Wednesday 15 June 2011

Imagined depths

Is he imagining wilder, deeper waters, the boy who stands reflected in the narrow, concrete-sided pool, designed by Susanna Heron, at the Brunswick Centre?

The light is often lovely in the sheltered space among the shops and cafes of this refurbished 1960s housing scheme. I think that’s a lot of its charm. When I first moved to London in 1980, I worked just up the road and used to come here for lunchtime shopping. A supermarket, pharmacist and one or two other shops crouched within a wind- and rain-blown (in all my memories), stained and shabby square of concrete blocks. A sad example of would-be visionary 60s architecture gone wrong, it chimed with my dawning sense of alienation, that the move to London might have been a very bad move. I could see, though, that the blocks were an interesting conception and the flats must be full of light, that it could have been different.

Also here is the Renoir cinema, then and still, despite takeovers, the best place in London for foreign films, so I kept coming back through long years of neglect and years of scaffolding and plastic sheeting. Then one day, finally: a spanking new shopping and eating space within a square of pale, painted concrete cliffs. It’s not the truly exciting place this might be with a less commercial vision (see link above to an excellent Guardian article), but it has become a congenial, unusual and aesthetically pleasing enclave. The clean, leisured busyness where once there was grim emptiness lifts a heart that remembers those long-ago lunchtime visits.

The soft light and the pale, monumental, abstract shapes as background to colour and movement are often photogenic. And the shallow water reflects it all: a simple design, but evocative. Yes, it's just a concrete, pedestrianised space to come and spend your money in. But it means a lot, I muse, staring into the water, that in the long years of living, perhaps mistakenly, in London, when so much has got worse, worse, worse, this particular place - one of the first to sadden and appall me when I came here - has got much nicer.


Dale said...

One of the most encouraging experiences of my life was returning to a big suburban development thirty years after it was built.

It was one of those sprawling McMansion complexes, hideous, with neon green lawns and everything pretentious and characterless, all the aesthetic tone-deafness a housing project without even the redeeming value of being cheap.

But thirty years later, though it still wasn't a place I would want to live -- people had inhabited it and softened it in so many ways: made some beautiful gardens, and some places had run to seed a bit in an interesting way. The ugliness was dissipating. I had pictured it being ugly and soulless forever: and I was completely wrong.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a good change, if not a perfect one.