Statues, fountains, listed architecture - London is something of an open-air museum in and of itself. It’s enough to just wander the streets (preferably when the weather is behaving itself) to soak up the history and magnificence of the city and take in the parts of galleries and museums that don’t always receive their due appreciation - the buildings themselves.
Take the Tate Modern: rising out of the figurative ashes of the Bankside Power Station, this is an example of how post-industrial starkness can evolve into a thing of beauty in its own right. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (the creative mind behind the Battersea Power Station, Waterloo Bridge and the classic British telephone box, amongst others), the brick building and its single central chimney stand proudly along the artistic hub of the Southbank. The chimney scales up to 99 metres in height - intentionally a full 15 metres shorter than the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral - and the Bankside Power station has in fact often been referred to as an ‘industrial cathedral’. Redesigned in 1995 by architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, they opted to maintain the key original features of Scott’s design yet install a huge roof light-box to best reveal the interior - and the Tate Modern as we know it was born.
On the contrary, the building that now houses the formerly nomadic National Portrait Gallery was purpose-built for all those likenesses and models: from constructing it so as to allow for optimum natural light, sloping walls to exhibit the art in a unique manner, and short sets of gentle stairs to link visitors from one area to the next, this is a stellar example of intuitive design. The sprawling building that was in fact constructed in three separate phases by different architects - Ewan Christian and J.K. Calling in the 1890s, followed by Sir Richard Allison who completed the Orange Wing in 1933, and finally the Dixon Jones architects added the Ondaatje Wing in 2000. It’s well worth wandering around the outside, courtyards and noting all the smaller details, such as the busts of patrons of the gallery, artists and writers, as well as the elegant Florentine Renaissance style of the facades and exterior, particularly the entrance and northern block.
One of London’s most outstanding buildings is undoubtedly the grandiose Victoria and Albert Museum. Originally founded in 1852, the museum houses over 4 million pieces of art - and looks like it could hold twice that. Edwardian and Victorian in design, the high-ceilinged, glass-roofed Cast Court halls are eye-catching and neck-straining to behold. Construction on the current institution began only in 1900 after Queen Victoria laid the ceremonial foundation stone, and the collection of main building plus galleries was finally completed in 1909, stretching to over a mile long. The stone was carved intricately with ornamental sculptures, including one of the Queen herself standing in pride of place over the main doorway entrance, surrounded by Prince Albert, Edvard VII and Queen Alexandra. Other statues of artists, writers and crafts folk adorn the building, with the inscription above the main door arch reading - appropriately: “The excellence of every art must consist in the complete accomplishment of its purpose”.
All within walking distance of Amba Hotels Charing Cross, make sure to book your stay now so you don’t miss your chance to take in these bastions of architecture as the Autumn draws in.