Hoe Street Telephone Exchange

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I’ve fallen under the spell of the old Telephone Exchange on Hoe Street, Walthamstow. Out for a wander the other day it drew me across the road, compelling me to sit on the front step for a while, momentarily slipping outside of the ‘other’ world into its strange orbit.

Built in 1956 it belongs to the world of The Quatermass Experiment and The Goon Show. A post-war world of technological progress, decaying Empires, buzz cuts. It would make the perfect Headquarters for the National Institute of Applied Psychogeography.

For now though it appears to still function as telephone exchange pushing high-speed broadband into Walthamstow homes delivering online multi-player games and on-demand TV.

The Wonders of Barkingside

That loop in the Central Line has got to be there for a reason beyond making Essex commuters change at Leytonstone and wait for a tube going via Hainault.

The reason it seems is protect the architectural gems of Barkingside from the herds of tourists that would surely stampede this way if it was slightly easier to reach.

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You’re welcomed by the brutalist beauty of the Magistrate’s Court radiating greyness like a beached battleship.

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Then there is this modernist delight on the High Street – the sort of building that makes me dream of a parallel life living in one of these flats above the shops.

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But the jewel in the crown must surely be Fullwell Cross Library – a Grade II listed civic alhambra designed by Frederick Gibberd completed in 1968.

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Gibberd started his career as a architect of ‘modern flats’, making his name with Pullman Court in Streatham.

But he was just warming up for building Fullwell Cross Library – the ceiling alone worth trundling around the Hainault branch for.

Modernism in Lewisham?

First off I’m not entirely sure that ‘modernist’ is the correct term to describe these three buildings in Lewisham High Street that caught my eye when I was down there the other week. But it’s the word that pops into my befuddled brain when I look at them.

Nikolaus Pevsner was fairly dismissive of Lewisham, writing in 1952 that it was, ‘A large borough, but little to see’. Although he knew his modernism from his art-deco, I am compelled to disagree.
The building above however is the only one I’ve found any info on – it was a 1960s department store, but I haven’t yet found out its original name.

The past life and former glories of this branch of Currys eludes me though. It’s a magnficient building worthy of more than being shared between cheap electronics and nail varnish remover.

The detail on the facade was clearly the product of an age that took its retail architecture seriously. This building seems slightly embarrassed by what has become of it, skulking back behind its tacky plastic frontage.
I wonder if it’s a survivor of the V1 attack on Lewisham Market in July 1944 that devastated the town centre

Ok this Primark isn’t quite so grand but still recalls a Grace Brothers age of High Street glamour and civic dignity.
I didn’t glide down to Lewisham on the DLR to study retail behemoths but I can’t seem to get these buildings out of my head. Just need to find out the correct word to describe them now.

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Hitler Passed This Way

Found this brilliant, poignant little book the other day

It contains before and after photos of areas bombed during the Second World War. Like these of Paternoster Row devastated by a bombing raid in December 1940.

The introduction states that the photos “present the aftermath of the new kind of war Hitler thrust upon mankind, the war in which non-combatants were to be killed off like insects, and their homes, hospitals, schools and churches were to be smashed to pieces.”

I’ll place it next to William Kent’s equally haunting Lost Treasures of London, Kent being a great guide to the city dutifully logging the artifacts, and relics, as well as buildings lost in the Blitz.

Thankfully I also have the wartime optimism of the County of London Plan (1943) to perk me up – a reminder that whilst the bombs rained down on London there were a group of people in a nissen hut somewhere planning new open spaces, hospitals, and fly-overs.

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Arcades of Paris (with Walter Benjamin)

On New Year’s Eve we stumbled across these two arcades in Paris (I’d love to say that this came as a shock as we’d been taking a stroll along Leytonstone High Road, but sadly nothing mystical was involved, we traveled on Eurostar).

I thought of Walter Benjamin and his Arcades Project, a book I confess I’ve only read snippets of, but is difficult to avoid if you have an interest in the life of cities – it is a grand work dreamt up in these very arcades.

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From what I gather, he saw the arcades as the natural habitat of the urban wanderer, the drifter, the flaneur:
“The Parisians … have made Paris the holy city of the flaneur – ‘the landscape built of sheer life,’ as Hofmannsthal once put it”

Benjamin describes the experience of the urban drift, or what another dweller of Paris, Guy Debord, would recast as the psychogeographic derive (Debord would see the flaneur as a decadent figure rather than a revolutionary or a subversive – I’m not so sure myself)

“That anamnestic intoxication in which the flaneur goes about the city not only feeds on the sensory data taking shape before his eyes but can very well possess itself of abstract knowledge – indeed, of dead facts – as something experienced or lived through.”

“The innermost glowing cells of the city of light, the old dioramas, nested in the arcades, one of which today still bears the name Passage des Panoramas. It was, in the first moment, as though you had entered an aquarium. Along the wall of the great darkened hall, broken at intervals by narrow joints, it stretched like a ribbon of illuminated water behind glass.”
Difficult to imagine Westfield Stratford moving someone to produce such prose.

“Architecture as the most important testimony to latent ‘mythology.’ And the most important architecture of the nineteenth century is the arcade.”

Quotes from The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin
Reading on the video by Heidi Lapaine