Wednesday, December 18, 2013
In 1853, when in France Baron Haussmann was becoming Prefect of the Seine and beginning to plan his transformation of Paris, countless smaller transformation were underway in towns and cities all over the place, not a few of them to do with providing more spacious and up to date premises for businesses and offices. This bank in Aylesbury is a case in point. Long established as the Bucks & Oxon Union Bank it got a smart classical building in 1853 with rusticated ground floor with arches window recesses and bigger, pediment-topped windows upstairs.
And that's all very impressive, but what made me pause was the way the architect treated the corner, especially as I've been thinking about corners after posting the unusual house in Bishop's Stortford the other day. Whereas the Bishop's Stortford building turns the corner with a tight curve of brickwork, this bank takes the junction at an angle, and with extraordinary banded rustication – masonry laid with exaggerated horizontal joints – all the way up the wall to the cornice. Those upper bands of stone seem to break the conventions that the rest of the building adheres to, not least of which is that you rusticate the lower floor and leave the upper levels plain.
There are plenty of examples of rustication on upper floors – especially running up pilasters or filling the space above a central portico. But this narrow strip above the doorway does seem rather in your face, perhaps because there's nothing on the wall except the banded masonry – no windows, no columns or pilasters, just these lines of stone, ruled out like a ledger, on which various inscriptions have been cut: a sort of vertical timeline that mercifully leaves rather little space for the sign of the current proprietors. A corner that is ruled off, as it were.