revising pevsner's london
The latest revisions in the 'Buildings of England' series' coverage of London are both exceptionally useful, as they cover a more defined area than in the original Pevsner arrangement. London 1: The City Of London was published last autumn with support from the City Corporation. The second, about to be published, is a paperback on London Docklands, which had help from the London Docklands Development Corporation. This serves as an introduction to a larger volume, London 5: East and Docklands, to be published next year.
The respective authors (along, of course, with earlier assessments by Pevsner himself) are Elizabeth Williamson and Simon Bradley; in both their cases the familiar Pevsner tone is evident: scholarly, descriptive and fair-minded, but not afraid to deliver harsh judgments.
The Lloyd's Building provides a test for any reviewer of recent London architecture. 'The most consistently innovative building the City has seen since Soane's Bank of England, breaking absolutely with its usual preference for architectural safe investments,' begins the description, which continues with details of materials, construction and engineering. It concludes: 'Rogers gave the City its first c20 building that can truly be called famous, in the way that St Paul's or the Tower are famous.' You don't know necessarily whether the author likes the architecture, but then you don't have to.
London Docklands perhaps has more targets to aim at. Richard Seifert & Partners gets a rough ride: South Quay Plaza? - 'particularly glum'. The shops/ offices at Glengall Bridge? - 'dismal'. The Mansion, Marsh Wall? - 'pretentious'. Goodhart Place? - 'gimmicky details, garish brick, ugly paving'.
Not criticisms that could be applied to either of these volumes. Black- and-white photography, simple drawings and useful maps form part of each. One criticism: the standard glossary's useful annotated drawings of construction elements suggests that modern materials and cladding do not exist. This should be rectified, not least because coverage of contemporary buildings is so thorough.