an ode to brutalist beauty

The emergence of Brutalism in the ruins of post-war Britain is one of the most fascinating parts of modern design. The name suits it; brutalist architecture knows what it is and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Done wrongly, it can look rather depressing. Think of 60s era council flats with dirty, water stained concrete. However, done correctly, it can be powerful, unassuming, and beautiful, all at the same time.

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The other day, I had the pleasure of wandering around the Barbican, a massive complex of buildings in central London. I was meeting some friends nearby in Old Street, and the route I found on Citymapper told me to walk from Barbican station. I never really visit this side of the city, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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It’s impossible for the Barbican to not catch your eye. It’s there, blocking the horizon in its brutal, brutalist way, as soon as you exit the station. I had time to burn before meeting my friends, and my curiosity was piqued. I decided to enter this cavernous sprawl, one so important as to lend its name to its very own train station.

IMG_0362As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by grey; lots of grey. Massive concrete monoliths rose forebodingly into the skyline, and balconies bedecked with small potted plants greeted my eyes in every direction I looked. It was stark, unapologetic and in-your-face. It was beautiful.

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In a way, it’s even more true to the nature of the concept of a building than anything. Brutalism doesn’t pretend to be anything else, to integrate into the environment around it, because that’s impossible. There’s no paint or glossy facades, it just is. It’s simply a building, built for and by humans.

If you were describe an ideal building on paper, it would not be a brutalist one. It’s too easy to enjoy bright, smooth surfaces and big windows, but then again, that’s what we’re conditioned to like in a way.

Bold, unapologetic, and undeniably urban; people are quick to dismiss brutalism, but it’s just another type of beauty.

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hampstead hill gardens

The Hampstead Hill Gardens quite easily make my short list of London attractions. Hardly anyone seems to even know about it, and that’s all part of its charm. When you first enter the sanctuary with flowers and vines twisting over marble pillars you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stumbled into an enchanted garden from a fairytale.

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SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT A SECRET GARDEN?

IMG_1413There’s hardly ever anyone around, and the gardens are big enough that if there are people, you don’t really overlap with them. It’s like a secret! I’m almost reluctant to tell people about it sometimes, because I feel like it should stay hidden! It’s close proximity to Hampstead Heath (it’s just across the road) just tops it off.DSC_0120

The gardens are the public part of a large estate, which is still inhabited today. They date back to the early 1900s, where they were a prime location for evening strolls and showing off to others at Edwardian garden parties. The most interesting thing about these gardens though, is that back when they were constructing them, due to the time period they obviously had no large trucks or heavy machinery to transport the dirt for landscaping, which made things difficult. However, conveniently enough, the Northern line tube extension was underway very close by. They needed somewhere to put all of that dirt from the tunnelling, and guess what it was used for! The contractors were so desperate to get rid of the dirt that they actually paid the the garden builders to take in the dirt. Public transport really shaped this city, even in the most unlikely of ways!IMG_1345

When I purchased my first DSLR I knew this was the place to practice my photography, which is why the photos in this article are so much better than all of my other ones! Honestly, this place is ridiculously photogenic. There’s an endless array of interesting angles, shadows and perspectives to play around with, it’s such fun!DSC_0154DSC_0119

However, it’s otherwise high rating is let down by it being a bit of a walk from the station. Sure, you could take the bus directly there, but that’s such a hassle. I jest. It’s actually a very pleasant and quiet ride/walk through the leafy suburbs/forests of north London, and it’s well worth the extra effort! You can either walk/ride the bus through the leafy and village-like suburbs of north London from Hampstead station, or take the overground to Hampstead Heath and take a lovely stroll through the park of the same name.

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The contrast in colours is beautiful here.
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The view over the trees.

Final rating: 8.5/10

Nearest station: Hampstead (Northern Line) – Zone 2

Thanks to the historical background from: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/heritage/Pages/the-pergola.aspx

sounds for september – a playlist

The leaves are starting their journeys away from from the trees, my outfits are now incorporating multiple layers again, and I’ve already forgotten what it’s like to not have a just-in-case umbrella with me.  Summer is well and truly over. As always, I find myself wistful, but also kind of excited about the departure of the summer months.  There’s something inherently cosy about the colder months, and I know that I’m not the only one to feel this way, judging by the millions of ‘autumn vibes’ posts I see all over the internet.

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New Zealand winter; it looks the same as summer, just colder.

Last year I experienced my first autumn/winter in the northern hemisphere, and I’ve gotta say, I finally understand what all of the fuss is about. In New Zealand just about every tree is evergreen, so you’ll generally find that winter is just as green and luscious as summer is! Where I was from, temperatures never got too cold either (daytime temperatures were never below 7° on average), so you’d look like a muppet if you busted out the treble layered outfits and heavy scarves like you do here. However, since moving here, I’ve gotten to stamp through burnt orange and brown leaves on the ground (and the subsequent brown plant-matter sludge when people fail to sweep them up) and bundle up tight in cosy knitted clothes. It’s still not too cold during the days, but I’m definitely feeling the chills when I finish work in the evenings.

I’m sure in a few weeks I’ll be complaining about the cold, but for now, I’ll enjoy the season while it lasts. I’m looking forwards to revisiting the London parks in all of their  multicoloured glory. Of course, one of the bonuses of having an early sunset means that I can watch the sunset before I even start work at night! See, this time of year isn’t so bad.

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Regent’s Park, November 2016. My first proper autumn.

Anyway, here’s eight songs which, to me, represent these cooler and slower autumn vibes, but still manage to capture the last upbeat dregs of sunshine as well.

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https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1232708975/playlist/3aT3aB2Tvl35DFQ5bpa0fT

abney park cemetery

Just a few minutes off the busy Stoke Newington High Street, you will find yourself in the cavernous Abney Park Cemetery. Melancholy is the word that immediately springs to mind when you walk in here. You can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook. This is one of my favourite places to visit when I want to just think in silence.

Every time I’ve visited I’ve been pretty much the only one there, so it’s actually quite eerie in a way. Abney Park has a timeless feel to it; save for the occasional plane flying overhead you could be just about anywhere, or anytime. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being a romantic, but you can’t help but feel that you’re the first person to discover this place.

This cemetery was built during the industrial revolution to deal with the quickly rising city population, but after it reached capacity it was left completely untouched. Decades of neglect have resulted in today’s cemetery/nature reserve, which is totally overgrown with greenery. Branches and leaves snake over the tombstones and many have disappeared into the undergrowth completely. It’s got quite a fascinating history actually, but I won’t get into it here, it’ll take too long! I highly recommend looking it up though.

It’s not too far out, with a location on the edge of Zone 2, and it’s only a short walk from Stoke Newington station. If you don’t have an connection to this particular Overground line you can change at Hackney Central or Seven Sisters, so it’s quite well connected. The rest of Stoke Newington is a quite nice area as well, with a rather village-like atmosphere despite its its close proximity to the A10.

Final rating: 8/10

Nearest Station: Stoke Newington (overground). Zone 2

Limehouse Basin

After admiring the view of the Limehouse Basin and its pretty canalboats for months after passing over it on the DLR, I finally decided to get off a few stops early and check it out. I’ve on occasion cycled through this area on my way to work as well, and it was just as enjoyable this way. I will maintain, aside from the Embankment cycle route which will always take the crown (it’s very hard to compete with the Houses of Parliament), this is my favourite route to cycle in the city. The lovely new East-West cycle superhighway runs right through this area, and it’s fully segregated from the road with separate traffic lights, etc just for cyclists.

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Viewing the basin from on board the DLR.

Bikes can move through congested areas much quicker than cars can, so it’s a smooth, uninterrupted journey. It’s so easy and effortless, that sometimes I can even pretend I’m in the Netherlands or something. Props to TFL for creating this route!

When you approach the Limehouse basin, you get the combined view of the impressive towers of Canary Wharf blocking out the sun, and the peaceful narrowboats in the foreground. Even just being a pedestrian is very nice, as it’s a very peaceful area.IMG_9833

It couldn’t be closer to the DLR station(s), and once you leave the stop you’ll find yourself free to wander the perimeter of the basin and admire the colourful boats. There’s some spots where you can look out onto the Thames as well, and take in the quieter side of the iconic river.

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The bank of the Thames.

This area has a very local feel to it, as unless they’re passing through on their bicycles, it’s mostly just residents enjoying the waterfront. I currently work near Canary Wharf, so sometimes I’ll go for a little walk around here before I start work which is really lovely. Personally I like to walk around to the other side where there is a small adjoining park called Ropemakers Fields, and from there on it’s only a 7 or so minute walk to the next station along, Westferry where I can continue my journey.

A spot of calm off Commercial Road, very well linked with the DLR running parallel to it, or a 15 minute cycle from Tower Hill.

Final rating: 7/10

Nearest Station: Limehouse (DLR, National Rail). Zone 2.

Lloyd Park

I’ll be honest, I mostly came down here because I wanted to ride the mythical London tram system. And that I did. It was a just like a train, except we got caught in traffic jams. Very exciting. There was a stop (or is it station?) right outside the park as well, conveniently enough. The park was lovely too, so it was two birds with one stone! If you don’t take that tram though, it’s a relatively straightforward 20 minute walk from the Croydon centre.

There was this fairground thing when I went, but I’m more of a nature gal’ so I kind of just ignored it and went straight into the woody growth behind it. There was quite a big field which would be useful for a casual game of football I imagine, but there were also quite a lot of wild grasslands that gave you that countryside feel.

It was a bit hilly by London’s standard’s, which means there were mild inclines that made me embarrassingly out of breath. That being said, at this point you’re basically in Surrey anyway so a bit of rolling landscapes is understandable.

It was a lovely park, but probably not worth making the trek all of the way from North London if you aren’t local to the area (unless you, like me, are a fan of the Croydon trams). Of course, if you’re anywhere near South East London and you want a countryside escape that’s not actually in the countryside, it’s a great spot to visit! I didn’t get all of the way in, but it seemed quite big, with plenty of parts to explore.

Final rating: 6.5/10

Nearest station: Lloyd Park, London Trams, or East Croydon, National Rail

Clapham Common

This park was so much bigger than I initially thought it was! At first I just saw a lovely, but not particularly noteworthy green space. It seemed a bit smaller than I was expecting, but lo and behold, I changed direction and crossed a corner, and all of a sudden it was huge! It had all of the usual features of a park, except it was all relatively  spread out because the park was so big. There were children playing football in the fields, and I walked past a lovely pond where some people were fishing. There was a bandstand which was really lovely too, you don’t see too many of these around nowadays!

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I saw lots of people using this park as a cyclist through-fare on their way home from work too, which I always love seeing! It just goes to show how London is becoming greener every day.

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London cyclists in the park.

There’s quite a few busy roads criss-crossing through the park which you have no choice but to cross, which unfortunately can ruin the vibe of the otherwise peaceful urban stroll. Ah well, you can’t have everything! Luckily enough, the park is big enough so that once you’re away from the roads you can forget about them. It’s insanely well-linked transport-wise too, with the northern line serving stations at both the north and south ends of the park. There are plenty of normal shops, pubs and cute cafes at either end as well which can provide a great introduction back into the city life once you’re done!

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Worth mentioning that the tube station here is one of two on the entire tube network that has these tiny island platforms. Presumably they don’t have the space to widen the tunnels, so you’re left with these questionably small platforms…

Mind the gap!

Final rating: 7/10

Nearest Station: Clapham Common (Northern Line). Zone 2.

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Pretty reflections in the water!

Back to Hogwarts today!

Guess who missed the train to Hogwarts today! Yep, yesterday was September 1st, the day then young witches and wizards return back to Hogwarts. I may not have taken the train myself (don’t we all dream of that?), but along with a few hundred others I got to watch it depart!

I’ve been obsessed with Harry Potter for as long as I can remember. No exaggeration; my very first memory involves being in the car back from the shop with my mum admiring my copy of the newly released DVD of the first film.

September 1st, 2017 is the exact date that the epilogue of the final Harry Potter book was set. Today, Harry Potter and his friends would have sent their kids off to school from Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross station. Conveniently enough, for the first time in my life I now live a mere 30 minutes from the station, so of course I had to go!

It was an absolute madhouse; although there was nothing ‘official’ going on, there must have been several hundred fans crowding up the station. My friends and I managed to find a relatively good vantage point leaning over a balcony on the second floor, and everyone counted down until 11am, when the train would have departed. There was even a train to Edinburgh at 11am, which was quite fitting considering that Hogwarts is also in Scotland! The atmosphere was amazing, especially with many people in costume and house colours. I could pretend that I was actually on my way to Hogwarts!

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Big queue to get onto the platform this year!

I couldn’t stay around too much longer after 11am unfortunately as I had to dash off to work, but man, was I glad that I got to be there for the main countdown! It’s always been a dream of mine to receive my Hogwarts letter and set off on the Hogwarts Express, and today I can count that dream as fulfilled, in a funny sort of way. Although I may not be a witch, I’m glad I got to wave off the Hogwarts Express along with Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Note: the person doing the peace sign in the first photo is not me, just some random person who got in the way.

Stanmore Country Park

My series will begin with Stanmore Country Park. To many, Stanmore is only known as the place where Jubilee line terminates. However, it is so much more than that!

Walking there from the station, you can’t help but feel like you’ve already left London. Detached houses, wide roads, people driving everywhere? Is this really the city I’m so familiar with? But it is. The walk from the station is barely a few minutes at most, and during that time you can pretend you live in an alternate universe where you’ve actually escaped the money-grabbing jaws of London. Despite this, you’re actually only in Zone 5.

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Is this really London?

When you first enter heading from the station, you’ll find yourself in a woody area, full of a winding maze of paths disappearing into the undergrowth. This is where just exploring the area is the best way to see it, there are plenty of peaceful clearings, meadows, and even cows grazing in a field if you’re there at the right times!

IMG_9925I was very pleasantly surprised when I emerged into this lovely grassland area at the top, and then I turned around and got a smashing view of the city! I was lucky enough to have visited on a clear day, so I could see as far as the radio mast at Crystal Palace, over 20km away. If you are in a rush, basically head uphill in any direction from the entrance of the park and you’ll be there.

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The resolution isn’t great, but you get the idea!

Forests, quaint clearings, meadows, it’s got all of the makings of a great park. It’s close proximity to the Jubilee Line (arguably one of the more pleasant deep-level tube lines too) and lack of people give Stanmore Country Park a final rating of…

Final rating: 8/10

Nearest station: Stanmore (Jubilee Line). Zone 5

London.

Alright, I’ve decided to start a blog post series. It’s coming up to one year that I’ve been in London now, and I’ve seen so much, but I also feel I’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg of this city. The beauty of an ancient, sprawling city like London is that after being one of the world capitals of culture for a reason, there is always something to do.

However, considering the short time I’ve been here, I realise that I have seen a lot of places that might be off the beaten path. I thought I’d start a review series of sorts, just to bring the gems of London to people’s awareness. The best part, is that the vast majority of the places I’m going to mention are actually free. You don’t need to pay an entry fare to walk around a park or take in the vibe of a bustling area, all you need is the train fare to get there.

‘But London transportation is so expensive!,’ you might say! But you know  how much a zone 2-6 off peak tube fare costs? £1.50. For £1.50, you can get to so many amazing places. Now where’s your excuse? The problem with London is that it’s very, very easy to get caught up in everyday life and never leave the usual places. My goal with this series is show other people how crazily easy it is to see all of these amazing places, no matter where in London you are (or even if you don’t live here at all)!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy!