I spent the past few days in London, visiting my aunt and uncle and checking out graduate schools. I flew cheaply on Air India, which meant the aging 747 was delayed from Bombay both there and back. In fact, I began my journey spending 9 hours, count 'em, 9 hours (from 4:30pm to 1:30am) in an unstimulating terminal of JFK. Luckily I had two Patrick O'Brian novels to keep me company.
I was pretty incoherent my first day in London, but by day two I was ready to check out the Courtauld Institute, one of the many grad schools to which I've applied. It's housed in Somerset House, which used to be a royal palace until it was extensively rebuilt in the Georgian period and turned into a more public building. The north wing, the current home of the Courtauld, was originally designed for the "learned societies:" the Royal Academy, Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquarians. Another wing housed the Navy Offices, including the Navy Pay Office, Sick and Hurt Office, and my personal favorite, the Victualling Office. Not long after I visited Somerset house I read that the fictional Captain Jack Aubrey had passed his lieutenant's examination there. Aside from these pleasant associations, it seems like a lovely place to go to school. It's built around a large courtyard that features a fountain and, in winter, an ice-skating rink. I didn't take this picture, it wasn't nearly this sunny when I was there, but I don't see how you can beat the combination of a campus with a Georgian palace.
Afterwards I wandered up the Strand to (you guessed it Ricardo) Trafalgar Square. I'm illustrating it with another picture I didn't take. That huge column supports a statue of Lord Nelson, who, has one American tourist I overheard put it, "must of been some war hero." The steeple in the center sits on top of the church of St. Marks-in-the-Fields. On the left is London's National Gallery (the reason I always have to say I interned at the National Gallery, Washington), where I whiled away the rest of the afternoon. You've got to hand it to the English though, that in the midst of all this overwhelming traditionalism they set up a modern sculpture by Marc Quinn, depicting the disabled artist Alison Lapper eight months pregnant.
The next day I had my interview for the MA in the History and Theory of Design program taught jointly by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. The V&A is something of a Victorian monstrosity that houses an unparalleled collection of international art and design. Despite the overbearing religious muscularity of the museum's exterior architecture, they have really nice modern spaces set aside for the students and researchers. And academically the program seems very rigorous and everything I could wish.
After my interview I wandered over to the ritzy neighborhood of Belgravia, centered around Belgrave Square which is home to a score of embassies. This is one of the reasons I love London, it's every bit as bustling as New York but has some lovely touches of Washington DC. Trees for example, embassies for another, and a general prevalence of government buildings and free museums for a third. Just north of Belgrave Square I came across this charming crescent of terrace houses, looking straight out of Jane Austen's England, with this gated park in the center. As anyone who's seen the movie Notting Hill knows, London is full of these private yet communal gardens, after which Grammercy Park is modelled.
I found my way back over to Chelsea where quite another, equally English, architecture reigns. Like the neo-Romanesque style of the V&A the neo-Tudor style of the High Street also uses red brick and historicism to evoke a long lost Merry ol' England. It seems particularly fitting that Burberry should occupy such a space. If I find such a street corner charming, and I have to admit I do, I must be a rank anglophile.