Archive for 14/10/2014


Municipal Dreams

Balfron Tower is now one of the stately homes of England – a National Trust attraction no less.  Recently it’s hosted an arts season, a Shakespeare play, and it’s provided live-work accommodation for twenty-five artists since 2008.  And all that, to be honest, makes me sad because once Balfron was simply housing for the local people who needed it – although its size and style and big name architect did always get it special attention.

Photograph taken in 1969 showing original concrete chimneys to service tower boilers (from Brownfield Estate, Poplar Conservation Management Plan) Photograph taken in 1969 showing original concrete chimneys to service tower boilers (from LBTH, Brownfield Estate, Poplar Conservation Management Plan)

The site for what is currently the Brownfield Estate, in which Balfron is located, had been identified as early as 1951.  The now truncated St Leonard’s Road was one of Poplar’s principal streets; the area as a whole comprised a dense grid of old and substandard terraced housing.  The land was acquired in 1959 just as…

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It was our second full day. We left home along mountain tracks and soon found our way onto one of the very good motorways here. I guess it took us a little over an hour to reach our destination for the day, Granada. Deborah and I had been here before, some 9 years ago, visiting our daughter who was studying at the University. I was excited about returning, especially to see the Alhambra, which was one of the experiences that turned me on to garden design.

We spent the morning and early afternoon walking the streets. Oh, and took a rather disappointing open-topped bus ride of the city, which we’d done before, but this time it seemed to be a stagger from one traffic light to the next, amidst heavy traffic and which, I guess, lacked the novelty of that first trip. Still, a nice coffee in the precincts of the cathedral and a wander around the moorish quarter, including a wonderful lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Alhambra, all made for a good start to the day.

The afternoon began with the ascent to the main entrance to the Alhambra, where pre booked tickets are essential as the place gets very busy and you need to have a time slot for the most famous bit, the Nasrid Palace. Ours was for late afternoon so we had a few hours to take in the Generalife (the adjacent palace) and the rest of the Alhambra before the real treat. I seem to remember we didn’t get much of a look around the Generalife 9 years before, so today we began there and it was well worth spending more time amongst its wonderful gardens. Here are a few pictures…

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We wove our way through crowds towards the Alhambra and made it up to the castellated viewpoint of the Alcazaba, just in time to get to our allotted spot at the nearby Nasrid Palace. This consists of a series of interlocking rooms, chambers and courtyards or patios. It was worth the preamble.

As you enter the Palace you plunge into a room of near darkness, only to emerge into the dazzling light of the outside space. I’d forgotten how simple, peaceful and mystical the Patio of the Myrtles was, with its sheet of water and simple structural planting. I sat and took in the scene, which was rather like an outdoor cathedral- you know, even though there are people around and making noise, the space seems to dissipate and soften that so that it forms a sort of background murmur, almost of reverence?

The slow trickle of water from a fountain added to the ambience, quite a contrast to the rushing of the arched fountains in the Generalife (I’ll post a couple of videos comparing them in the next day or two). Here are some pictures of the outer Alhambra and the Nasrid Palace…

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The moorish ornamentation of the rooms and external walls is breathtaking in its complexity, but there is an overall harmony. The light is used cleverly to provide alternating experiences of rich, internal splendour and simpler, but equally impressive outside spaces. The Patio of the Lions was altogether grander and more ornamental in style, the sort of space you can imagine political deals being concluded under the loggia, perhaps having spent time meditating on these in the previous patio? From there we gradually ‘came down’ through simple, lush outside spaces which are more expansive, but still attractive; blocks of colourful planting beginning to re-engage you with the outside world of colour and noise.

Well, I got my ‘fix’. Our drive home was a little more eventful than our outward one, as we had both darkness and rain to contend with. But we rolled safely into the Cortijo and managed a late night supper (I think it must have been 11pm before we ate) round the pool. A quieter day tomorrow, perhaps?

Further information: Granada- Wikipedia

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