Oh no, the sun came out…

4 March 2013
Ben Pentreath

I was quite happy with the freezing grey weather.  In just over a week, I’m heading off to New York, and for a quick trip with my best friend Val to happy Harbour Island, and – quite frankly – I’m swamped. Do you ever know the feeling a week before you’re off on holiday, wondering why the hell you thought that was a good idea 4 months before? The closer the departure date gets, the earlier you have to start in the office; the later you go home.  10 hours in the office slips into 12 or 14, until you realise that really exciting feeling that you’ve spent longer at your desk than you have away from it. I already had my first dream last night about not remembering to pack my suitcase.  Why haven’t I packed my suitcase?! Because…. I’M NOT LEAVING for 8 days.  But try telling that to my subconscious at 3am in the morning.

Nonetheless… I have had quite a bit on my plate. Last weekend, down in Dorset, I went into super-reclusive mode and other than a quick catch-up and village gossip with my house keeper, (Saint) Anne, I hid. And spent two days at my desk and drawing board. This weekend had the same agenda. It would be quite nice to take a day off!  But all the while I was able to say, it doesn’t matter: thank goodness for the freezing, grey weather.

But then, yesterday afternoon, the sun came out.  For the first time in weeks. It was too much.  I couldn’t stay indoors.

As it happens I’m in the thick of reading a brilliant new book on the architect John Nash, by Geoffrey Tyack. (Published, as it happens, in part by The Georgian Group. All is forgiven).

Nash is a hero of mine. When it comes to architectural theory, or even rigour, let’s face it: he’s a bit dodgy. But as Tyack writes:

“…Even today, his visual surprises can draw a sharp and pleasurable intake of breath from the viewer. Few British architects have shown more sensitivity to the urban and rural environment than John Nash, and few have better understood the capacity of architecture to give pleasure’.

That, in a sentence, is why Nash is my hero. So much happier than tortured Soane.  Architecture is all about giving pleasure, for me.

Anyway, I needed to get out into the sunshine and away from my desk. So I decided to head to Regent’s Park, for a quick walk in the sudden Spring sunshine. I’m glad to say I remembered my camera… because the Park, as I rather expected, was what I these days like to call a ….blogortunity.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Regent’s Park looking quite so beautiful.  Storm clouds had blown over, revealing sharp sunshine that relished the crisp stucco facades of Nash’s terraces. The brilliant gloss paintwork glowed against the dark sky. You couldn’t make it up.

An hour walking around, drinking it all in; and I can only say that all my worries seemed to have evaporated. Talk about the power of architecture – but even more, about the power of a sunny afternoon after weeks and weeks of winter.


It would be true to say the back of Chester Terrace is not quite as spectacular as the front…

I love seeing the Post Office tower popping over the rooftops.

But some other more recent buildings leave a bit more to be desired.

Sir Denys Lasdun’s Royal College of Physicians, meanwhile, takes the last word in how to place a modern building in a setting like Regent’s Park.  I can’t quite tell you why, but this is one of my favourite buildings in London. It’s quiet, and balanced, and yesterday it sparkled in the sunshine as much as its richer neighbours.

I admit: I’m fascinated by Regent’s Park, and by the power of imagination that put the whole thing together, an enormous urban composition stretching from St James’s Park to Camden. It must have seemed so strange as a raw, new landscape, with an empty park and no trees. But a what an incredible vision. Our ambitions seem so timid today, by comparison.

For me, it’s real inspiration. I wonder what you think of our project in Truro, where we have designed this crescent on the edge of this beautiful town, on an incredible site facing open countryside and an extraordinary view to the east. After a lot of thinking, I decided that the last thing we needed on top of this hill was a little ‘fishing village’, which is the sort of thing most traditional (or, for that matter, modern) architects decide to build anywhere in Cornwall these days. And I decided to be a little bit bolder. Perhaps you can see why I like John Nash so much?

28 comments on this post

I just read this post yesterday (08/08/2013) while working my way through your archives. Wonderful! I love classical architecture and the John Nash’s terraces are so happy-making with their combination of human-scaled, elegant detail and uplifting monumentality (how do the buildings stay so intensely clean in London??) And then last night, an interesting coincidence– I picked up, more or less at random, a book from the unread stacks on my bedside table, Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Death of the Heart.” An excerpt from the first paragraph: “It was now between three and four in the afternoon. A sort of breath from the clay, from the city outside the park, condensing, made the air unclear; through this, the trees round the lake soared frigidly up. Bronze cold of January bound the sky and the landscape; the sky was shut to the sun–but the swans, the rims of ice, the pallid withdrawn Regency terraces had an unnatural burnish, as though cold were light. There is something momentous about the height of winter.” Unfortunately, in the book, the sun does not come out. I’m so glad it did for your refreshing walk. Thank you for this post!

Some really beautiful buildings here, but god that BT tower looks awful!


I LOVE THE BT TOWER Joe, hehe. All best, B


Love the look of the Truro terraces, but how ‘deep’ are the houses, do yo get more than 2 room per floor? Old terrace houses can be difficult to live in with a young family. Enjoy your holiday!

Suzy O'Briensays:

Love your photographs and brilliant observations. Thank you !


I love the full stop after Chester Terrace. Done.


Ben, Do you have any advice, or preferences, for using pillars in an interior? Particularly their use in space definition.


So beautiful!
I love,love,love…London! Must plan a trip again soon!


There should be a clause saying you can’t put poodle clipped trees onto those elegant balconies!


Don’t you think that truly great (as opposed to good) architecture needs an element of magic, a sense of emotion even? Nash is splendid but I’m glad there isn’t any more of it in London as I think it would be boring (I’m not a huge fan of Haussmann’s Paris). Soane moves me, Nash impresses but no more. As to Lasdun, one successful building does not for me make amends for the impregnable fortress of the National Theatre or, another example, his hideous discordant sports building for Liverpool University. Not in my view a great architect. Glorious photography, so thank you.

Jill Rowesays:

Incredible photos and that blue! Absolutely heavenly! Those photos looked familiar…was Chester Terrace used in the film An Education? Your new building in Truro is a beauty, clean and elegant. Nash would approve!

We still have a foot of snow here in western Massachusetts so it is so nice to see London with the beautiful green grass. Enjoy your time in the States.

what a bold marvellous descision you made on the truro project- bravo!
now of course carn’t wait or the nash book to arrive.


oh ben, beautiful photos again.

Tim Ssays:

HUGELY enjoyable post! The power of architecture indeed. Once again your blog has revitalised me after a stressful Monday. Thank you.


Ben, What’s the ‘Georgian Group? After this and you last mail, I’m getting funny ideas: a bunch of Londoners dressing up as Georgiana, Duchess of… (Remember those iconic wigs from the movie.) or the Prince Regent…? Please, do enlighten a foreigner, luc
Ps. Thinking about movies… and Nash. Did you see that great Nash-flat in “An Education?”


Ah, Luc, the Georgian Group is a fantastic charity that does superb work to preserve and promote Georgian architecture. And like all good friends, I love to tease them a bit. In fact, you’re not wrong.. B


The triumph of orders over chaos!

Peg Mastriannisays:

Will you be in NYC for pleasure only, or will there be any public appearances at bookstores, etc.? Please do let your New York based fans know in advance!


Dear Peg, I’m afraid it’s a very short trip and I never got around to organising anything! But I’ll try and come back soon. Ben


Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, we love you! May Ben see fit to include you in his Cornish project.


I love a Regency terrace and have been lucky enough to live in one. The room heights and the tall windows were uplifting, though I don’t miss the stairs (5 flights of them). When you consider how sort after and admired streets like the Royal Crescent in Bath are, it seems a shame that so few have been built. How wonderful that you have done so.

Randal Dawkinssays:

How long will you be in NYC? I would love to meet you!!!


Janelle – I’m staying at the Landing (for the second time) and I love it, although I don’t know if I count as a celeb hehehe. Ben

Ben, If you have time while you’re on Harbour Island, go and have dinner at The Landing. It’s a gorgeous hotel and restaurant with a great reputation for food. (Lots of celebs go there.) My friends Toby and Tracy own it. They’re lovely. Mention my name (Janelle McCulloch). They’ll really look after you. If you love colour, you’ll love The Landing’s restaurant: it’s David Hicks red! (India did the interior design.) Another great place is the Dunmore Club, which has a fantastic tangerine-toned dining room, and an aqua-and-white striped beach club. If you haven’t been to Harbour Island, you’ll adore the colours. Have a wonderful time!


Dear Janelle, at the end of a perfect holiday – have written a little blog! Off to Dunmore Club this evening for our last night!! All best, Ben x

William Murraysays:

British, indeed London, architecture at some of it’s finest. Regency architecture at it’s best, and who better than John Nash? Always makes me smile. I remember Prince Charles advocating the beauty of this type of architecture many years ago and complaining how much of modern architecture maligns the landscape of modern Britain, only to be attacked by so-called modernists as being almost ‘out of touch’. If ever there is proof that not all of modernism is good, and much can be admired from the past, then this juxtaposition of Regency with the modern backdrop certainly highlights this. Nice piece of work Ben.

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