Not far from Burlington House stands Economist Plaza, home to the famous magazine of that name, and known to architects as the first building in the UK to be faced with the Portland Roach. That’s the limestone full of distinctive hollows created by dissolution of mostly gastropod and bivalve shells – leaving their body cavity infills behind and giving rise to what quarrymen called Osses’ ‘Eads (Trigonia sp.) and Portland Screws (Aptyxiella portlandica). (A ‘Portland Screw’ might also be a warder at HM Prison Portland, the equally well-known Young Offenders Institution; but I digress.)
Also not far from Burlington House is Green Park Tube Station; at the meeting of Jubilee, Victoria and Piccadilly lines, one of London Underground’s busiest intersections. Users of this delightful hole in the ground have lately been discommoded by some of those “improvement works” that LU is always blaming for any shortcoming of the moment – overcrowded platforms, delayed trains, you name it. “Due to London Underground’s ongoing improvement programme, you are now going to be stuck in a tunnel for two days. Thank you for helping us build a better transport network.” But I digress again.
At last we know what all the disruption was about, as the wraps come off Green Park’s stately new Parkside entrance – on which considerable attention/money has been lavished, not least by/on the sculptor John Maine RA. “Sea Strata”, as his work is called, involves taking tracings of the fossils from the Roach, blowing them up, and then carving the result into some superposed blocks of perfectly good Portland Limestone from the Base Bed. So proud is Transport for London of this achievement that they have produced a leaflet all about it (picture).
“Sea Strata is a new work of art for Green Park Underground station….” it intones; “a significant and integral element of the improvement and upgrading of the station”. Translated from artspeak, this means “It’s a wall” – and you certainly cannot argue that, to a building, especially an underground one, a wall isn’t either significant or integral.
The Artist’s statement goes on to say: “I wanted to use the Portland stone of the walls to explore the natural composition of the rock and to draw out the internal structure of the material revealing the fossil remains of marine creatures from 150 million years ago.” It would perhaps be a petty cavil to point out that ’150 million years ago’ would put those marine creatures in the Oxfordian rather than the Tithonian, so let us concentrate on the big picture. Geology is getting a mention, and not a million miles away from our front door either. Moreover, it also demonstrates that even in these straitened times, the market for old rope remains as buoyant as ever.
Incidentally, you might also notice some swirly patterns engraved into the granite paving stones underfoot. This also is art. The granites were chosen for their superior wearing qualities of course, and come from various countries. But the swirls recall, so the leaflet explains, “a rectangular reservoir at this very spot”, which was a popular local attraction during the 18th Century – an era when everyone was forced to spend their time ‘promenading’ – i.e., wandering aimlessly around while awaiting the invention of television.
So now you know.