To coincide with the London Festival of Architecture which starts tomorrow, the organisers have released a free iPhone application entitled Nash Ramblas. John Nash was one of England’s greatest architects and his Regency buildings and neo-classical urbanism of the 1810s and 20s popularised the picturesque movement and transformed London from a capital city into a great imperial metropolis. The term Nash Ramblas refers to his Via Triumphalis, the grand urban thoroughfare he constructed through the city that runs partially along Regent Street and links Buckingham Palace to Regent’s Park.
The app. features all the main buildings and public spaces along Nash Ramblas which can be viewed and explored in either map or pictorial format. Each landmark is clearly numbered and if selected, reveals a comprehensive and detailed account of history, design and current use. Many of the featured buildings and spaces, such as Oxford Circus and Cumberland Terrace are familiar and well known. However, the app. arguably comes into its own when revealing obscure details about some of the lesser known buildings along the route, such as individual shops on Regent Street.
The app. represents an ingenious collaboration between architecture and technology. It is clear, accessible and easily digested – characteristics, unfortunately not often associated with architecture itself. The architecture profession frequently encourages the perception that it is stuffy and elitist and this novel little tool acts a cultural bridge between it and the wider public. Any attempt to do this deserves wholehearted credit.
A very minor quibble is that Buckingham Palace, the symbolic and physical culmination of Nash’s entire enterprise, (and the start of the route) does not get its own mention. It’s discussed in some length within the St. James’s Park entry but as the critical component in Nash’s conception of a royal route with a public face, it definitely deserves its own.
The app. also emphasises just how much of a debt of gratitude we owe John Nash. He probably contributed more to the fabric and character of the West End that any architect before or since and his legacy lives on in the streets, squares and buildings that form the backdrop to central London’s everyday life.
Nash himself was a wily and ambitious character and certainly no stranger to self-promotion and vainglory. When his designs for his All Soul’s Church at the top of Regent Street were criticised – most notably in a Times cartoon which depicted him perched helplessly on top of its conical spire – he gleefully observed that even his critics had elevated him closer to heaven. So almost 200 years after his death, what would the great old man make of his involvement with one of hippest technological inventions of the 21st century? I'm pretty sure he would love it!
The London Festival of Architecture lasts from 19th June to 4th July and features hundreds of events across the city. Lectures, exhibitions, walks and cycle rides will take place in and around some of London’s most famous landmarks and several of the city’s leading architects, critics and personalities will also contribute. Further details can be found at www.lfa2010.org.