It was good of Sir Christopher Wren to leave us churches. They are used now to decorate the new City. Incidentally, in spite of all the destruction of the blitz, more churches were destroyed to make way for the first great capitalist reconstruction of London in the 19th century than during the war.
In about 2009 work began on a new headquarters for Rothschild’s bank, just east of St Stephen’s Walbrook, whose dome is said to be a model for St Paul’s, and whose interior, said someone who’s quoted in a notice on the door is ‘the loveliest in Europe, although it’s not easy for the casual visitor to see inside because it keeps office hours. Rem Koolhas is the architect of the new bank, which is on the same site as the old one. But whereas the old building hid the church, Koolhas had the idea of opening up the view:
…so you see the dome and graceful spire. The next photo gives a better impression of the structure of the bank and the inviting courtyard with the church beyond. But the invitation that the architect offers is refused by watchful security guards, especially if you’ve got a camera. The first time I walked towards the steps one guard gave me a mean look so I spoke to the other one who was actually quite friendly. He told me I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the bank, he didn’t know why, but I could take as many photos as I liked of the church. As you see clearly in the first photo, though it depends on the light, if the bank does sneak into the picture all you see is reflections. (see the first post, below, on the City.)
Nothing tells you directly what the building is. They seem caught between the desire to make a show and a cautious anonymity. I can’t even remember how I know it is Rothschild’s bank. I must have read about it in the paper. Presumably the shadowy figures in the windows on the right are old bankers. And the facade on the street looks like this:
Presumably this is an 18th century Rothschild family. The banker’s back seat is emphasised here by the accident of some architectural detail that half hides him from the spot where I took the photo. At home the dog is more important than the patriarch. Next to the family portrait is a huge tapestry:
I don’t have any good photos of the painting or the tapestry because just then a security guard came up to me and said, ‘You can’t take photos here. Private property.’ As if those two words on their own explain or justify anything. On my own and taken by surprise I’m easily intimidated, so I didn’t say anything. I’m going to go back down there with my lawyer though. I mean, I was standing in the public highway, not on their property. And as you can see, the window gives away no financial secrets.
Nearby another building is going up, the purpose of which is beautifully hidden by reflections of the Monument, and by its name: yes, this one does have a name, it’s just called the Monument building.
A huge banner shows us the view the lucky financiers will have from the top:
Is the sky real? Is anything! On the other side of the little open space around the monument, in the almost blank entrance hall of another unnamed new office building, the interior designers have gratefully placed an image of the golden crown:
When I got told off by the security guard I thought, oh well, that doesn’t leave very much. If I can’t take photos of private property I’ll just have to concentrate on sparrows.
This is in the beautiful glasshouse at the Welsh botanical gardens near Carmarthen.