Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Building Centre

Store Street, London WC1E 7BT
Thursday June 12th and Thursday July 17th 2014

This was my second trip to the North London’s Building Centre, but not because I was due to rush out and build a house – ‘Grand Designs’ style.
We, that is Jo, Mary and Linda had originally visited the Building Centre on June 12th; however events on the return journey denied me (Linda) the tool s to write up the blog.  People only interested in the Centre should skip the next few paragraphs, but for those interested in the background to the double visit, here it comes: I shall try to be brief.

Returning through Waterloo in something of a rush as we were due to go away the following day, I jumped onto a Jubilee Line train heading south – however my shoulder bag  swung out behind me and did not make it into the carriage.  No matter, I thought – the driver will make his/her standard world weary announcement about people blocking the doors and would release the bag, still attached to my shoulder. No such thing: as we sped off the bag banged along the train between train and sliding doors (for non-Londoners the ‘newer’ sections of the Jubilee Line have platform security doors to prevent such incidents). Once into the tunnel it had even more space to flap around as the speed increased, and mid-way the metal clasps and leather stitching gave up and the bag fell beside the tracks. Like me, the other girls standing at this end of the train were speechless with horror but advised I get out at the next stop, which I did. Mike Read, on duty at the barriers at Southwark Station (and presumably in a few months cuts to ticket office staff may mean he won’t be) was very kind but it took several tellings of the tale before he grasped that I hadn’t, muppet like, left the bag either on the platform or in the carriage.  After a couple of phone calls to his manager he gave me a telephone number to call and advised that once the power is switched off operatives ‘walk the line’ each night and should be able to retrieve the bag or its remnants.   By now I was beginning to realize I was card-less/pass-less/cashless and without house keys; also in the bag of course the camera and ‘blog’ notebook plus other personal items.  
I explained that I needed to travel on to get a phone somewhere and I was issued with a ‘permit to travel’ which turned out to be me telling other ticket officials I had ‘permission’ to travel from a TFL barrier official who was about to go off duty… tricky. Still I managed to ‘blag’ my way past the Southern Region chaps at Peckham which is where I chose to go. My mother’s care home let me use one of their precious lines to follow up reporting the bag – when I finally got through to Lost Property they were very solicitous but pointed out they get 2000 items reported each day. My story somewhat perplexed  them as the bag was not really ‘lost’ just hard to retrieve (“No it did not fall on the platform – I am still clutching the strap”). The links between the Lost Property guys and whoever is in charge of the engineers seemed tenuous but I was assured word would be passed on. I hauled the only other local house key holder out of his World War 1 conference and asked him to make a quick getaway.  Nevertheless  I lost six hours which could have usefully been spent writing up the blog and packing for a 2 week holiday. As it was I had to ask Jo to follow up with Lost Property as they thought nothing would be handed in till Friday and they ‘collect’ from Waterloo on Mondays and Fridays. If I hadn’t been leaving at 5.30 AM the next day I would have gone to Waterloo myself but no such chance…

Fast forward two weeks and I start to try replacing my phone via its insurance (an insurance I nearly cancelled as I had never dropped the phone and rarely lose things outside the house). Quite rightly they were horrified that I had not reported it immediately (how ? from where? ) but I assured them it was probably lying smashed on a rail line somewhere just south of Waterloo. Not so.
Talkmobile were very quickly able to tell me the phone had been used between 14/6/ - 16/6/2014 to make serial overseas calls until the Talkmobile credit limit of £59 had been reached. Then whoever had attempted to upload £30 - £60 of more cash using … my credit cards. Suddenly a loss had turned into a theft.  (I had fortunately already had the three bank cards stopped as I thought they might survive any bag crash) so another complicated phone call to the British Transport Police (Waterloo division) followed.  At least with a Crime Number getting replacements for all my lost professional, loyalty and membership cards was possible without having to pay. Most organisations were very sympathetic though I could hear that call centre operatives outside London were truly puzzled at my account. The phone and its new SIM  card arrived within a couple of days but unfortunately we had been so excited at finding it still worked that Talkmobile forgot to cancel it so by July 3 the ‘new owner’ had made another £50 worth of calls and my new phone died. Our home insurance company were less accommodating and seemed obsessed with the phone though I assured them three times it was not part of my claim with them.
Two and half weeks down the line I am nearly back where I started; still no sunglasses or nice leather purse and I have yet to choose a new camera. In the meantime we took last week’s photos on the phone and that is why I needed to return to the Building Centre to recapture what happened on 12/6/2014.

So, getting back to the REAL point of this blog:
When is a Museum not a Museum ?
Quite rightly Mary raised this point as we walked round the Building Centre which seemed to consist of various commercial outlets. We have included art galleries under the ‘umbrella’ of museums and some of those are commercial.  We also ‘count‘ homes and houses, which may be just that and not necessarily a museum.   Some places just have ‘collections’. Whether today’s visit counted as museum is doubtful but as the Building Centre does have exhibitions alongside the commercial stuff, and features in our 250+list of London Museums courtesy of Wikipedia we decided to go with it.
PS We know the list is not definitive and even in the few months we have been on this Project there are new additions – the Museum of Illustration recently opened , and the Black Cultural Archives  collection is due to open this month.

The Building Centre has a longer pedigree than you might think – founded in 1932 – it moved into these premises built as rather swish car showrooms in 1952. Since 1963 it has been a charitable organisation to provide a forum for the built environment be it research or  education. Some of the funding will come from the commercial activities. The upper floors are offices with links to the centre. Down on the lower ground floor there is a conference centre and various product displays to do with windows and doors, cladding, flooring and façades (that’s bricks to you and me, or rather jazzy coloured concrete), heating and cooling, and innovations that help with sustainability and environmental  compliance. Having only ever lived in a very domestic scale house, it is interesting to see where the engineers and architects and builders might come to select – say – automatic opening doors for shops or offices or lifts to take you to the 63rd floor… some of the materials are very covetable – beautiful and largely sustainable woods for flooring and an extensive range of  brick colours and types

However the most generally  interesting part of the centre is the map/model  in the permanent  galleries on the ground floor  which allows you to walk round London seeing the transport links and the taller buildings already erect or those planned , for example, the new Vauxhall quarter with its American Embassy ‘fortress’ – it has both moat and walls. On our original visit the second gallery had a range of posters, one for each of the 33 Greater London Boroughs showing new and proposed structures of interest over a certain height – by my return visit these had gone with a ‘waiting for new exhibition’ sign up.

What remained was another display of the 33 Development areas for each local authority, which complemented some of the outdoor display (new since June) that compared successful projects in New York to proposed ones in London where there is potential for community based facilities for play or fitness – hence the title FIT London

Also tucked away in the corner are a range of design exhibits by Chinese designers – as  I lingered there was something of a heated debate going on with two visitors very critical of  a range of cloud shaped coffee tables and chairs as they could not ‘see the point’. In their minds clearly coffee or tea could only be taken off square or round conventional tables.
Still some of the charming designs on offer made a welcome respite from the corner keen to tell us about ‘Heathrow City – Developing the vision’ which is of course, misleading title apart,  all about Boris planning a new airport in the South East estuary. This exhibit – largely architects’ drawings and plans/projections and computer simulations plus a voice-over from ‘you know who’ – is complemented by a substantial booklet setting out the case for the estuary airport. 

A visit to the Building Centre is vital if you are interested in new plans and buildings for London or if you are researching materials for your own building project, otherwise  a quick tour of the ground floor in your lunch hour would do.  


  1. I'm so sorry about your bag - and about proof positive that someone employed by TfL is dishonest! I'm glad it's all been sorted, but it must have been a total nightmare.

  2. Thanks for that - to date no peep from TFL or the Transport Police and I would have thought there were a limited number of people who have access to the tracks during the night!