Conquering the Dome

St. Paul's Cathedral Cake

Shortly after facing the dilemma of how to create a dome for my Blue Mosque Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, I saw an gingerbread creation of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral which used rice crispy treats to form the shape of the domes of this cathedral.  I held onto this idea for almost a year in preparation for my Third Annual Architectural Dessert Masterpiece.

St Paul's Dome  St Paul's Cathedral

For this one, presented and eaten December 2012, I chose St. Paul’s Cathedral.  First, because it has the perfect dome for trying the rice crispy method.  Second, because St. Paul’s was a significant part of my trip to London earlier in the year.  I experienced a wonderful view of the City despite minor issues with heights and major issues with claustrophobia.  I successfully climbed to the top of St. Paul’s (at least as high as they allow tourists to go) and made it back down again.  The first flights of stairs to come back down were particularly challenging as they were very narrow and steep with very short ceilings–it reminded me of the first and last time I went caving as part of a school trip in 8th grade, where I somehow managed to crawl through impossibly small places.  The praise of my teacher, Mr. Wolfe, from that occasion was essential in helping me make it down the stairs at St. Paul’s.  Thanks, Mr. Wolfe, you were my hero this time!!

Top of the Dome Looking Down

In making my St. Paul’s Cathedral Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, the design was influenced by the memory of how long it took to create the Gingerbread Blue Mosque.  I determined to take a quicker route this time around by baking sheet cakes and cutting them out in the shape of St. Paul’s.  Again, I referred to my textbook from my Western Architecture course (see Parthenon Cake post) to determine what the appropriate proportions were in cutting out the shape of the Cathedral.  To approximate the proportions in height, I made a double layer cake, plus additional layers at the towers and dome.

Aerial St. Paul's Cathedral Cake

The dome was made using the rice crispy treat method, which ended up being much more challenging than I anticipated due to the stickiness of rice crispy treats.  It did not work to try and shape the dome in my hands.  I ended up using wax paper to form the shape, but found the rice crispies still stuck to the wax paper, but not as badly as to my hands.  Then, I frosted the whole creation, using chocolate frosting as an accent color to suggest the different color of the domes (including those on the front towers) from the rest of the building.  I also used the chocolate frosting to indicate the break in design from the lower and upper portions of the exterior walls.  Chocolate Crunch Bells were used for the small domes on the front towers.

This one was easy to cut like a normal cake for eating and tasted quite good.

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Sandwich Shops

While in London last spring, I discovered a sandwich shop chain that I fell absolutely in love with: Pret a Manger.  I ended up eating lunch most days at one of their many locations around the city.  The food was great.  They had sandwiches on small baguettes, in wraps, and between two “normal” square slices of bread (which have been cut into triangles, as everyone knows triangle sandwiches taste better).  The flavors of sandwiches included ham and cheese, egg salad, and brie, tomato and basil.  The ingredients were fresh and real–meaning ham of the bone, not sliced deli ham, and arugula instead of shredded, nondescript “lettuce.”  And then the sides to go with the sandwich were interesting, exciting, and tasty.  The chip flavors I remember were “cheddar and red onion” and “sea salt and apple cider vinegar.”  Both delicious!  I was also attracted to the Pret sodas (I normally skip the soda options at restaurants).  I enjoyed the Grape & Elderflower, Apple, and Ginger Beer sodas.

Pret was the first place I had lunch in London and from the first bite, I couldn’t wait to come back and try another flavor of their sandwiches, chips, and drinks.  On my third day in London, I was ready for lunch, but could not find a Pret anywhere near where I was, so I went to another sandwich chain that I had been seeing around.  The style of this other place, the name of which I forget, was similar to Pret, but the taste was no comparison.  After trying this other place, I made sure that I was near a Pret at lunchtime for the remainder of my trip.

Besides the taste, I also enjoyed the convenience of the chain.  All the sandwiches are premade, so all you have to do is grab-and-go.  You don’t have a clerk staring you down while you decide what flavor you want today and you don’t have to wait for it to be made once you’ve made the decision.  All of which suits my personality better.

I cannot think of a sandwich shop in the US that has premade sandwiches.  It seems to me that one of the things the Subways, Quiznos, and the others are after with the don’t make it until it’s order deal is to prove that their food is fresh.  Blimpie’s for example doesn’t even slice the meat and cheese until you’ve put your order in.  Despite being premade, the sandwiches at Pret always tasted fresh and satisfying because they were made with solid food such as dense, but small bread, and chunks of chicken meat.  The chain’s website explains the secret: “Pret opened in London in 1986. College friends, Sinclair and Julian, made proper sandwiches avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market today….They created the sort of food they craved but couldn’t find anywhere else.”  “Our partners drop off the very best ingredients to our shops everyday. We don’t mind that good, natural food goes off quickly. We don’t keep our sandwiches, baguettes and wraps overnight.”

One of my biggest disappointments on returning home was that I might never get another Pret sandwich (unless they’re still there the next time I’m in London) and instead the only options for buying sandwiches out would be places like Subway and Quiznos.  It was quite devastating.  Like the partners who started the Pret chain, I was going to be craving fresh, “proper” food, but unable to find it anywhere….

But then, I went to New York City for Christmas.  Walking around the first night there, I was thrilled to spot not one, but two Prets.  Needless to say, I went there every opportunity I got.  The options were somewhat different, particularly the chips–there were only boring, regular American flavors and styles to choose from (though they still weren’t national brands like Lays)–but the food was still good.  The egg salad wrap was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  The roast beef, arugula, mustard-mayo and chicken, bacon, mayo baguettes were also yummy.  They also had the Pret Ginger Beer Soda, which tasted as yummy as the Ginger Beer I had in London, both Pret and non-Pret.  I’ve found Ginger Beer in Pittsburgh, but it’s just not the same.

It turns out that Pret a Manger has set up locations in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.  As Chicago is one of the next US Cities I hope to visit, I know I will be getting another Pret sandwich soon.  I wonder though, if the large, diverse populations of these cities are necessary for a place like Pret a Manger to be successful.  Is it possible for a truly fresh sandwich shop to succeed (and set up multiple branches) in a smaller, less diverse city like Pittsburgh?

Adaptively Rebuilt Church

The Spire House is perhaps my favorite of all the adaptively reused churches I found in London.  Originally built as Christ Church Lancaster Gate in the 1850s and 1860s, the building has since been adapted to housing.  As I walked around the building, I thought it might have been one of the ones damaged during the war, but according to a website about the building most of the structure was demolished in the 1970s because of decay and fungus.

The reason why I liked this building was that despite the fact that most of it was demolished, part of it was saved and the rebuilt structure recalls the former design.  I particularly liked the “flying buttresses.”

I agree that there are times when a building can no longer function well, in this case because of decay and fungus, but buildings tell a lot about a society and its history and when they are demolished something gets lost.  The Spire House found a compromise between these two and it tells a lot about the city.  From the way this building was designed, it is apparent that this society is moving forward and changing, but still respects its past and its religion.  There other signs of this throughout the city, such as the church tower in the middle of a road.

Adaptive Reuse of Churches: London

When I started planning on going to London this year, my first idea was to go for a month or so to study the adaptive reuse of churches in that city.  I thought London would be a good place to see a wide variety of adaptions as the UK has been working with the problem of redundant churches for about a hundred years.  As I was pursuing this idea I found a book from 1977 which addresses this problem across Great Britain.  (I have not come across any book publications on the adaptive reuse of church buildings in the US.)  This book “Chapels and Churches: Who Cares?” includes a discussion of what had been done up until that point in time in the adaptive reuse of church buildings.  I compiled a list of 76 different uses that these buildings have been adapted to from the book.  In my observations in the Pittsburgh area, I have seen less than ten types of new use for church buildings with housing being the most common.

There was one factor about the church buildings in London that I found fascinating, perhaps in part because it is not a factor in Pittsburgh, or any US city for that matter.  Many churches sustained damage during WWII and The Blitz.  The churches damaged during the war were demolished, rebuilt, adaptively reused, or memorialized, resulting in some unique (at least to me) situations.

I ended up not going to London to complete a research project on the adaptive reuse of church buildings, but instead went to the city for a few days and explored as much of the city as I could in that time.  This included looking for a few of the adaptively reused churches I had learned about in my preliminary research.  In the process of looking for the ones I knew about and simply walking around the city, I found some other adaptively reused churches.

Tower Bridge

The last bridge in London I walked over was the Tower Bridge.  It is by far the most elaborate bridge across the Thames.  I had assumed it was also the oldest of the bridges I walked in London.  It turns out that this was a false assumption.  The current Tower Bridge was built in the 1890s.  According to the dates I found online, Southwark Bridge (see Aug 5 post)  is the oldest existing bridge I walked having opened in 1819.

The Tower Bridge is the last bridge across the Thames before it empties into the sea.  The view downstream gives some indication of this as there are no bridges in sight and the views from all the other bridges showed either another vehicular bridge, underground bridge, or pedestrian bridge.  That the Tower Bridge is the end of the bridges over the Thames is somewhat surprising to me because as the crow flies the mouth of the river is nearly forty miles away and as the river flows is even farther.  There are some tunnels under the river between the Tower Bridge and the sea, including at least one pedestrian tunnel.  I considered walking the pedestrian tunnel, but the idea of walking through a tunnel under a river seemed long, dark, and scary, and as I had already walked myself off my feet, I chose not to.

Some of the oldest parts of the city are near the Tower Bridge.  The northern shore is where the infamous Tower of London is located.  The Tower itself was built in 1078.  Crossing the bridge and turning right are several very narrow, medieval-like lanes.  Yet right near this old fabric is a very new development, situated almost directly across the Thames from the Tower of London, which from this view seems to include the controversial Shard skyscraper.  The Shard is located near the end of the London Bridge so I believe there must be some separation between the new buildings in the foreground and the skyscraper.  I understand that there is some controversy over the building as many people believed it was too close to the older fabric of the city where they wanted to maintain the historical building heights.  In the midst of the historic neighborhoods I observed this skyscraper looms up as the current tallest building in Europe.  According to an article about the official opening of the building on July4, one of the many features of this building is “double-decker lifts.”  I feel like that is the kind of thing that I’m going to have to see it to believe it.  How would a two-story elevator work?  And why would you want a two-story one?  I think it would only complicate things.

So ends the story of my journey walking across 13 bridges in London.  Hope you’ve enjoyed it!  For those interested in bridges, stay tuned as I continue to walk bridges in Pittsburgh and other cities.  For those interested in London, I plan to post about the adaptively reused churches I found in London in the near future.

London Bridge

London Bridge, perhaps the most famous of the bridges I walked because it fell down, rivaled the Waterloo Bridge for boring-ness (see July 29 post).  Both were similarly plain concrete structures.  The London Bridge is slightly more interesting for having a dedicated bus lane, but I can’t stand the maroon color of the bus lanes.  Luckily the surroundings were more interesting than those at the Waterloo Bridge.

I loved the geometry of these buildings visible from the London Bridge.  I went onto Google Maps to try and discover what they are as I did for Lambeth Bridge (see June 28, and Maps are Awesome! posts), but when I did, I found that Google Maps has the London Bridge miss-labeled.  The pinpoint for London Bridge sits right on top of the Tower Bridge.  As I mentioned in my Waterloo Bridge post, I had also at one time mistaken the Tower Bridge for the London Bridge.  While the London Bridge is the most famous in song, the Tower Bridge is the most famous in images.  I believe that it for this reason–that both bridges are the most famous in London, but in different media–that they get mistakenly identified.  (For some reason it is hard to imagine that there might be more than one famous bridge in London.)

The pointy building in the background is the London offices of Zurich, an insurance company.  The blue glass building houses Northern and Shell, a media company.  Next to that building and lower down is the Old Billingsgate Market, which used to house the largest fish market in the world (the market moved to Canary Wharf area, but is still the largest in the UK based on its website).

A battleship was parked in between the London and Tower bridges.  At first, I thought it was the battleship I saw on the news in the days before walking the bridge as the one moving up the Thames in an exercise to practice for the Olympic security measures.  Afterwards, I realized that this one (the HMS Belfast) was probably a permanent fixture and had not just traveled up the Thames.  It turns out I was correct the second time as the HMS Belfast is now part of the Imperial War Museums.

Southwark Bridge

After three mono-color bridges (see Jubilee Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, and Millennium Bridge posts), the Southwark Bridge returned to using the unique color schemes that I came to expect of London bridges after walking the first few (see Battersea Bridge, Albert Bridge, Chelsea Bridge, Vauxhall Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, and Westminster Bridge posts).

The Southwark Bridge had the most, or at least slowest, vehicular traffic of any of the bridges I walked in London.  It was also the only one with a painted bike lane.  I believe this lane is part of London’s Cycle Superhighway system.  These bike lanes are intended to make bike travel to central London from the surrounding areas easier (see website).  I really liked the bright blue color of these lanes.  It is highly visible and makes it quite clear this is not a place for cars.  Of course I am sure it costs a lot to paint miles of bike lanes solid.

The little domes on this building had been visible to me long before I saw the rest of the building.  I was in anticipation for several days to learn what it was.  I assumed it would be something really interesting like a church built by Eastern European immigrants, in which case its prominent location on the waterfront would led to a fascinating story, I’m sure.  Consequently I was a little disappointed to learn that it was only a train station.  (Note: I learned what the building was while on the Southwark Bridge, but the view above was taken from the London Bridge on the other side of the station from Southward Bridge.)

In this view upstream, the Millennium Bridge, which was so photogenic from the other angles (see Aug 2 post), becomes invisible against the background of the Blackfriar’s Rail Station spanning the Thames (see Blackfriar’s Bridge post).