building of my life…..

I’ve mentioned Peter Ackroyd before haven’t I?  Well I remember him talking once about growing up in Acton and how he thinks that being slightly removed from the centre of London helped make him the London obsessive that he is.  As if being on the edge of the city made it seem that little bit more alluring and exciting.  Well having spent the majority of my childhood in Morden, a place that couldn’t be more boring & nondescript, I understand exactly what he means.  Not that Morden was completely bereft of interest, oh no.  Morden was the location of the first fixed fare bus route in London (the M1), a route that took you on a strange loop from Morden town centre to Raynes Park for 5p single & 10p return.  But going to Morden held no real interest for me as there is, after all, only so many circular sausages you can eat in Wimpy’s.  As soon as I could I would try & venture further afield, and if you lived in that part of SW London, then your arrival point in the city would invariably be Waterloo and the Southbank.

And this is where we come to the building I want to talk about.  Not that there’s much to say about the Shell Centre.  For an impressionable young boy from suburbia, the Shell Centre WAS London.  It was big, seemed to almost be the middle of the city and , excuse the slightly crass description, was absolutely cool as fuck.  Well it was to me, as a 12 year average boy from Morden.  It just seems to sit there, knowing that it’s pretty cool as well.  Perfectly at ease with itself and it’s place in the city, unlike the 12 year old boy that admired it so much back then, the 12 year old who didn’t know his place in the city.  And 30 years later I don’t think my opinion of the Shell Centre as a building has really changed much.  If you look hard enough, it’s slightly tatty around the edges, but who isn’t after 30 years of aging?  And perhaps I take it a bit more for granted than I used to, I see it so often it’d be hard not to get complacent, and I’ve even seen a bit more of the inner workings of the complex by picking up account jobs from the underground car park.  But when I do stop to look at it, as I did the other weekend to take some photos, it still has a very special place in my heart.  And when Robert Elms has me on his show as a Listed Londoner (I’m expecting the call any week now), it’ll definitely be my favourite building, even beating St Paul’s Cathedral.  High praise indeed, I think you’ll agree.

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4 thoughts on “building of my life…..

  1. Disappointing after Shell Mex but that, of course, was meant to be a hotel. The wrap-around horizontal block is a bit overwhelming while the vertical has inexplicably dull proportions and a sort of radio set balcony at the top – Palazzo Davanzatti it is not. Out of scale with everything around it (at the time), though not entirely out of kilter with Whitehall opposite. At 351 feet, it gazumped the Victoria Tower while in terms of office space, was the largest in Europe – and that’s just the ‘Upstream’ – there was an unrealised ‘Downstream’. If, as is thought, Sir Howard Robertson was inspired by Rockefeller NYC then it has all the monotony without the pizzazz, a stub instead of the slicing, vertical momentum of ‘The Rock’. The countless windows are stamped relentlessly out of the Portland stone – an inspiration for Canary Wharf, its true successor.

  2. Don’t lose heart about Morden: Tigger and I have been there several times. Yes, on purpose 🙂

    We usually used to stop for coffee at Morden Hall but the last time we were there it had closed 😦 I hope it’s going to be refurbished and reopened.

    Then there’s the lovely park continuous with the grounds of the Hall and the snuff mill.

    And of course one can jump on the tram – we enjoy trams – and go for a nice ride.

    There are certainly some fine sights in the centre of London but they are so familiar that it’s good to go out to the peripheries from time to time to see different things. All these areas have interesting features if you bother to seek them out.

  3. As someone who lives in SE1 (across the road from the Oxo) and drives a London taxi, I find your blog an interesting read.
    The Shell building has a swimming pool on the roof that is used by the boys from the London Nautical School.
    Myself, I have always felt the County Hall building to be more iconic, but to each their own.
    Keep up the good work.

    Gordon.

  4. Don’t, it’s not comparable to St. Paul’s but it is a fine example of post war architecture.
    At Christmas at one time they turned on the office lights so looking at the building from north of the river (ie civilisation) it gave the appearance of the shape of a Christmas tree

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