Week in Pictures Part 2: London Edition

Today some street scenes of the complex architecture that makes London shine (even despite the cloudy weather). No slide show on this one, scroll down to see the pictures and captions.


The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is right in the central part of town, walking distance from several historic sites. After dropping off my gal at school I decided to head toward Kings Cross and St. Pancras station. Across from the Barclay’s bank building (Above) the station permits international train travel from the island to other parts of Europe and is famous for the platform 9 and three quarters scene in Harry Potter.


St. Pancras is named after a 14 year old boy who converted to Christianity in 304 AD and was martyred for refusing to give up his faith. The former burial ground was dedicated for a station on the outskirts of London in 1864 and construction was completed in 1868. In 1876, the west wing (above) was constructed as the Midland Rail hotel and remained such until 1935 when it was deemed unprofitable and turned into office space. By the 1890s, more than massive amounts of milk and booze were being imported from the coutryside, stored in the chambers below the station. During World War II, the army took over the station moving arms, men and rations toward the front lines. In 1942, a German bomb broke through the ceiling, incredibly they had the station up and running again in less than a week. And in 1945, it became a place to welcome refuges and evacuees into the city.

[Source: http://stpancras.com/history]

Construction in 1867 [Stpancras.com]
Today, King’s Cross Station (below) is practically connected to St. Pancras (the two are often confused, including by me) It was part of the first underground train service in London and was constructed on top of an old smallpox hospital. While the area is in constant buzz and bustle today, in the 1800s it was a rural getaway for those two kilometers away in London proper. In the early 1800s, heavily polluting industries such as gas and light moved in and started tarnishing its scenic nature. As a presumed ploy to stop the buildup of industry, residents erected a statue of King George IV near at the battle bridge crossroads in 1830. But this upset local workers and it was torn down and demolished in 1842, leading to the name “Kings Cross.”

[Source: https://www.kingscross.co.uk/history-kings-cross-area}



Above is the access ramp from which the tube runs into King Cross Station. Constantly wet and cloudy, London is full of moss wherever there is course rock exposed to moisture. Recognize the plant behind it? You may have a variety of the plant in your garden. It is called Buddleia davidii or butterfly bush or sometimes summer lilac. Native to central China, it now dominates every nook and cranny along the british rail lines, a symptom of ever milder winters. While beautiful it lacks competitors and easily spreads seed. In London, it is an expensive annoyance, growing up walls, blocking power lines and eroding old buildings, costing the city thousands of pounds per year to manage. In the farmlands it is a persistent weed, requiring more labor to manage. But what is probably the worst effect, is its ability to out compete native species. While it does attract a few species of beautiful butterflies, it is actually a misnomer. East of London at the chalk grassland of Folkestone Warren, butterfly bush is taking over a delicate 199 acre diverse grassland along the cliffs. This unique landscape attracts hundreds of types of wild butterflies who wont actively feed on the butterfly bush. Without it, they cannot feed and will die out or leave the area. And so what feeds on the butterflies will have to adjust and leave and so on up the food chain. Still, the plant continues to be sold in flower shops across the city.

[Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28196221]


Sphagnum moss along the fence line

St. Pancras station almost serves as a divider of older London and the modern scene. This is where the topography shifts up out of the valley and historically has had little development. But today, skyskraper mixed-use apartments are popping up quickly, leading to a stark contrast of modernism compared to the finely decorated and diverse buildings just down the hill. Here a modern new park with sharp lines and simple planting plans.


On my way back into the valley for lunch I passed by The California, a modern, steampunky bed and breakfast set in 4 historic Georgian townhouses. I just really like their lighting fixtures.


In the afternoon I visited Fitzroy, an artsy district that really shows off the multitudes of architecture found in London, all packed into narrow buildings. The area has a fascinating history. It was origninally built for the upper class (1700s) but they quickly moved out to other areas. The vacuum was filled by those seeking workshops and studios and then immigrants coming from other parts of town that had filled up. So by the early 1900s, it was filled with less wealthy immigrant families in aristocratic, high class buildings. But after World War I, most Germans had to leave as noone would allow them to work so a new vacuum opened for artists looking for studio space. It was eventually re-branded Fitzrovia and present day flats run 2-3 million pounds, again only reachable for the very wealthy.

[Source: http://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/fitzrovia/]




Did you know one of London’s tallest buildings was an official state secret for almost 28 years!?  When it was completed in 1965, BT tower (also called Post Office Tower for one of its purposes) was the tallest structure in London (626 ft). The height was needed to transfer microwave aerials (the middle section) for broadcast communication around other tall buildings. Therefore (presumably for more than this) it was declared “location 23” by govt officials and was not allowed to be placed on state sponsored maps. But the absurdity doesn’t stop there. From its beginning, the tower has contained a 360 degree rotating room on the 34th floor which used to contain a restaurant!

Unfortunately, the Angry Brigade, a anarchist terrorist group left a bomb in the bathroom of the restaurant in 1971 and the restaurant was closed in 1980 due to security reasons.

Today the tower remains an important communications and broadcasting hub.


Across the street is the University College London’s Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Nueral Circuits and behavior which as incorporated curiosities of the brain into its architecture. A series of optical illusions greet the visitor from the buildings winding walls that replicate brain waves to the movable panels that change their depiction as one moves through to various tricks of artist illusionist this place is really cool, a building that sets about experimenting on the visitors who walk toward it. Check out a video (https://vimeo.com/184531971)

As you walk through the alley the various faces take new forms.
The windy nature reflects brain waves while showing how depth perception can minimize space between things.
All of these faces are identical in construction. But they appear to follow you with their eyes as one moves past. Our eyes are not trained to see a face that is concave (inwards) and our brain (it is believed) overcompensates and believes it is seeing a face that is convex (outwards)

Finally some street scenes of interesting architecture

Stairwell lighting makes the outside of this building really light up in cloudy weather.
The pipes that convey stormwater and drinking water yield fascinating shapes and contrast (although I don’t know where they go yet)

That’s it for now!



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