Is This Your Life?

Is This Your Life?
London 2014
 

Is This Your Life?

 

22 Kingsway

Extract from 'notes': The Picture House - Kingsway marks a division between two very distinct parts of London - the emotionally charged intensity of London's West End 'Theatreland' - an infantilised geography of Georgian streets and alleys to its west and the more sober and inscrutable streets of legal London with its courts and chambers to the east. When Oswald Stoll rescued The London Opera House in 1916, after five years of dwindling attendances, renaming it The Stoll Picture Theatre, he too had to overcome the powerful gravitational fields that oscillate around this grand boulevard deterring** visitors and interrupting the broadcast signals from the newly constructed Bush House. His plan was to carefully reset the theatre as a populist venue - part music hall, part picture house - drawing its audience directly through the tunnel at Aldwych from the populace of Southwark and Lambeth whose mental maps of the city were being rapidly reconfigured by an ever expanding transport network. Its mixture of 'Cine Variety' and 'Ice Shows' maintained it well into the 1950s by which point the value of its footprint on prime Westminster development land would seal its fate. Even though the wrecking balls made short work of Bertie Crewe's Beaux Arts auditorium in 1958, the programming principles of 'curio and spectacle' would quickly re-establish themselves in the basement theatre of architects Lewis Solomon, Kaye & Partners' office development, 22 Kingsway, which rose from the site in 1960.
** When reconnoitering this curious bit of Paris in London it is hard to feel like a carefree boulevardier. Kingsway irritates, it is too wide to properly comprehend (or apprehend?) Londoners are perhaps by nature narrow and meandering, not prone to the expansive. Four traffic lanes and black barriers prohibit idle dashes to the other side, and its broad pavements promote constant progress, a direct current, with few occasions for collision or delay - even the Plane trees, planted in 1905, seem to be throwing themselves into the path of oncoming buses, repelled by the evasive, monochrome Portland stone buildings.
 

Shape shifting

Number 22 now houses King's College's Department of Arts & Humanities, christened the Virginia Woolf Building. Woolf herself would be amused and intrigued at attempts to provide a biography for this building. The author of Orlando knew all about shape shifting and androgyny, how fiction can become a life, how a place or building could be many things, often at the same time. She would (perhaps did) rail against the rigid taxonomy and classification of Edwardian Kingsway, for her time was a physical element not a dimension. When looking at Lewis Solomon, Kaye & Partners original, evocatively hand drawn plans in Westminster Archives, it is possible to take on a Woolfish frame of mind and see the seven open plan floors of the building as limitless places in which everything can be claimed and revealed.