Mad about Models: Building Blog 3 Orchids to Oysters and Opera

Mad about Models: Building Blog 3 Orchids to Oysters and Opera

In my first two building blogs I featured iconic London buildings that have been demolished: in the case of Temple Bar, dismantled and relocated twice, in the case of Euston Arch demolished, drowned and a candidate for restoration.

In this third blog we look at the Floral Hall at London’s Royal Opera House, the first of two examples of how buildings learn to survive. As always these buildings live on in the wonderful models made by Timothy Richards. In the next blog we will look at the Hoover Building on Western Avenue, London.

Orchids to Opera

In central London the exodus of the Fruit and Veg market from London left an almost vacant space and buildings needing a new life.  Unlike Les Halles in Paris, we have retained most of the buildings, which I prefer to the way Paris has struggled with the space. Despite the crowds, sometimes Covent Garden seems rather soulless, a tourist attraction with restaurants of all kinds and some street entertainers.  One building that could easily have been demolished was the Flower Market building next to the Royal Opera House.

The Floral Market 1913  Picture source: Historic England Archive

Oysters and Opera

The Floral Hall retains a sense of history though it was completely rebuilt when being made part of the Royal Opera House.  In the words of Historic England it is designated a Grade 2 building “As a fine example of Victorian technological innovation despite its dismantling and re-erection in the 1990s; For the high quality of its design and decorative elements; As an example of the work of the eminent Victorian architect EM Barry; For group value with the same architect’s Grade I listed Royal Opera House, which it was originally designed to complement”.  In truth from the outset the Floral Hall was part of the Royal Opera experience, in that not only was it designed by the same architect, E.M.Barry, the third son of Charles Barry of Houses of Parliament fame etc, when redesigned the Opera House itself, but also the occasional ball was held in the Hall.

The Floral Hall now provides entertaining space for the Opera House, with its oyster bar and other dining areas, and a roof terrace overlooking the Covent Garden piazza when you need a breath of fresh air in the interval.

Floral Hall set to party

Tim’s model focuses well on the Hall’s Victorian 1870s ironwork and glass facade, the light shining through. It pairs up well with his second model of the Opera House itself.

Floral Hall on the left, Royal Opera House on the right

Echo-chamber and informal performance space

One downside, inside, is that despite the high ceiling it is a really noisy space.  I’ve never actually stopped for oysters but have watched the crowd briefly as I glide upwards on the escalator to the bar upstairs.  In this first video the echo-chamber effect makes it sound more like a railway station than a genteel watering hole for opera.

In the second video a flashmob seems to quieten it down.

Vilar to Hamlyn

What I also rather like is the name on my particular model, the Vilar Floral Hall. Many of our buildings are now advertising boards for their sponsors. The rescued Floral Hall was originally named after the arts sponsor Alberto Vilar who pledged funds to many musical ventures around the world – but this was not the only one where he fell short of delivering on his full pledge. Convicted of fraud, money laundering amongst other things I believe he is still serving his sentence in the US. I like to think my out-of-date model is a bit of a collector’s item, like stamps that have been wrongly printed. It is now the Paul Hamlyn Hall, following a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (founded by the late publisher) for education and community activities at the Royal Opera House.

Collector’s piece

Windows maketh a building

The glory of the building is not only in the sweeping ironwork curves in their windows – and doubtless were key features is preventing destruction. There is value in windows- no wonder they were once taxed. It’s probably irrelevant, but I note the window tax was finally abolished in 1851, less than a decade before the Floral Hall was built in 1858/9.

How buildings learn

All this leads to the question of how buildings adapt, or, in the phrase of Stewart Brand, how they “learn”.  For a longer discourse on how buildings learn to survive I do recommend looking at Stewart’s  1997 BBC programme “How buildings learn” with music by Brian Eno. The programme, based on Stewart’s book of the same name, was also innovative by being filmed entirely, I believe, with handheld cameras, doubtless cutting filming costs!

Also changing to survive……

Next week, from Hoover to Tesco, a look at the one of the classic industrial buildings built alongside the arterial roads running out of London, the Hoover Building.

Previous Building Blogs

  1. Temple Bar and the End of Geography
  2. Euston Arch: A Hub of Controversy

Mad about models: Building Blog 1 Temple Bar and the end of geography

Mad about models: Building Blog 1 Temple Bar and the end of geography

This is the first of five blogs on five iconic buildings of London, one which has been relocated and then returned to London, one which has been demolished but may be rebuilt (Euston Arch) one which has been demolished for ever, and two which have changed their role in order to survive. They are all still alive in my own little collection of Timothy Richards models.

First, Temple Bar. This Timothy Richards model celebrates the return of the old Temple Bar to London. For me it has a little story attached. In my little book published 25 years ago, Global Financial Integration: the End of Geography I was trying to draw attention to the ways in which geography was often being eroded by revolutions in technology and the whole globalisation process. The title alone spurred many in the world of geography to champion the cause of geography, so I like to think it at least gingered up a profession that was a little dusty.

What is very clear is that so many of our rules and regulations are governed by geography. But so many rules now cross borders – though that isn’t stopping some to work against the flow and “get their country back”.

A symbol of who’s in charge

Temple Bar was a great historical symbol of the role of place in regulation. It was at Temple Bar where our monarchs had to stop and acknowledge that they were now entering the realm in part governed by the City of London. The monarch still has to pause on entering the City of London on official occasions – albeit for the Lord Mayor to present a sword in acknowledgement of royal authority.


The Queen stops to receive the ceremonial sword from the Lord Mayor on entering the City


Removal to a country retreat




Traffic jam or early traffic calming barrier?


When Temple Bar was restored to London after its long walk in the park – more than a century in Theobalds Park, near Chesham in Hertfordshire – it couldn’t return to Fleet Street.  It had been removed from there in 1878 because it got in the way of the traffic. Instead it became a grand archway to the new Paternoster Square next to St Paul’s Cathedral.


Country exile


Return to guard the private space

Not long after this phoenix-like return, Temple Bar, curiously and inadvertently, resumed its role as guardian of the financial realm of the City when the Occupy protesters planned their sit-in outside the London Stock Exchange after the 2007 crash.


God not Mammon: The Occupation of St Paul’s instead of the Stock Exchange


Whilst the new offices of the London Stock Exchange are indeed now in Paternoster Square, the stock exchange as you would think of it isn’t really there. The trading floors of the exchange now exist in the banks across the City: there is no physical floor at the Exchange itself.  Indeed when the Stock Exchange wishes to make a ceremonial announcement now it rings a bell at the top of the stairs in the lobby, a rather low key exercise. You won’t find many financiers there.


Relocation to a traffic free private zone


Ha, I thought, see how the end of geography is happening! There is no “there there”. However the dance between geography and regulation revealed another more recent twist: the camp did not end up outside the Stock Exchange because by now Paternoster Square was no longer a public space: another public space had gone into private ownership. As a result protesters in the Square were more easily removed by the police. So they had to decamp to protest at the foot of the steps of St Paul’s. The blame for the crash was not being placed at the feet of St Paul and his team, but they felt the shock waves. There were no resignations at the Stock Exchange but the Dean and the canon chancellor of St Paul’s resigned in the wake of the occupation, after having closed the Cathedral to try to keep control of unfolding events. Collateral damage you might say.

Gates and walls, the last bastions of geography

So Temple Bar is back, no longer a gateway to the City but a gateway within the City to a private part of the City. In our era of globalisation we have been tearing down walls and barriers – in Berlin, across Europe, in South Africa.  Yet in an era of rising inequality we have also been erecting new gates – such as around gated residential areas.  And there are leaders who want to start putting up new walls. You know who.

Believe it or not, my grandmother was there.....

There is a final personal footnote: in 1878 my grandmother, at 16, may well have witnessed the removal of the gateway, her own birthplace already demolished to make way for the Royal Courts of Justice, as the Victorians steadily cleared the slums of inner London.

As they used to say in my boyhood comics, More Next Week…… on a model of another gateway that is hoping to return from ignominious exile  –  the Euston Arch.

The Season for Storytelling

The Season for Storytelling

Storyteller storyteller and Sleep baby of mine: two songs for the season for storytelling by the fire, and bedtime stories, from my albums Anguneau sunset and I know a little place

Escape into stories!

“Storyteller tell me, what I want to hear

Put a spin upon the news, make trouble disappear”


“Storyteller take me to where I want to be

I prefer to dream a dream, sail the wide blue sea”

Lullaby, lullaby

“I used to tell a story to my little girl

about the wizard who lived on the hill”

“None of these stories ever come to an end. Bedtime stories never do.

Children fall asleep and enter their dreams. That’s where the stories come true.”  

Have a great holiday!



Three Love Songs

Three Love Songs

As we run into the festive season let me present my three love songs through life, two of them duets with my wife.  Sugar and spice and all things nice.

Young love


We begin on Soundcloud with our first duet about young love, She said yes, a short (less than a minute!) and sweet song from my first album I know a little place. He’s so overwhelmed with getting the answer Yes! he can’t remember the question….. but who cares…..

Off to the future, here we go
Always say yes, never say no
It’s great, whatever the question


Then it gets a little more serious in a Musical marriage, the opener from my second album, Anguneau sunset. Lovers meet at the taxi rank, as they crash out from their respective classical and heavy metal concerts in the rain. This was first written for the Valentine’s Day Love Eclectic concert in Highbury, North London.

Do they listen to music in bed?

And then the reminiscences

…. and our final duet the schmaltzy heart beating Overtime, the accordion stepping up the pulse as we reminiscence on the very first kiss, the holding of hands, and you’ll love the animals and birds in this video – also from Anguneau sunset.

Happy listening.

On the move

On the move

Mobility of people: A defining issue of our age🏃🏼🏃

The mobility of people has become a defining issue of our generation, of how we relate to one another, and a demonstration of a terrible inability to manage a challenge.  Like all the great famines of history, the inability to act has turned and crisis into a humanitarian tragedy. The scale of the problem overwhelms even the systems in place to deal with it. And opinion is divided as the issue brings out the worst in some and challenges the faith of the liberal mindset. Mobility is the driver of our age, mobility not just of people but goods and services, money, information, ideas.

When they’re knocking  knocking on your door, asking to be let in

Should you open up in welcome, is saying no a sin?

Not just passing travellers, seeking refuge on a stormy night

It’s people looking for another life, coming from the dark to the light 

No easy answers 💬

This song On the move was the hardest song I have attempted to write so far. It was written quickly but not easily. I have a viewpoint but I don’t have an easy solution – there isn’t one. It is easy to preach tolerance when not in the front line. As I have written elsewhere it is one of the foremost challenges for the development community that has been trying to combat poverty and inequality through aid and support for the once-termed “third world”.

“Some who come just playing a game, looking out for things that are for free

Give the needy a very bad name, haven’t paid their dues you see

You don’t leave home unless you have to, looking for an easy ride

Nobody jumps on a leaky boat, just to float in on the tide


So if you ask me where do I stand, what’s wrong and what is right

Am I just singing another song, problem out of sight

Do I believe in an open door, as long as it’s not mine

Or am I gonna be part of the answer, Buddy will I spare a dime

Mobility is a reality, so work with it not against it! 🌎

If there is a solution I believe it is about our society and government accepting that we are now in an era of great mobility of people – this isn’t just about Syria or Africa, it will be driven in the future by climate change and the further integration of our world.

The answer is there is no choice, the world is on the move

Slamming the door with a sympathetic voice, guaranteed to lose

No point saying sorry, think  no-one’s to blame

But if we’re all just on the make, we’ll all go up in flames

Openness wins ☑: Closing down loses👎

It is tempting to shut doors for short run gain – literally shortsightedness at its worst. Being closed and trying to have one’s cake and eat it just doesn’t work in the long run. But like climate change it’s hard to take the long view when the short run is tough. All I do know from working with so many organisations is that when we do understand the long term gain, we can tackle the shorter term pain. Together it can be done. If we take Donald Trump at his word, he threatens to interrupt almost all the five flows of globalisation and close down the world. A good businessperson knows that the best way to deal with tough competition is to compete, not to hide. Will Hutton spelt it out very clearly at the weekend in his Observer piece Trade is the lifeblood of humanity. I might add, humanity is the powerhouse of trade.  It doesn’t have to be the 1930s all over again, from populism running rampant to trade wars and slump, but it so easily could be.


So it’s time stand up, be counted, so much more to gain  

So come inside, hang up your coat, shelter from the rain



Choice (would be a fine thing)

Choice (would be a fine thing)

Nearly 12,000 YouTube hits suggest I’ve struck one or two chords with Choice (would be a fine thing).

So many flavours, where to begin?

Coffee is only one example of a consumer world burgeoning with choice, often too much choice.  And it tells us something about the inequalities in our world where there is overabundance alongside stark poverty.



Any colour as long as it’s black

I get the impression that car colours don’t vary a great deal: occasionally you see something really garish though it doesn’t work for me and couldn’t handle bright orange every day. Interestingly cars themselves haven’t evolved a great deal over the past century, still largely combustion engine, run on petrol/diesel, four wheels, steering wheel, a few pedals, but perhaps that’s beginning to change, to these silent electric monsters that creep up behind you and eventually self-drive. And still ridiculously expensive.  2CV  or bubble car anyone? Black or see through?


Tickets!! aagh

Do you know when off peak is? Do you want to pay the commission fee or the added donation. Fly for free, extra for some steps to get on the plane, to get on while there is still a seat – next it’ll be extra to use the loo…. actually I exaggerate: the collapse of airline tickets so you pay for what you want seems good to me as long as you are ready to work through your string of choices. And don’t complain if from time to time your choice get restricted. There’s no free lunch. I may be a little harsh in this song, but PLA (Passenger Luggage in Advance) was really quite innovative.



It’s very kind of all those people to call me advising me that I should be making a claim for everything that has happened to me or hasn’t happened to me, but I wish they wouldn’t waste their time.  Or ring me when I’m still dozing. Still, if I ever want a takeaway I know who to call – except how would I make my choice from the pile of menus stacked up in the hall?


Choice is really a privilege

By the way, I’ve settled on my choice of coffee: cappuccino usually, one shot, but when in France check they don’t pour whipped cream/crème Chantilly over it. Expresso – un café – often in France, for that shot at the bar, or allongé.  No sugar, ever, ever. But yes to chocolate on top. Macchiato or mocha now and again. Haven’t had an Irish coffee for years. In the 60s’ my parents’ late night drink was always all-milk coffee. Latter-day Latte. Spent a lot of time cleaning the pan when it caught.

Can’t  – and really shouldn’t – complain.

Now what shall I drink it out of today?  Ah, choice……………


An ABCD of the Referendum Mandate

An ABCD of the Referendum Mandate

With the UK and Europe facing massive confusion and uncertainty, ranging between one extreme of a long period of disruption to the other extreme of a promised great Independence Day, the UK Government owes it to everyone to ensure the result of the Referendum is interpreted effectively. While the wishes of the people must be respected, Brexit is not the clear wish of the people.

I want to focus on four dimensions

A: Guiding principles for the next UK Government.

B: Tactics

C: What might be achieved and for whom?

D: Why a rethink is not a rejection of democracy

A: Guiding principles for the next UK Government

  1. Government policy should not assume is that Brexit has to be a given, despite the result of a very close referendum, any more than the government should have stuck to a single mantra of budget surplus and austerity economics for so long. That would be single-issue politics gone bezerk, narrow-minded, self-destructive, divisive and even sadder, totally unnecessary.
  2. Policy must respect at least three very strong messages:
    1. That managing migration has to be taken more seriously and come much higher up our list of priorities
    2. That improving our relationship with the EU is a top priority and lead the whole of the EU towards closing up some of the so-called democratic deficit
    3. That the clear divisions in our society must be addressed to retain the UK as a coherent entity.

B: Tactics

  1. The dilemma facing the government now is how to deliver what was promised. Technically leaving, commencing by triggering Article 50, is probably the easiest thing to do.  It burns one more bridge.  But then we are in uncharted waters where legally we are in direct conflict with 27 EU members who then have real power to negotiate and call some shots, and if after two years there is stalemate we are out with no deal, leading to continued uncertainty.
  2. The new government has to now mend the shattered status quo. It will take great skill in keeping both sides, within the UK and within Europe, reasonably happy enough to accept a future deal.

C: What might be achieved and for whom?

  1. Can the government, in or out, significantly improve the way the mobility of people both ways across our borders, is managed any better than they can now? Too much focus has been on reducing numbers instead of putting a lot more effort into better processing of migrants, which is an appalling state, helping refugees and migrants to integrate into the UK, and tackling problems that arise when people in specific areas do feel threatened when the numbers of migrants are relatively large.  How we manage or mismanage migration  isn’t going to change much, simply by trying to put more controls into our system. The future will see a lot more migration, just as there will be climate change, and we need to work out how to manage it and benefit from it.
  2. Can those who expected our general economic difficulties to be eased see an improvement in their lives? The pressure on the Treasury is probably going to be greater not less, even if we abandon the mantra of budget surpluses. Don’t think this will unleash the benefits of a Keynesian stimulus.
  3. Those who wanted to topple the government and protest more widely against current inequalities, austerity etc. – i.e. the straightforward and legitimate protest voters who always feature in any mid-term election will probably have their wishes met in part but at potentially massive cost. We have general parliamentary elections for that process.
  4. Those who essentially want to see the whole EU unwind may be the most successful. This crisis will strain the current EU.  Having the UK outside will hurt the project though doubtless some on the continent may be glad to see the back of their half-hearted “opt-out-whenever-we-can” partner.

D: Why a rethink is not a rejection of democracy

  1. A 52/48 result either way cannot be seen as given an unequivocal clear view of the people. The reality is the country is divided very strongly down the middle and simply saying Brexit must happen risks permanently cementing that division into the UK.  Policy has to respect the reality that many people were often unclear which way to jump – even leading-advocate Boris wasn’t sure until through some logic he decided he did know what’s best so much so that he could tell us all how right it was.
  2. In/out, yes/no choices are very reductionist in terms of understanding what people want and expect to happen. At the simplest level it means more of the people who voted wanted Brexit than to Remain.  But it is obvious that what was on offer was not clear: we do not know what Brexit fully implies – leaving the EU yes, but where we end up, no.  Remainers emphasised the great uncertainty and dangers of leaving, Leavers promised all kinds of things which the team disowned almost as soon as the votes were counted.  The Leave manifesto must break all records in terms of post-election shelf life.  The real answer is that actually the British people aren’t sure which way to turn. While the speed at which the Leave leaders are leaving is shocking we can understand why the likes of Nigel Farage are running for the hills before anyone parks any responsibility for managing the future at his door.
  3. Legally it was an advisory referendum that does not force the UK Parliament to take the UK out of the EU if it decides against an alternative course of action after due debate. The fact that Cameron resigned immediately saying Brexit was the clear will of the people does not change that legality – even if he personally felt unable to continue. You may have missed it but at least Oona King is getting one hour at lunch time on Thursday for the Lords to discuss the idea of a 2nd Referendum. Have to start somewhere.
  4. In a court of law, given the ensuing chaos and debate, there would almost certainly be strong grounds for an appeal and a retrial. Despite the chaos and confusion today, I suspect the British people have been on a very fast learning curve in the past week as to what was really on offer and the real risks and uncertainties in the future.  Though I voted Remain I’m not saying that leaving isn’t necessarily a good idea, but the process by which we have decided which way to go looks horribly flawed.  On a sporting field the video replays would be under great scrutiny.

In conclusion

The mandate of the next UK government is dominated by the need to

  1. get us out of this chaos
  2. get the relationship between the UK and the EU back on an even keel
  3. re-establish some form of manageable equilibrium in our fractured society
  4. do whatever improves the lot of our citizens and ensure the UK remains a respected world citizen.