William Mitchell – Concrete Art

948 W Mitchell Coventry

My heart lifts when I see art on the street that is touchable, shared, readily opening up to a different light the mundane moments of daily routine. A good example is the endless gift to Harlow New Town’s community comprising 84 sculptures carefully planted throughout its living and working and shopping and playing spaces.

My photo is of a wall in a small Coventry shopping precinct, an energising art work robustly composed in concrete by William Mitchell in 1966. The window set into its exuberance affords a glimpse of the bright plastic condiment dispensers within.

William Mitchell won the 2014 Creativity in Concrete Award for his lifetime’s achievement. I have admired his carved bell tower and panels at Frederick Gibberd’s RC Cathedral in Liverpool, and the delicately expressive success of his cement Stations of the Cross in the RC Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, but I did not know until now that he designed the glorious Egyptian escalator and Egyptian Hall at Harrods.

Some rather interesting details about Mitchell may be found enthusiastically presented on: https://wharferj.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/william-mitchell-an-unacknowledged-genius/ and there are honourable mentions in the two lovely books I received at Christmas, Christopher Martin: A Glimpse of Heaven, Catholic Churches of England and Wales (2006), and The Twentieth Century Society: 100 Buildings 100 Years (2014) and in another wonderful and richly detailed book, this one a birthday present, Robert Proctor: Building the Modern Church, Roman Catholic Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975 (2014). How good my family are to me.

William Mitchell’s art is truly accessible.


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Frederick Gibberd in Leamington Spa

887 Spa Centre

I picture the 16 year old Fred Gibberd sauntering through the streets of Royal Leamington Spa in 1925, the jeune flaneur, an insouciant whistle on his lips, hands in pockets, though only lightly resting there, respecting the workmanship of his father, tailor to the burghers of nearby Coventry, and conscious of those pockets’ onward destiny, to pass to some or all of his four younger brothers. Fred’s artistic sensibility and his sociability will have drawn him with his coterie to the town’s pleasure gardens, passing, and may we imagine, (his head already then full of Le Corbusier’s ideas) darting a critical glance at, a certain imposing mansion with generous views of the park before it.

More than forty years later the pioneering architect, landscape designer and award-winning town planner Sir Frederick Gibberd CBE RA would return to design, for the site of that demolished mansion, a modernist building to house a theatre and a cinema, the Royal Spa Centre, which opened in 1972.

The dignified lines of this building contribute to an imaginative charm that makes the material seem more subtle than the actual brutality of its concrete. Outlook, sight lines and setting were of particular concern to Gibberd: he had turned up with a spade on the building site of his first block of flats (The Lawn) in Harlow first thing one morning to help to ensure that the seven existing oak trees would not be affected by that day’s work; and the consequence of that small but purposeful investment of effort is the delightful effect of that building in its matured setting today. The Royal Spa Centre sits, buffered by its own carefully shaped tree-shaded green lawn, in happy proximity to the luxuriance of the surprisingly wide range of mature trees in Jephson Gardens.

Gibberd, architect of Liverpool’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (“Paddy’s wigwam”), the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, and Harlow New Town, was here designing an iconic building for a place he knew and for a community to which he belonged.

Sweet Baby Crochet Blanket

873 yellow stripe blanket

There’s a sweet baby in the pipeline so here is an 80 cm square blanket I have just finished crocheting. Too early yet to know whether this sweet baby will require pink or blue accessories, and mummy-to-be likes yellow, so I have made it white with pale yellow stripes and a pale yellow edging, worked in a simple V stitch which gives a firm but pretty texture on both sides and a cosy warm depth.

After a few minutes of purposeful pushing and pulling a crochet hook  through soft yarn, in an easy sequence of moves, the brain slows down and produces a physical calm which lends itself to contemplative processes such as meditative reflection, or thinking through a problem, or preparing a new post. This straightforward repetitive pattern, with no counting involved, is also ideal for working at while watching my crime dramas (except for the Nordic ones where I need to read the sub-titles).

I used baby double knitting yarn and a size 3.50mm crochet hook. Tension and gauge do not matter as long as they are consistent all the way through. Sometimes on this kind of project I will use a smaller hook for the edging in order to neaten and firm up any slackness that may have eased into the tension (perhaps during a particularly complex episode of CSI, for example).

1. I started with a foundation chain, and then

2. a first row of treble crochet (known as double crochet in the US), then

3. starting the second row with 3 turning chains and a treble into the top of the first treble, then missing one stitch then continuing in this V stitch pattern (of two trebles in the top of every second treble and missing the stitch in between), then

4. the third row continuing the V stitch, with the two trebles inserted into the top of the second treble of each pair in the second row, then

5. repeating the third row (as long as you want, changing colour if and when you want to),

6. finishing with a row of trebles to match the first row, and

7. a row of trebles down each side, and

8. finally one row of single crochet in yellow round the whole blanket.

(teddy bear George likes it a lot)

Design for a perfect day

Designer coffee

Here is a perfect day: immerse self in enticing new fiction on the train; meet friend at London’s Design Museum; view exhibition; lunch at their Blueprint Cafe (featuring designed coffee, above); take an architectural stroll; briefly home in on one or two pre-targeted shop departments; back on the train with a tense Scandinavian crime thriller.