As we come to the end of 2020, it is time to celebrate the best of the changes made to the internationally acclaimed environment of Bloomsbury.
Over the year of 2020 I have been observing some impressive innovations being made to the world-famous environment of Bloomsbury. Fitting to the status and glamour of one of London’s most famous districts, these innovations have without a doubt added a unique nuance and modern edge to the common landmarks that millions of tourists come to ogle every year. I have curated a collection of my personal favourites to share with you today – and if you feel you need that essential exercise, the map below sets out a walk you can take to spot them all.
Beginning at the Town Hall on Judd Street and heading up Bidborough Street, we can spot a game-changing piece of infrastructure installed a few months ago. Just as residents have been requesting for many years now, a space has been set aside and demarcated for residents to present their rubbish out onto the street in an orderly fashion.
Crossing Mabledon Place and onto Flaxman Terrace, a new art composition has been installed by Camden’s highways department. It is a celebration of all things good about roadworks in Camden, with two barriers arranged symmetrically, drawing the eye naturally to the centre and onto the ground, where one can spot a beautifully placed orange coffee cup. The installation is flanked either side by concrete paving slabs, a subtle reference to the way in which Camden’s road projects are supported strongly by every member of its strong communities.
Onto Woburn Walk, a place unique to Camden and very special to London, as being the only true planned Georgian high street in Camden, and one of only two in London. With every shop being Grade II* listed, and having been painstakingly restored by Camden and the LCC in the 1970s, this sensitively designed bin adds a uniquely modern feel to the walk, allowing one to compare the best of British design between the centuries.
Just to the right of the above photo is one of Bloomsbury’s most well-kept shopfronts. The shop-owner has carefully curated a collection of the most famous and well-designed items to be found in the classic London convenience store, and displayed them in such a carefree and avant-garde way it is almost impossible to resist stepping inside and browsing the store, if only to compliment the shop-owner on their artistic style and respect for Bloomsbury’s famous heritage.
Next up, just around the corner on Upper Woburn Place we have a sensitively designed row of bins for Bloomsbury’s communities. This triplet of bins are an obvious reflection of the common terraced house form found throughout Bloomsbury, while the lurid green colour reflects the foliage of Bloomsbury’s famous trees and gardens.
Now onto Tavistock Place. This block is more or less perfectly preserved on either side, with an entire row of Georgian terracing running along Gordon Square and Tavistock Square. In the Bloomsbury CA appraisal, the wall connecting the two was described as ‘perfectly balanced’. So I was very excited to see this planning application approved. A plastic light and an entrance cut out of the Georgian wall, with a panel timber door. Camden’s planning officers rightly judged that ‘this application enhances the special character of Bloomsbury by means of its modern and simple design’.
Continuing along Tavistock Place we have the Woburn Square Gatehouse. A famous modern intervention, contrasting the very best of modern British design with the Georgian square and terraces behind. Just like in days of old, the gatehouse is manned almost every day. The most impressive aspect of this composition for me is the plastic barriers in the foreground. Great care has been taken to cut out holes along the bottom, to improve airflow and permeability while nodding to the regular fenestration of the Georgian terraces behind.
Along Byng Place and we have a new art installation just outside Waterstones’ flagship store. For me this represents the way in which a bookshop overflows with knowledge and beauty read between the lines of its numerous books. The red colour of these uniquely modern containers is a respectful nod to the red brick used on the facade of the Waterstones building.
Then we come to one of the most carefully considered, respectful, and yet uniquely modern developments of the twenty-first century. Crafted from locally-sourced metals and constructed by traditional methods dating from the first century AD, this beautifully modern box with a long projecting cornice and gallows brackets showcases the best innovations of modern design, while staying entirely subservient to the surrounding architecture and built form. For me the most boundary-pushing and revolutionary aspect of this development is the way in which the electrics for the lighting and heaters run along the outside of the metal box, with bare metal wires and crocodile clips exposed to the elements. It shows for me how humanity has truly transcended the limits of nature when it comes to modern architecture in sensitive settings.
Then walking towards Montague Place, we come to the north entrance of the British Museum to find a subtle yet deeply meaningful art installation. My personal interpretation of this is that the wall of concrete blocks represents the seemingly insurmountable barriers to knowledge and wisdom faced by those coming from all around the world to visit this museum. But with persistence and patience, we can all prevail in this quest by queueing up for hours and being patted down by security guards in a plastic box before being waved through.
Heading towards the end of our walk now we find another subtle art installation to the south of Russell Square. This one evidently represents the fact that, even when works to implement some change have been completed many months ago, the work never really ends for the community nor the council. It also speaks to me as a monument to the way in which Camden never looks back, not ever once, to assess the efficacy and impact of their schemes, so obviously beneficial they are. Not a second should be wasted to collect highways equipment, because the strength of goodwill between communities and Camden is such that these curious objects become beloved monuments, and remain in place so long, so unmoved, they eventually become famous listed landmarks and pillars of the community in themselves, before eventually fossilising and providing an invaluable resource to the archaeologists of the future.
Now the final innovation of our walk, and one of my personal favourites, at the edge of Bloomsbury on Gray’s Inn Road. Here we see that Camden’s highways department has really pushed the boundaries of lamppost maintenance to never-seen-before levels. Instead of simply replacing the metal door concealing the electrics on the inside of the post, a revolutionary approach to the sourcing of materials and engineering methods had led Camden to sellotape a wad of cardboard with two complementary kinds of tape. The classic ‘earth’ electrical tape can be observed providing a rigid foundation for the more impactful ‘CAUTION ELECTRICAL’ tape above, while the real icing on the cake comes in an inspired flourish of black tape circling the yellow tape at the top, like a very crown atop this most regal of engineering feats.
I hope you enjoyed my personal curation of the very best environmental interventions, and I’m sure you’ll agree they are perfectly fitting to the ideals of beauty and intelligence associated with Bloomsbury. 2020 has been an exciting year for the environment and for planning and I can’t wait to see what 2021 holds!