I was quite happy with the freezing grey weather. In just over a week, I’m heading off to New York, and for a quick trip with my best friend Val to happy Harbour Island, and – quite frankly – I’m swamped. Do you ever know the feeling a week before you’re off on holiday, wondering why the hell you thought that was a good idea 4 months before? The closer the departure date gets, the earlier you have to start in the office; the later you go home. 10 hours in the office slips into 12 or 14, until you realise that really exciting feeling that you’ve spent longer at your desk than you have away from it. I already had my first dream last night about not remembering to pack my suitcase. Why haven’t I packed my suitcase?! Because…. I’M NOT LEAVING for 8 days. But try telling that to my subconscious at 3am in the morning.
Nonetheless… I have had quite a bit on my plate. Last weekend, down in Dorset, I went into super-reclusive mode and other than a quick catch-up and village gossip with my house keeper, (Saint) Anne, I hid. And spent two days at my desk and drawing board. This weekend had the same agenda. It would be quite nice to take a day off! But all the while I was able to say, it doesn’t matter: thank goodness for the freezing, grey weather.
But then, yesterday afternoon, the sun came out. For the first time in weeks. It was too much. I couldn’t stay indoors.
As it happens I’m in the thick of reading a brilliant new book on the architect John Nash, by Geoffrey Tyack. (Published, as it happens, in part by The Georgian Group. All is forgiven).
Nash is a hero of mine. When it comes to architectural theory, or even rigour, let’s face it: he’s a bit dodgy. But as Tyack writes:
“…Even today, his visual surprises can draw a sharp and pleasurable intake of breath from the viewer. Few British architects have shown more sensitivity to the urban and rural environment than John Nash, and few have better understood the capacity of architecture to give pleasure’.
That, in a sentence, is why Nash is my hero. So much happier than tortured Soane. Architecture is all about giving pleasure, for me.
Anyway, I needed to get out into the sunshine and away from my desk. So I decided to head to Regent’s Park, for a quick walk in the sudden Spring sunshine. I’m glad to say I remembered my camera… because the Park, as I rather expected, was what I these days like to call a ….blogortunity.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Regent’s Park looking quite so beautiful. Storm clouds had blown over, revealing sharp sunshine that relished the crisp stucco facades of Nash’s terraces. The brilliant gloss paintwork glowed against the dark sky. You couldn’t make it up.
An hour walking around, drinking it all in; and I can only say that all my worries seemed to have evaporated. Talk about the power of architecture – but even more, about the power of a sunny afternoon after weeks and weeks of winter.
It would be true to say the back of Chester Terrace is not quite as spectacular as the front…
I love seeing the Post Office tower popping over the rooftops.
But some other more recent buildings leave a bit more to be desired.
Sir Denys Lasdun’s Royal College of Physicians, meanwhile, takes the last word in how to place a modern building in a setting like Regent’s Park. I can’t quite tell you why, but this is one of my favourite buildings in London. It’s quiet, and balanced, and yesterday it sparkled in the sunshine as much as its richer neighbours.
I admit: I’m fascinated by Regent’s Park, and by the power of imagination that put the whole thing together, an enormous urban composition stretching from St James’s Park to Camden. It must have seemed so strange as a raw, new landscape, with an empty park and no trees. But a what an incredible vision. Our ambitions seem so timid today, by comparison.
For me, it’s real inspiration. I wonder what you think of our project in Truro, where we have designed this crescent on the edge of this beautiful town, on an incredible site facing open countryside and an extraordinary view to the east. After a lot of thinking, I decided that the last thing we needed on top of this hill was a little ‘fishing village’, which is the sort of thing most traditional (or, for that matter, modern) architects decide to build anywhere in Cornwall these days. And I decided to be a little bit bolder. Perhaps you can see why I like John Nash so much?