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National Trust madness, brutal bargains and architectural fetishes

Shouts and calls from the column that could do with an Office Assistant

A step too far

Chartwell, the family home of former prime minister Winston Churchill in Kent, takes the Disability Discrimination Act seriously. Despite having just two steps up to its front door, its owner, the National Trust, has kindly provided handrails and a two-stage ramp to make access easy for wheelchair users. But where to place signage is not the Trust’s strong point, made clear in the picture attached.

Design Aid

In the coffee break during a recent Digital Project user seminar, Foster + Partners’ Francis Aish was heard bemoaning the fact that snazzy drawing packages don’t necessarily mean good design. ‘There should be something like the Microsoft Office Assistant which pops up saying, “It looks like you are designing an ugly building. Do you need help?”’ said Aish. Ah, if only. Imagine how much more beautiful the world would be.

A Foster in the House?

Astragal is accustomed to receiving strange phone calls at AJ Towers, from disgruntled unpaid photographers seeking vengeance on construction firms to people seeking help with crossword clues (5 down: architect, six letters). It was a surprise, however, to field a call from someone asking to speak to Norman Foster. ‘I’m afraid you won’t find him here,’ Astragal replied. ‘He did two weeks’ work experience a while ago, but things didn’t work out.’

Home Sweet Home

A pang of nostalgia occasionally strikes Astragal when remembering the AJ’s former digs in London’s Rosebery Avenue - but you can’t go home again, and certainly not since the building has been refurbished for Derwent London by Hugh Broughton Architects. Astragal has a fetish or two, but leather walls and 566 lacquered hardwood balls? And that’s only in the reception.

Brutal Buy

Neo-brutalism fan seeks means of spending pesky £200,000 stuffed under mattress? Fret not, Lonely Heart, Astragal has found your match: a top-floor flat in East London’s Balfron Tower by Ernö Goldfinger, complete with metal doorframes with architrave light switches. Details at

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