confessed Princess of Punk), in their respective work places. Danny Rosenbaum’s text meshes with Tom Vandervell’s detailed large format photography often evoking memories. For example, for me the view from the General Wolfe statue in Greenwich park (surely the best view of London ) recalls happy times spent at the Royal Observatory and the shot of St Paul’s Cathedral choir stalls takes me back to graduating as a London Blue Badge Guide. That is one of the joys of this lavishly illustrated work, finding the familiar alongside the newly discovered. There are plenty of “Oh I didn’t know that” moments, for example did you know there are Yoga classes on Tower bridge glass walkway 42 metres above the Thames?

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Peter Murray

A Place for All People

by Richard Rogers and Richard Brown

Reviewed by Lettie McKie

Available from John Sandoe Books

There are some architects whose reputation proceeds them. And then there is Richard Rogers, the original starchitect.

From the first moment of this excellent co-authored autobiography the reader is plunged into Rogers’ technicolour world of optimistic, egalitarian, wildly experimental and unapologetically modern architecture. It is impossible not to emerge starry-eyed and breathless.

He and Richard Brown tell the Rogers’ story in a fun, accessible style that mixes personal anecdote, potted history of 20th Century architecture, highlights from his career and political commentary. It is readable and enjoyable even for those who aren’t normally interested in architecture.

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Peter Murray

 

Big Capital. Who is London for?

by Anna Minton

Reviewed by Darryl Chen

Available from John Sandoe Books

Anna Minton is angry. From government policy to foreign investment, from property professionals to shady landlords, from greedy developer to greedy local council, a spectrum of forces has created the crisis in which we now find ourselves, where housing has gone from being a human right to a financial product. Big Capital sets out the complexity of its shape and causes, however trades balanced argument for polemic in a litany against the ills of regeneration.

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Peter Murray

 

High Buildings, Low Morals. Another sideways look at twentieth-century London.

by Rob Baker

Reviewed by Don Brown

 

Fans of Rob Baker’s blog ‘Another Nickel in the Machine‘ and his earlier collection of tales of the West End of the 20th century, ‘Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics‘ will not need any further recommendation to buy his new selection of stories of the characters – performers, club owners, crooks and hangers on – from London’s night life.

The title comes from a Noel Coward quote (and Coward is a recurrent visitor throughout the book) “I don’t know what London’s coming to – the higher the buildings, the lower the morals.” and provides a dozen cause celebres of the last century – huge stories in their time that filled acres of newsprint – which have now been completely forgotten.

There’s Tallulah Bankhead seducing schoolboys at Eton (“We don’t at all mind you taking some of the senior boys over for a smoke or drink or a little sex on a Sunday afternoon. That doesn’t upset me. What does upset me is you giving them cocaine before chapel.“) Or Lord Boothby – formerly Parliamentary Private Secretary to Winston Churchill – and his deeply suspect ‘friendship’ with Ronnie Kray, or the drug-related death of the actress Billie Carleton in 1918.

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Peter Murray

 

Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the present day

by Peter Ackroyd

Vintage Publishing

Reviewed by David Michon

Available from the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

 

As I write this, it’s been just shy of a year since an attack on Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, killed 49 people – the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in US history. Shock at the murders reverberated throughout the United States and much of the world, inciting vigils in dozens of major cities. However, for gay people it was not only concern over yet another major shooting. As theories swirled of the gunman’s intentions, it came to be considered as an attack on the gay community, more precisely.

Gay venues in the US, just as in the UK and in London, are hard-won achievements of the gay community – legal, publicly known places of gay communion. For decades they have served not only as important places of socialising for LGBTQ communities, but also as safe spaces where an oft -misunderstood minority population can feel at ease. They serve a vital and unique function in supporting a marginal group (recall that it was only in 2003 that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation was officially forbidden).

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Peter Murray

 

Hackney Studios: East London creatives and their spaces

by Jenny Lewis

Hoxton Mini Press

Reviewed by Jessica Cargill Thompson

Available from the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

Hackney boasts more artists than any other part of the city, with Hackney Wick reputed to be the largest artists’ community in Europe. But street art and craft markets aside, much of the activity takes place behind closed doors.

This photo essay explores the challenges of working alone, and the need to feel connected to other human beings, but it is also a trail along the network of relationships across this creative hub, with each subject recommending the next. Photographer Jenny Lewis, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, leads us on a highly personal tour, meeting animators, costume designers, sculptors, screenprinters, performance artists, musicians, and more. (Pictured on the cover is props and accessories designer Rosy Nichols who makes ‘things that sparkle’.)

The book has added poignancy, wondering how much longer East London’s artists and makers will be able to stay.

(This review originally appeared in edition 471 of the Journal of the London Society)

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