Aug. 18th, 2008

peterbirks: (Default)
To the Design Museum today to see a Richard Rogers retrospective and an exhibition of the photographs of Tim Walker.

The Design Museum is on Shad Thames, just past Butler's Wharf on the 'wrong' side of Tower Bridge, although given the expense of flats in Butler's Wharf, and given the class of shops on Shad Thames, I suspect that the description of "wrong' is entirely relative, if not stone-cold incorrect.

The Museum is one of those places that I always feel I should like more than I actually do. The Richard Rogers Exhibition was fascinating -- or, rather, I felt that I should have been fascinated. As it was, I felt moree as if I were being given an ABC in Architecture.

That said, Rogers has designed a lot of stuff, and at least half of his projects had the comment (unbuilt) attached to them. Most ambitious of these was his "what London could have looked like", and I felt that this summed up his strengths and weaknesses. The plan, which was in a way part-purloined by the building of the London Eye (Rogers had another structure in this position) and by the new pedestrian bridges on either side of Hungerford Bridge/ the new St Paul's pedestrian bridge, seemed to completely redesign the part of London north of the Thames from the Houses of Parliament to Waterloo Bridge. The road would go underground and the above-ground area would become some kind of pedestrian paradise.

And yet, in a sentence, he gives away his lack of understanding of how cities work. First, cars and people are not as separate as people make out. What if you are in Rogers' proposed pedestrian piazza and you want to get a cab? Tom Vanderbilt's new book Traffic takes a much better viewpoint on how the car and the pedestrian can interrelate. I feel that Rogers (admittedly decades-old) view is mistaken.

Secondly, although on the wall of this exhibition he is quoted as saying that out-of-town shopping malls are terrible for cities, and that one important aim should be to make public transport the most efficient and pleasurable means of moving about, he then proposes the destruction of the railway bridge to Charing Cross! He says, blithely, that the terminus could be moved "south of the river".

Anyone who thinks that moving a major commuter destination south of the river is a good way to make public transport a more efficient and more pleasurable way to travel has not had to walk across the river at 6.30 on a winter's morning.


The next floor up consisted of an exhibition of Tim Walker's photographs, mainly for the Vogues of various countries. Walker is an unusual photographer, creating make-believe stages, often in Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, and often with a model called Lucy Cole.

Walker's style could best be described as "playful". A picture of him on skis in the Sahara, a caravan indoors (the owner of Eglingham Hall seems resigned to this disruption -- patronage is not dead), a painted elephant in India. But his quality as a photogrpaher, and the sheer unrelenting effort, as shown by his notebooks, sketch ideas and preliminary polaroids, show that he's a serious artist, not an "ordinary fashion photographer".

I took some pleasure in noticing how he uses slightly different styles for the Vogues in different countries. That Japanese version gets his more offbeat and left-field pictures, while the Italian one is the most stylish. The English Vogue is the most eccentric. Great fun.


After being looked at as if I was mad when I tried to pay 4 euros for two coffees in Jimena, I took my turn to look at the waitress as if she was mad when she charged me £4.60 for two coffees in the Design Museum Cafe. Particularly since the coffees were rather bitter. Still, that's what you expect from cafes in these kind of places. Part of the reason for the success of the Tate Modern is, I am sure, because they became the first place to realize that a good cup of coffee makes a difference.

And £8.50 to get in? That's a little bit on the high side.


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