Monday, September 28, 2015
Vincent Square, London
When brick works
I’m not usually a fan of yellow brick, but this building makes it sing. It’s part of the Westminster Kingsway College building on the corner of Rochester Row and Vincent Square in an area of London I suppose you’d call Victoria. When I saw it my jaw dropped and, frankly, I just stood there and stared in silence while people walked past, eyeing me suspiciously as if they were wondering what on earth I could be looking at. I didn’t know what it was, but it was obviously a modern building – 1950s – and was unashamedly decorative without trying too hard to make a point. The result, with its crosses and diagonals of brickwork, its pierced parapet, and its tower (stairs, presumably) with those slanting glazing bars) is enjoyably and inherently brickish, as if the building has learned what the Victorians could do with its material, shaken this up in some sort of imaginative kaleidoscope, and come up with something modern.
The architect, I learned when I got home and loped the building up, was Harry Goodhart-Rendell, designer of St Olaf House in Tooley Street, a wonderful church in St Leonard’s, Sussex (a favourite of mine), and other churches, and a great defender of Victorian architecture back at the time when defending such a thing was neither profitable nor popular. His building in Vincent Square has a steel frame, and indeed mostly very utilitarian metal-framed windows, but wraps these in this attractive, and no doubt efficient, brick covering, which looks as comfortable as the textile that it reminded me of. People say that this building is as good to use as it is to look at. Why didn’t we learn?