Central St. Giles

June 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

Over a dull, wet lunch hour I took a number of photographs around the new development of Central St. Giles, located between Bloomsbury and Soho, in London. I wanted to explore my reactions when, strolling about or turning a corner, I was confronted by this brightly coloured building.

It rapidly became obvious I wouldn’t photograph it directly. Instead, I became curious to see how it cast its yellow, orange, red and green reflected light over the surrounding surfaces. Had it had any effect on the air of gloom [the blues] that had hung over this neighbourhood for years? Could the architect, Renzo Piano, cover, with cheerful pigments, the ghosts found lurking in the shadows? Few inroads had been made with previous attempts such as the building of New Oxford Street or Centre Point.

The developers claim Central St. Giles ‘brings heart and soul into a forgotten part of central London’s urban fabric’. To bring life back to a dead spot but probably not the liveliness depicted by Hogarth in the 18th century.

Piano claims his colours  were inspired by local bricks and music shop window displays. I found, in the reflections of colour, the streets fending off their affluent new arrival.

The yellow colour cladding’s reflections reminded me of how a buttercup was used as a test for whether one liked butter or not in childhood games. The lustrous petals were placed under the chin and gave the skin a yellowish glow. London’s streets were once believed, by provincials, to be paved with gold. And right in front of me they glistened. Here, where the slums named The Rookeries once stood!

Sitting in The Angel I had a beer and thought of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and being ‘On the wagon’ on the way to an execution. A golden ale, the burnt orange on the walls opposite, your last drink on earth.

Across the way were the gates of hell leading into the ‘Intrepid Fox’ pub. Where previously its rivalry was with St. Giles Church, the little red devil had now turned its fiendish glare directly at Central St. Giles, which was combusting in the pub’s black windows.  Red was everywhere, circulating over the damp ground, painting the town red.

Finally, green phlegm and vomit. Drunk, stumbling out of the pub. Green with envy. Grass greener across the road in the piazza’s grey interior [that was once a leper hospital]. There’s too much green in England, a photographer once complained.

Nick Cobb  May 2010


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