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Brent Civic Centre

Entering this gleaming council HQ is a special moment. The four- storey glazed atrium embraces a unique stepped `auditorium' and escalators which take you up to the first floor cafe.
Walking round the wide range of social and cultural facilities on this floor we were immediately conscious they were being very fully used by all ages of the public.

Within the so called ‘Drum’ is another dramatic space, the Community Hall. It provides a multitude of functions, including, thanks to its sprung floor, well attended tea dances. Above that the circular   council meeting room soars to a top-lit 3 storey conical form.

Overall, there is a strong sense that this a building designed for the public, not a bureaucratic institution.
Leaving reluctantly, I felt we had experienced a vision of a future multi-cultural democratic society enjoying and optimising on a building designed specifically for them .


The Velodrome

From the Brent Council Offices to The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park; quite a contrast to Brent Civic Centre, but they have much in common: they reflect  a progressive approach to design and development, one ready to accept social responsibility and seek public benefit in this, the Park is not just about buildings for sporting events. Stemming from regeneration, it is also about urban planning, open space, ecology, recreation and, not least, housing.

The Park was designed  with post games use in mind; 'the legacy' rooted in its planning.
After collecting our excellent guide, Pamela, a tour around the blocks which accommodated athletes and others, now converted to permanent homes. Many well-known architectural practices represented here.     All of the blocks conform to a general plan in layout, massing and elevational treatment.

On to The Velodrome, centre of the Lee Valley Velopark which also provides a BMX course and a mountain-bike skills section. Hopkins Architecture, with engineers Expedition Engineers and BDSP, have provided a large world class building superbly expressing function and outstanding in its elegance. Inside, we see cyclists, perhaps, on this Tuesday afternoon, members of a corporate 'package' learning to use a professional's track.


London Aquatics Centre

Next, after leisurely strolls around the park - many parts in transition, but neatly fenced before redevelopment – we go to Zaha Hadid's London Aquatics Centre, engineers Arup.

It is now open to the public with the temporary side wings, which provided Olympic capacity, removed.

And so another masterpiece expressing function and elegance so well.
In this case later to be seen from the Arcelometric Orbit; from this elevated position looking even more successful in expressing the 'fluid geometry of water in motion'.


The Orbit

While few would seem to find much to admire in Anish Kapoor's and Cecil Balmond's Orbit in its contribution to the general design of the park, it is worth ascending for the views from its top platforms from where we see the interior of the stadium with adaptations under way for the West Ham Football Club which moves here in 2016.

The visit is smooth and well organised by the staff representing ArcelorMittal, the firm which built the sculpture.

A wonderful day. Back to the coach and on to the hotel.


The Shard

It was fascinating to arrive at the Shard on Wednesday morning coming face to face with this iconic building soaring upwards. The tallest building in western Europe, 309.6 m or 1016 ft. We discussed the enormous task of cleaning the cladding of more than 11,000 individual glass panels. The uppermost windows are cleaned by abseilers.

Soon we were inside to see a film reminding everyone of the history of this dynamic quarter of Southwark close to London Bridge Station where it is situated. For an architect it was interesting to see images of the first sketches made over dinner when the developer met Renzo Piano with his vision and determination that transformed his dream into a building, creating what he sees as a vertical city. These sketches of Renzo Piano bear a remarkable resemblance to the completed building.

The first lift carried us to floor 30 where we transferred to another lift to give access to the viewing galleries on floors 68-72, passing restaurant floors, Shangri-La Hotel  and residencies. Floor 78 is only for 'super rich' functions, or as Renzo Piano wanted, “a meditation suite”


London Glassblowing

We walked to London Glassblowing to discover a wonderful gallery of glass objects made by a variety of artist craftspersons.

We were given a demonstration of glassblowing in a specially reserved area which gave us a very good view of the action.


The Crystal

The Crystal is an exciting building - built to contrast with the Olympic Dome which is visible close by, but south of the river. The triple-glazed, angular building looks very exciting from the outside and the attention to detail is visible in the interior.

The exhibition designer is quoted as saying “I always imagined the eight-year-old me - what would fascinate me?” Perhaps this is why the interactive exhibits didn’t engage me. However, I did find the introductory multi-media presentation covered the issues well.

We visited every plant room in the building as part of our technical tour and learned all about the Building Management System that automatically monitors and controls every aspect of the Crystal’s heating, cooling, ventilation, electrical generation, black water recycling, lighting etc. Every system in the building, down to the individual pumps in the many plumbing systems can be controlled by mobile phone from anywhere in the world.
The irony that day was that they were able to monitor the lack of electricity coming from their extensive solar PV arrays, but couldn’t explain why!


The Thames Barrier Park and The Emirates Airline

 We enjoyed a pleasant walk to the river and back. However, the park is showing its age - some of the hedges are scorched and the decking areas were closed off - for repair or replacement.

After visiting the Barrier we were wafted gently across the Thames in pods, enjoying the spectacular view.

Kings Cross Development

We had an interesting walk through the new King’s Cross concourse to Granary Square. A very pleasant set of public spaces are in the process of being created.

I think it will be even better when its completed.


The Goldsmith's Centre

We discovered a gem hidden behind a busy thoroughfare.

The architect’s intention was to join their new extension to the old building and to create the feeling of a London street in the central atrium.

The excellent exhibition of silverware was very interesting, varied and informative.

A good place to have coffee.


William Morris Gallery

  As we travelled to Walthamstow we met the heavy rainstorm that was in the news - including a lightning strike on The Shard.
Here you see the clouds gathering over Walthamstow Town Hall.
Luckily, we managed to get in to the gallery before the rain arrived.

We had a delightful lunch, crammed into a small room on the top floor which is said to have been the children’s bedroom when Morris lived there as a child.
This was followed by a brief introduction to the gallery and Morris. Eyes were seen to close, but I don’t think it was a reflection on the talk.
By the time we descended to the exhibits the rain storm had arrived, making the rooms with shaded windows even darker.
The displays were extensive and informative. I found out that Morris and Webb used photographic processes in their designs for wallpaper production.
We chased the dark clouds of the storm as we travelled home to Leicester.
Luckily it was dry as we retrieved our suitcases from the coach.


Walthamstow photographs by Audrey Pitches.

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