Stepping It Down

The national grid pumps electricity into our houses at 230 volts, Alternating Current.

If you are being greedy and have high power demand –  using an array of hairdryers to heat your living room let’s say, or running a network of underground marijuana farms with all their heating, lighting and irrigation needs… then you might need an extra two phases of electricity which all comes in at a slightly less handy but much more lethal 415 volts.

Over bigger distances the voltage has to be massively bigged up.  Without higher voltages the power seeps out the cabling like water out of a leaky pipe.

How it does this I am not completely clear but the analogy to electricity being just like water must be part of the answer.

Power stations  in the UK create the unseen jesus-magic of electricity at 25,000 volts which then gets ‘stepped up’ to 400,000 volts to transmit along the biggest cables of the National Grid.  Once this gets to a town this has to be taken back down to lower voltages at sub stations and then on down to your premises.

Across London there are a grid of these substations, sometimes in purpose built sites;

the building most of you think is probably a huge steel toilet in Elephant and Castle is one of these.

The majority were existing buildings that were converted for use.

At first glance they are fairly anonymous, bland buildings, but they are modified fortresses – not surprising their importance and fairly significant Danger of Death potential.

What I like about them is how cleverly they are hidden away until you stop to look carefully and see the full razor wire bizarreness of them.  There is one I pass on my way to work everyday that I took some photos of:

Then I started looking out for a few more. One just of Bond Street:

And another very close to where I live:

They are expensive and problematic to replace and so  built to last.  Many of the building were bought up and converted in the fifties and sixties and so they have a faded, nuclear bunker charm to them.  Mid Cent Mod for engineers.


Behind The Scenes

I went out to Bath a while ago to look at a project – the refurbishment of a thirties deco cinema that had then been a bingo hall and was now an evangelical church.  It had this impressive, ceiling – a huge,  Hall of the Supreme Soviets affair with a central lighting detail.  A little tatty but packed a punch.  So impressive that I had to use photoshop photomerge to capture it all:

Who says the devil has all the best lighting details?

I was allowed up into the void above the ceiling.  Lots of flimsy planks and steel lattice walkways.  One wrong step and you would be through the plaster and racing down to your doom, somewhere between row D and G.  Just as humbling was the realisation that the whole plaster ceiling was held to this lattice by canvas ties – no steel cable, just twisted rags covered in pitch.  sheesh.

The cinema was built in 1934.  The outer shell and roof was a shuttered concrete construction – this involves a timber frame being built and concrete poured in like jelly;  the timber is then removed once the concrete is set and you have your building.  God, this buildering lark is easy peasy, ain’t it?  In 1934 they put a layer of newspaper between the timber and the poured concrete, probably to make it easier to remove the timber afterward.  High up, behind the fancy plaster ceiling, there was no need to make this look too finished and so the papers were left in place.

A  ghostly record of the weeks in 1934 when this being built.


I Dreamed A Dream

We are finishing up some work on the front facade of the Queens Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue – Alexis was down there last night. The front facade is looking very clean.

Much cleaner than it used to look – got rid of all the glare, so we did.  This is what it used to look like before:

The canopy is almost finished.  The light has really brought out the coppery warmth in the cladding.