As I was writing my latest post on London as a site of architectural experimentation, I thought of a place where you can check out cutting-edge structures in the making.
The Serpentine Galleries, with an unbeatable location in the heart of Kensington Gardens, commission every year a temporary summer pavilion by an internationally renowned architect. This project started in 2000 with Zaha Hadid (who also designed the newly opened Sackler Gallery on the opposite side of the Serpentine lake).
This year the Serpentine Pavilion is one of the weirdest ever. Designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić and open until the 19th of October, it is a donut-shaped structure resembling a shell – or maybe a prehistoric egg – or maybe a UFO – with a café inside.
The Serpentine Galleries are free and definitely worth a look if you find yourself in the area.
And while in Kensington Gardens, go and look for Peter Pan’s statue – less cutting-edge of course, but with the advantage of longevity: erected more than a century ago, it will outlive many more Serpentine Pavilions.
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge
Waterstone Picadilly is Europe’s largest bookshop – with six floors of books and 150,000 titles in stock, you should be able to find just what you’re looking for. They also have comfy sofas to read their books – what more could we ask for ?
Nearest tube station: Picadilly Circus
Designed by Sir John Soane, the architect of the Bank of England, to house his collection of works of art, this intriguing museum is packed with quirky architectural experiments, antiquities and paintings. The house has been kept almost exactly as Soane left it when he died in 1837. No room looks like the next one and Soane even created a gothic room to host his parties. His eclectic collection includes an Egyptian sarcophagus, greek statues and paintings by Turner and Canaletto. A visit doesn’t take much time – around an hour, say, during which you’re bound to make some intriguing and fascinating discoveries.
Tube Station: Holborn
It’s not difficult to figure out what Charlotte Street Blues is or where it is located – the clue is in the name. 7 nights a week, this American-themed bar hosts bands playing blues and country music.
Charlotte Street Blues on a Sunday night
Friday and Saturday nights’ concerts can attract famous names, giving an electric ambiance to the bar that tends to be packed – arrive before 7:30pm to avoid paying the £7 entry fee – but on the other evenings the entry is free and the atmosphere more laid-back. On Wednesday, jam sessions invite any aspiring musician to get on stage, while Sunday nights’ acoustic sessions are a nice way to end the week on a relaxing tone. Also try the American-sized burgers.
Nearest Tube Station: Goodge Street
Link to Charlotte Street Blues’ Website
Cities are often compared to a jungle, and we were already used to Trafalgar Square’s lions. But it seems that another exotic species is currently invading London: the elephant (which is, as you already know, one of my favourite animals – see my post on the Natural History Museum).
Over the night, two weeks ago, more than 250 pachyderms popped up throughout central London. Painted with bright colours and often flashy patterns, London’s elephants are much more eye-catching than their wild cousins, as the pictures show.
In fact, these elephants decorated by artists constitute one of London’s greater outside art venue, designed to raise public awareness of the Asian elephant conditions, which are facing extinction. The sculptures will be on display until the end of June, and then auctioned to raise money for charities working for the protection of Asian elephants.
Location: everywhere in Central London
Joseph M. W. Turner is with no doubt one of Great Britain’s most celebrated painters. He achieved success at a quite early age and when he died, he left to the nation a vast collection of paintings, drawings and sketches, which are now housed by Tate Britain’s Clore Gallery.
The 10 rooms of the Clore Gallery, which opened to the public in 1987, are entirely devoted to Turner’s work, and since they are part of the museum’s permanent collection, their admission is free of charge. They house some historical paintings the artist painted during the Napoleon wars, and numerous landscapes and marines depicting real and imaginary scenes inspired by his travels in Britain and all over Europe – Turner went to Germany, France, Italy, and he particularly loved Venice. The vibrant colours and poetic atmosphere of some of his late masterpieces are surprisingly modern. Tate Britain’s collection is a must see, but its gallery on Turner is arguably enough to make it stand in the world-class museums category.
Tate Britain is open every day form 10.00 to 18.00 and until 22.00 on the first Friday of each month
Nearest Tube station : Pimlico
A lot of famous – and not so famous – key figures have leaved in London before us. The plates adorning the walls of London are a daily reminder of the city’s great past. Until you have a plate with your name engraved on it somewhere in London, keeping one’s eyes open on them may lead you to interesting – or funny – discoveries.
London has indeed been host to men (and women) of many different backgrounds and professions, including a lot of writers, such as Melville
Several politicians also lived here, including Benjamin Franklin (who could also fit in a “scientist” list) one of the founding fathers of the USA:
or Ho Chi Minh, even though the plate, located on Haymarket, does not precise the nature of the work he was doing at the Carlton or even why it was relevant to his being the “founder of modern Vietnam”
The city has also welcomed philosophers, such as the likes of Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, the philosophy of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people” according to which the morality of an action depends solely on its utility to create happiness for the greatest number of people:
Finally, a watchful eye may also notice some more unlikely plates, such as the one of the fiction character Sherlock Holmes!