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Here’s the way to use space
IT WAS a day when someone forgot to turn off the taps. I walked through the rain-slicked streets and became wetter with each step.
Luckily, there was an enormous indoors at the end of this soggy stroll, which I reached with the aid of a damp printed-off map and faded memories of the capital’s streets.
I entered through a side door and spent a couple of hours walking around before wandering wide-eyed into what must be one of the finest contained spaces in London.
But to backtrack a little, I had already passed through another impressive space shortly after stepping off the train.
King’s Cross has been a grubby, dispiriting place of arrival and departure for years, although not any more. The new station extension with its roof that soars to a dome seemingly made of white branches is a thing of wonder, if a little spoilt by the ever-present shops waiting to mug you in the gallery above.
Seeing this new development had already got me thinking in an idle, wet day sort of way about the importance of inspiring spaces.
Two contented hours inside the British Museum, a place full of objects to fascinate, brought me into the Great Court. I stumbled about for a while, awe-struck, found somewhere to eat my sandwiches, and then stood up for a second helping of awe.
A new building sits at the centre of the court, a huge round white structure with a staircase running round the edge. High above this is a latticed roof which might almost have been made from the wings of gigantic beautiful insects, mayflies perhaps. Light floods in from outside, even on the dampest day.
I cannot remember seeing anywhere quite like it, and the sheer clever loveliness of it stayed with me as I trudged through downpour after downpour, seeking other places of dry refuge.
The National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery did the job, as did a visit to an old haunt, the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden, where a pint of Yorkshire Blonde set me back £4.15; I drank slowly.
Public spaces that inspire are important (as too are pubs where securing a drink doesn’t require the removal of a limb or two).
Another inspirational place in London is St Pancras International Station, across the way from King’s Cross, which opened in its present form in 2007 and mixes the old and the new beautifully, beneath its huge cathedral curve of a roof.
Back in York, and almost dried out from the day that dripped, I was still wondering about this idea of properly used spaces.
This city obviously has some beautiful spaces thanks to its ancient buildings, from the Minster onwards.
The other week I praised the vanishing of the horrible toilet blocks and mentioned Stonebow in passing, thus temporarily reigniting a debate that never really stops smouldering.
Here is another idea, one so ambitiously daft that it has not a snowball’s chance in that hot place, but never mind.
Just imagine for a dreamy moment if Clifford’s Tower lay at the centre of a magnificent space, some of it perhaps covered with a soaring roof similar to that in the British Museum, with stretches of park at the side.
Just imagine if the grotty car park had been banished elsewhere, or shoved six feet under where it belongs, and the Eye of York was now a place of serenity.
Sadly, you will just have to imagine it, because these things never turn out the way they should. It is difficult in York to get an uninspiring Community Stadium off the ground, so what chance is there of a world-class surrounding for Clifford’s Tower?
None, I suppose, but it is good to wonder sometimes.
At present most of the pro-and-anti huffing is directed at Monks Cross. In truth, a great challenge awaits at Clifford’s Tower, which truly deserves better.
For as long as its future depends on the development of more shops, and thus the weight of commercial expectation, the chances of a fittingly grand solution seem far off.
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