Thursday, March 4, 2021

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Columns in the sun or The Architecture of Looking Sideways 

Chipping Norton’s Town Hall seems oddly planned when you first look at it. The big portico is not in the end wall, which faces the Market Place and is where, on the face of it, you’d expect the door to be. Instead it’s on one of the long sides, facing a narrow street. One reason for this is that the ground slopes quite steeply, falling away from one side of the plot to the other, meaning that the end is on the slope, meaning in turn that an end with a grand portico and big central entrance would be a challenge. So you go in through the side, the part visible in my photograph.

The architect of the hall was G. S. Repton, son of the more famous Humphry Repton, of landscape gardening fame. G. S. Repton had trained with the elder Pugin. He had also worked in John Nash’s office, which must have given him a good grounding in classicism and in working in a busy office to tight schedules. By 1842, when this Town Hall was built, he was in practice independently, and designing this building with its very plain Tuscan portico must not have been a challenge. It’s a very simple, neo-Classical frontage, with plain stone walls punctuated by a couple of niches and the big central portico, which gets its effect from size and discreet mouldings.

Sunshine also adds hugely to the building’s impact, bringing out details and casting deep shadows. Here as so often this kind of neo-Classicism works best in strong warm side light. Even better, looking at it slightly side-on – which the narrow street encourages us to do – makes the effect still stronger. The great designer Alan Fletcher encouraged us to cultivate ‘the art of looking sideways’,* by which he meant applying lateral thinking to visual matters. Here, looking sideways in the literal sense seems to work too.

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* See Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways (Phaidon Press, 2001)

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Wow! This style of entrance was invented by the Ancient Greeks. You know exactly where the door is - what a lesson for the NO ENTRY - MAIN DOORWAY THIS WAY merchants who make you walk round the building twice just to locate Reception. You also achieve dignity and proportion at the same time.