Ian Nairn on the Charterhouse

Ian Douglas Nairn (24 August 1930 – 14 August 1983) was a British architectural critic and topographer. 

In 1955, he established his reputation with a special issue of the Architectural Review called Outrage, and went on to create around 30 films for the BBC, including Nairn’s North, Nairn’s Europe and Nairn Across Britain. The following extract, in which he writes of the Charterhouse, has been taken from the recently republished Nairn’s London, a record of the buildings between Uxbridge and Dagenham that Nairn found particularly noteworthy.

Nairn’s London can be purchased here.

[Charterhouse. A rambling nest of medieval and Renaissance buildings, an equivalent of Lambeth Palace north of the river. It is rather demonstratively private — ‘trespassers with be prosecuted’ etc. — and was in any case severely damaged by bombing. The patched up parts you can see from outside have at the moment a quality of instant picturesqueness rather like one of those deep-frozen American dinners. (Open only on Wednesday, only in the summer, only at 2:45 prompt)]

On the nearby Golden Lane Estate:

The buildings themselves — a very high density housing estate for the City of London — are sometimes fussy and sometimes weather beaten. But in a way they are unimportant compared to the spaces between them. Every trick in the book is brought in, and not for cleverness’s sake, but to create a real place out of statistical units of accommodation. There are half a dozen ways of crossing the site: along corridors, under buildings, down steps and up ramps. And it is all meant to be used. The space itself, continually fluctuating and flickering, new views opening and faster than the eye can take them in, is like Span at Ham Common. But the temperament is quite different. This is no ivory tower, and these places are made for rude human beings playing rough games. There is a new Peabody estate next door: tall blocks, asphalt between, and a list of prohibitions as long as your arm. It is difficult to credit that it is intended for the same species of animal. The architecture of the Golden Lane has improved as the estate has grown, and the newest part, facing Goswell Road, has a good pub (the Shakespeare) built into the bottom of it: modern, but without the decorative affections that plague pub designers. The faults of this estate are immediately apparent. The virtues only show up later, but they will stand repeated visits, where L.C.C. estates like Roehampton seem shallower and shallower.

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