Welbeck Street Car Park is a short walk from Oxford Street in London. It was designed and built in the Brutalist style in the 1970s as parking for the nearby Debenhams. Its facade made from prefabricated concrete polygons has become very recognisable.
In 2017 a petition was started in order to put pressure on Historic England to grant the building with listed status or at least consider a design of the new hotel that incorporated the iconic facade. Unfortunately, both were unsuccessful.
The demolition was scheduled and plans went ahead to turn the site into a 10 storey, 206 bedroom hotel.
I visited the car park in early 2019, at the time demolition hadn’t begun on the facade but work was definitely in progress. There were workman on every corner taking their breaks and the lower level entrances had been boarded up. Since then, scaffolding has been erected around the outside.
I made it just in time to take my photos, maybe a little too late. I would have like to see the building from the inside and had the freedom to move around the building more freely with uninterrupted views. Hopefully I will be able to return in the future and photograph the change, whether or not it is for better or worse.
FAIR WELBECK STREET, in all your brutalist majesty,
Balanced & bold against the massive London sky, Teetering house of cards, it would be such a travesty To bring the barrier down, and say goodbye.
In your storey-stacked style, you seem to call
To days when we were young, shook hands, dreamed dreams
Of progress, motion, of standing tall, a future fast and fine as jet streams.
These five-sided triangles, pointing down from above, certain in saying: YOU ARE HERE. You are loved.
And now your days are nearly gone, but turning off the thoroughfare
I find your striplights glaring on, the ever-widening dream, still there. I know I shall pass by one morning, to find an absence in your place. Let traffic dip its lights in mourning, for your cemented charm, your concrete grace.
Farewell, fair Welbeck Street, too beautiful to last
Once you were the future
Welcome to the past.
The New Forest is an area in Southern England, widely known for its nature and wildlife. The Forest was first proclaimed a royal forest by William the Conquerer in the 11th century, and today a large proportion is still owed by the crown. Since 2005 the New Forest has been a national park.
One of the features that the New Forest is known for the most is its wildlife. Animals are able to roam freely within the national park and there is quite an abundance, especially of horses. At Hatchett Pond we encountered our first, a group of very friendly donkeys.
Rhinefield Ornamental Drive
Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is a short, narrow stretch of road just outside the town of Brockenhurst. Here you can find some of the tallest trees in the New Forest. In and around 1859 many trees were planted in this area as part of the Rhinefield Estate.
At both ends of the Drive there is a car park. From here you can pick up the Tall Trees Trail, a short walk that runs parallel to the road.
Rhinefield Ornamental Drive hosts many non-native species of trees, including Redwoods. At only 150 years old these trees are very young in comparison to their American cousins but, nevertheless, they are among the tallest in the forest.
The Knightwood Oak
Turning off from the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive you will be able to find the Knightwood Oak, a five hundred year old Oak tree. The Knightwood Oak is an example of ‘pollarding’, which is where a tree is harvested for wood without killing the tree. The oak is one of the largest and oldest in the New Forest and also goes by the name ‘Queen of the forest’
This is such a small selection of what the New Forest has to offer. There are many towns, including Lyndhurst and Burley, that are worth your time, as well as the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. All of these situated in the beautiful surroundings of one of England’s oldest forests.
Oodi is a recently opened library in Helsinki’s centre. It was designed by ALA Architects and commissioned in connection with Finlands centenary of independence in 2017. The huge wooden structure dominates the area in which it is located. Oodi is an excellent example of modern architecture, filled with workspaces, books and services a library provides for its community.
Inside Oodi is clean, spacious and minimal. This theme runs through each floor of the building, though from a design perspective they are all very different from each other. The top floor is walled with large glass windows that creates a light and open space.
Design is the heart and soul of the building, there are no half measures here.
Surprisingly, Oodi features very little books for its size. It’s billed as a modern library, one that focuses on services and workspaces rather than physical information. The bookshelves it does have are small and minimal, though part of the Helmet network you are able to access a much larger selection of books.
From the top floor the library offers 360° view of its surroundings. Unfortunately some of Kansalaistori still remains under construction, though the view to Helsinki’s recently renovated Parliament House is uninterrupted.
What Oodi does well is the creative use of workspaces, and there are plenty of them. Each level is filled largely with communal spaces, each with its own design and character. There are also meeting rooms, individual work rooms and quiet spaces, not to forget those dedicated to specialisations such as a music studio.
From the outside Oodi is remarkable from every angle. The sheer size of the building isn’t fully understood until you stand at its front door and look up its wooden facade. From end to end it stretches and curves naturally into the distance.
Oodi is proof that functional buildings don’t have to be boring and I couldn’t imagine many other countries investing money in buildings, such as libraries, as highly as Finland does. But, even after my visit, I find it hard to understand Oodi and its purpose. It’s a huge and costly building most dedicated to work spaces, if nothing more it is a fine example of architecture and design in a city that continues to out do itself.
The building now known as Original Sokos Hotel Viru first opened in 1972, after construction delays and a fire in one of the upper floors. Apart from being a hotel the building and its secret history plays an interesting part in the history of the city.
The hotel is known for once hosting the KGB. Though, like anything involving the Soviet Union, the details are foggy. It is known that the 23rd floor of the building, now a museum, was home to a radio centre and that a number of rooms were under surveillance.
At the time the hotel was becoming a meeting point for international guests visiting the city and prime location for gathering information. Mystery still surrounds why information was collect, for what purpose and what was done with it after.
In 1991 the KGB quickly abandoned residence in the hotel when Estonia became independent. Now, the hotel is operated by the Sokos Hotel chain.
Over the years I have visited Tallinn many times thanks to it being only a short ferry ride from Helsinki. Each time visiting new places and getting to know the city that little bit more. Whatever my plans they always include a trip to its Old Town.
Tallinn’s Old Town refers to its medieval region that dates back to the 13th century in the heart of the city. Its cobbled streets, gothic architecture and well preserved city walls make it a must to people visiting the Baltic region.
There are plenty of small laneways to walk and discover. You don’t need to worry about get lost because, more often than not, you end up at the Town Hall Square, home to one of the best Christmas markets, and surrounded by authentic restaurants, bars and cafes.
There are two great view points over Tallinn’s Old Town. They can be difficult to find but after a climb up hill and winding through the small cobbled streets you will be rewarded with uninterrupted views, even on a snowy winter’s day.
Exploring Tallinn’s Old Town can easily take a day but make sure you spare some time to travel further afield. Telliskivi, Kadriorg park and the beautiful neighbourhood of Kalamaja are all worth a visit.
I recently wrote about Helsinki and put my case forward for it being the city with the best looking libraries, though I am completely bias as I have only seen a handful of libraries outside of Helsinki, I stand by this.
There were two libraries missing from that list though mentioned. The first was Oodi, the new addition to Helsinki that I am eagerly waiting to visit, the second was missing intentionally.
The National Library of Finland
The National Library of Finland is one of the finest buildings that Helsinki has, from the inside at least. From the outside the building is underwhelming and you would have little reason to believe that the inside would be any better. For me this is why I enjoy it so much. It is overlooked, underappreciated and visited mainly for academic purposes, which some may argue is the only reason needed to visit a Library.
The library was designed by architect C.L Engel, who designed a large majority of the buildings surrounding Senate Square where the library is situated, including Helsinki Cathedral.
Hidden away in the centre of the building is a large open atrium with a glass domed roof, on each level of course more books.
The National Library is a legal deposit library, which means it has an obligation to keep a copy of any printed material, as well as audiovisual materials produced in Finland or distributed in Finland.
A large percentage of the collection is kept in an underground bunker drilled 18 meters down into solid rock known as Kirjaluola in Finnish or Bookcave.
The rooms are large and lined with books, tall detailed pillars support the upper levels and painted ceilings. It’s these features and details that make the National Library of Finland such a magnificent building.
My interest in the libraries of Helsinki had first come through photography, inside there were these hidden architectural secrets I had to photograph. It took me to new places in the city and I was often hearing about others I had to visit.
It became such an interest of mine that one time while taking about Helsinki’s libraries I was asked, “Where do you study?” I replied honestly, “I don’t, I just really like libraries.”
Coming from a small city in England libraries were an underused service, often hidden away in a dying high street. Here, in Helsinki, they were vibrant, open spaces bringing all sorts of people and offering varied services to the public. They not only do this excellently, they look good too.
So, does Helsinki have the best looking libraries? Lets find out.
Abundant in work spaces and meeting rooms Töölö Library is always a hive of activity that it is often difficult to find a place to study. Meeting rooms can be booked in advance and come catered with all the necessities you may need.
But what brings other people here.
The staircase that runs up through the centre of the building has a unique shape that when viewed from the lower levels looking up gives the illusion of looking into an eye, with the skylight at the top resembling its pupil.
Helsinki University Library
In the centre of Helsinki you will find a number of excellent Libraries, its most central are Kirjasto Kymppi (Library 10) and the Helsinki University Library. Governed by the university but open to all, it is full of work spaces, some of which come with fantastic views.
The library is full of open spaces and architectural delights. First there is the corkscrewing spiral staircase which can be quite a journey when climbing from the bottom to the top.
Make sure to visit the balcony on the top floor for one of the best views of Helsinki Cathedral over the cities rooftops.
The building serves as a excellent shortcut between Fabianinkatu and Vuorikatu, making it easier to reach Helsinki’s Metro. Overhead oval openings descending in size as the levels rise. Walking through it is almost impossible not to look up and admire its breathtaking architecture.
The last library I was to discover partly due to the fact that it is hard to notice from the street, which sees very little foot traffic. If you aren’t looking for it you will most likely miss it.
From the outside there is little indication to the size of Rikhardinkatu Library and that continues once you enter. It is not until you happen across the large hall with its demanding staircase that you realise the magnitude of the building.
Kallio Library is situated at one end of Karhupuisto, the centre of the neighbourhood in which it serves. The red brick building hides a beautiful atrium and grand staircase that connects the three floors of books.
Again, we need to ask the question:
Does Helsinki have the best looking libraries?
I think I have built a strong case and have only touched the surface. Helsinki has other great libraries waiting to be discovered, for example the exquisite National Library of Finland, and many more throughout Finland.
At a time where libraries are in decline in many countries Finland seems to be leading the way, providing services that its citizens use frequently but also focusing on design and innovation that will bring more than just book lovers through their doors.
Oodi, the newest library in Finland’s arsenal, has opened this month and it’s a library of a different class, its scale, services and design are something the city has never seen before. At the time of my last visit Oodi was still under construction but now open I am eager to visit the city’s latest offering.
Getting into Tiananmen Square was hard enough. We joined a large crowd of Chinese people, shuffling slowly forwarded. We waited while people looked at us strangely, pointed at our feet and laughing, not knowing if joining the group was even the right thing to do. Eventually we arrived at a security checkpoint, where our bags were x-rayed and our passports checked.
We were in.
Tiananmen Square was a large open space where traffic was prohibited and areas roped off from pedestrians with guard posts throughout. At one end Tiananmen Gate, which lead into the Forbidden City, where a large portrait of Chairman Mao hung.
At the other, Mao’s Mausoleum, a building built solely for the purpose of housing his embalmed body. Our first port of call.
But first we had to jump through a number of hoops in order to enter.
First we headed to an entirely different building, where we would have to check in any bags or cameras. While I was travelling in Vietnam I was able to visit the body of Ho Chi Minh so I had an idea of what may be required here in order to enter.
Back at the mausoleum we joined another queue, this one had a lot less people in it, and another security check point, this one just a visual inspection. As we approached the entrance there was a vendor selling white flowers. Almost every Chinese visitor in front of us purchased multiple flowers to take in with them.
Once we reached the entrance and went inside we were greeted by a large seated stone statue of Mao. In front of him a table so full of the white flowers they had been piled up on the floor behind. We watched as visitors placed their contribution with the others and then as a man with a large cart collected up the excess and wheeled them back out to the shop.
Moving through the corridors we came to a small room where the glass coffin was held. Inside lay a black haired Mao in a grey suit. It was a very strange moment which lasted less than a minute. We were ushered around the edges of the room before passing out the other side and into the gift shop.
No one was prepared for Mao’s death. Like Ho Chi Minh he had requested to be cremated but after his death it was decided his body would be embalmed. Accounts vary but it is thought the process was rushed and ill prepared due to rocky relations with the Russians at the time. They were thought to be the experts as they had already used the technique to embalm the bodies of Stalin and Lenin, as well as assisting the Vietnamese with Minh’s body. It is said that instead they had to settle with verbal instructions from the Vietnamese and try their best.
Since 1977 his body has been here, in his purpose built mausoleum for the world to visit, with some days visitor numbers reaching well into the thousands. Today, who really knows if the body that lies there is in fact Mao’s. Rumours persist and it’s often thought that due to the process not being entirely effective the body had been replaced with a wax figure, highly believable as the process leaves the skin looking shinny and even wax like.
Recently I found myself in Brighton hunting for a number of street art pieces that had been placed around the city.
The reason I was here was the Finnish street artist Jussi TwoSeven whose work I had been following since my time living in Helsinki, where I had first been introduced to his work. The most recent was a large roaring bear in one of Helsinki’s metro stations in co-operation with a city museum. He had now been in Brighton painting a number of pieces in co-operation with Brighton Fringe Festival, this time wolves.
Jussi TwoSeven in Brighton
All together there were five wolves dotted around the city and they weren’t too hard to find.
In the heart of Brightons popular Lanes is Bond St, a thoroughfare for exploring tourists and local shoppers. Bond St has it all, from small boutiques, cafes, vintage clothing and much more. A day could fly by weaving in and out of the narrow walking lanes with each turn revealing something new.
What I enjoy about Jussi TwoSeven’s work is his interpretation of nature, and especially wildlife native to Finland, using only black and white paint. Also the scale to which he often works is very impressive.
Just around the corner from The Victory Inn, down a small side road, was the largest piece in the city. A blank white wall on the outside of a hairdressers made the perfect canvas for Jussi TwoSeven’s monochrome work. The Location and size made this one on Middle St my favourite of the day.
From here I walked. down to the seafront, passing the pier before heading back into the city just before the Aquarium. I knew roughly where I was heading as I had been wandering through this part of town the last time I was in Brighton only a few months earlier.
Two smaller pieces were painted on the walls of the Brighton Youth Centre on Edward St. One along the main road, the other slightly hidden by a small car parking bay by the entrance. Can you spot the black and white wolf?
What finally brought all these individual pieces together was when I saw a video on Jussi TowSeven’s own channel of each wolf in sequence giving the appearance of movement. Though separated across the city the pieces worked together collectively.
I am interested to know if there are any other great works of street art that grace the walls of Brighton? What are your favourites and are there any you can recommend?