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Filtering by Tag: Bike Tour

AIA UK 2016 Bike Tour - Windsor and The Thames

Fiona Mckay

Departing from the recently restored grandeur of Paddington station, this year’s attendees arrived at Slough station for the first leg of the trip.
Arriving at often-derided Slough, we began unceremoniously with the recent improvements including the bus station, and the new cultural centre, the Curve. From there, we passed onwards towards Eton and noted the brief and sharp transition to more picturesque surroundings as we cross the bridge with its views of Eton College Chapel.

Arriving in front of Eton College Chapel, we ventured and viewed as much of the quadrangle as is permissible and ambled around the chapel itself. With a dash we took in the sights of the early 20th century library which drips with ornamentation.

At the suggestion of Chris Kimball AIA, we delved into the side streets of the town into which the Eton campus spills, to inspect the ‘Eton Fives’ courts. The courts are specific to this handball game which developed at the college in the Victorian era. Each court includes a buttress and step feature based on those found on the chapel itself.

Noting that the requirements of the college have continually contributed new architecture to the town, we paused to assess the crisp and modern contribution of Powell & Moya to the campus with their Bekynton dining hall (1972-1974).

Venturing outwards along Eton Wick, to meet the national cycle network route 4 as it follows the broad curve of the railway viaduct, Brunel’s oldest surviving railway bridge and take in the view of Windsor castle from this approach, before rejoining the Eton high street.

In Windsor, after ascending from the river bank to the castle, we were greeted by the Changing of the Guard marching down the high street, with a prime viewing spot secured in the porch of Windsor Guildhall.

Taking in the neat presentation of Georgian houses along Park Street, we previewed the next leg of the journey by viewing the northern end of the Long Walk, itself upon which cycling is forbidden.
Making our way down its length, we entered the Great Park at the far end and looped inwards to take in the 2.6 mile back towards Windsor Castle along the walk from the Copper Horse statue, framed by the double row of trees.

The park itself reveals the Grade I-listed Saville Gardens and its Stirling Prize shortlisted entry pavilion. All were pleasantly surprised to encounter the timber gridshell structure. The building is commended both for its design, and its condition nearly 10 years after completion. 

After this intensive morning, we stopped for a collegiate lunch at the Bailiwick to fortify ourselves for the afternoon of cycling and the return leg of the loop.
Sticking to the side streets of Englefield Green, we glimpsed the variety of the local architecture on our way to the Royal Holloway campus.

The gem of the Royal Holloway campus is surely the Founders Building. We took in both its elaborate Victorian Gothic facades, and the beauty of its heavily decorated chapel.

Riding downhill, and onwards chronologically, we stopped briefly at the Grade II-listed art deco Tower Garage to take in its well preserved 1930s streamlining and crisp white facades.
The next bend found a climb more arduous than its appearance on the map and perhaps a less paved (or traveled) section of the cycle network.
Again, moving chronologically, we visited the RAF memorial with its formal arrangement and its views framed to  encourage contemplation. Its vistas and viewing deck overlook the river valley from a high perch, with the constant stream of aircraft taking off from Heathrow. 

Author: Alex Miller AIA

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Bike Tour 2015 - "Romney Marsh; Varied Landscapes and Architecture"

Fiona Mckay

As part of its continuing education programme, the AIA requires all members to complete at least four hours of sustainable design each year. The educational objectives for sustainable design are further parceled into ten broad categories. 

Conveniently, the second sustainable design category makes the enlightened point that “sustainable design values the unique cultural and natural character of a given region” – sentiments that the Bicycle Tour played to its distinct advantage in this year’s visit.  Within our 40 mile tour, Romney Marsh, Dungeness and St Mary’s 

Bay exhibited man’s multiple responses to the natural environment over centuries of habitation.  What better way to experience this particular unique region - in depth and up close - than by bicycle? 

The Tour started in the small town of Rye, which was once one of the medieval Cinque Ports.  However, when its harbour silted up centuries ago, it settled into life as a sleepy enclave and thereby managed to retain its unique mixture of early architecture styles in lieu of progress.

Time spent in Rye also gave the opportunity for a short – very short - sketching session in the churchyard, overlooking the distant, yet to be visited Marsh. Certainly the most finished of the sketches (see below) was 

that of tour guide, architect and architecture historian, Benedict O’Looney, who came prepared as an experienced architectural observer with his set of portable water colours.

Below, Adam Draper (Seth Stein Architects) focused on the window detail as he managed to pencil sketch while standing up. Chris Kimball AIA (SOM) dashed off an ink sketch that captured the spirit of Rye’s church as well as the relaxing cycles in the foreground.  While not exactly prime examples of their craft, their quick sketches give a hint of deeper potential and act as souvenirs of the tour.

After Rye, the real biking started in earnest as we proceeded via the sleepy rural villages of Brookland and Lydd to view the Marsh’s legacy of vernacular architecture and the majestic, medieval churches that were built in those more prosperous times when the famous Romney sheep brought wealth to the area.  Given this settled, quintessentially English landscape, it was a shock to discover that the Marsh is a totally man-made environment, requiring constant vigilance against both sea and military incursions.  Land reclamation in the area has been ongoing since at least the 12th century and continues to this day with newly built modern sea defences along the coastline. Martello Towers, circular fortifications against the potential of a French invasion in Napoleonic time, dot the coast between New Romney and Hythe.  At one point, a remnant of one of the Mulberry harbour wall defences manufactured for D-Day lay abandoned off the shore.

Whatever the reasons they were developed, the flat, sheltered landscapes and the long sweeps of concrete sea walls now make for ideal biking.  Although the day was sunny and dry, the constant, intense wind – fortunately more or less in our favour – seemed to keep the rest of the world away, and the ride in lingering daylight to 

Folkestone along the strangely depopulated corniche was both timeless and surreal.  This was biking at its best.

However, this Bicycle Tour was advertised to include “varied landscapes and architecture” and – accordingly - it was not all undertaken in idyllic English countryside.  Perhaps the highlight of the Tour was the mid-way stopover in Dungeness, the UK’s only official desert.  As expected of a desert, Dungeness is flat, dry and barren – a vast expanse of unremitting, shingle beach - but it is also the setting for a variety of experimental designs. Within a small area were a few well known examples: Simon Condor’s Black Rubber House (2004 AIA Design Award); Nord Architecture’s Shingle House; and Derek Jarman’s Garden.

Although superficially similar in the photos, the black rubber and black shingle houses (in the picture below, architect Rodic Davidson’s house) represent different approaches to material selection.  The black rubber house showed the effects of the harsh environment, with sun and salt collaborating in their hostility, whereas the recent wood house still retained a pristine sharpness.

The highlight of the Tour was the visit to the Experimental Station, winner of the 2013 AIA Design Award, where we were given a special tour by architect Brian Johnson, whose practice, Johnson Naylor, in collaboration with 51% Studios, developed the site through refurbishment of existing utilitarian structures and new builds.

In the middle of Dungeness’s stark, un-English and almost unreal landscape – with its scattered array of fishing net frames; abandoned foghorn testing rigs; derelict fishing boats; kitsch holiday bungalows and caravans; superfluous lighthouses; and the omnipresent, looming (if not threatening) nuclear power station – a group of architects has created a little haven of modern design.   

The Experimental Station is also home to a superb collection of modern furniture and artifacts, a place of quiet contemplation in contrast to the intense wind and sun outdoors.

The Bike Tour participants earned 4 CEU for the day’s efforts. The possibility of a late summer/early fall Bike and Sketching Trip within London is under consideration.

Author: Lorraine King

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