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1. Flamboyant practicality: Crossness Pumping Station
1865, Sir Joseph Bazalgette
One of two ‘cathedrals of sewage’ - that’s the polite version - that gave Victorian effluent a final push out into the Estuary. Its plain exterior hides a riot of colour and decorative jokes such as figs – then a constipation remedy - plus four beam engines with 52-ton flywheels.
Access: Open several times a month
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2. Elegant simplicity: 30 St Mary Axe, aka ‘The Gherkin’
This tapered cylinder has been compared to everything from an aircraft engine to a torpedo and rose elegantly from the wreckage of the 1992 bombing of the Baltic Exchange. Most Londoners regret its gradual eclipse by a taller, more muscular generation of skyscrapers.
Access: Available during Open House London
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3. Intimate space: St Stephen Walbrook
1671, Sir Christopher Wren
This was the first church Wren built after the Great Fire of London and its Greek cross form was perfect for the new ‘auditory’ style of church, where every worshipper was no more than 30 feet from the pulpit. The glorious dome pre-dates that of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Access: Lunchtime concerts Tuesdays and Fridays
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4. Unsung masterpiece: Royal Festival Hall
1951, Sir Robert Matthew, Peter Moro and Dr Leslie Martin
This post-war construction rose like a breath of fresh air from the bomb-damaged South Bank and was the focal point for the Festival of Britain. It took just 18 months to build, using radically new materials, and the concert hall is suspended at its centre like a kernel in a nut.
Access: Concerts and many free events
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5. Fluid beauty: London Aquatics Centre
2011/2012, Zaha Hadid Architects
The late Zaha Hadid’s wonderful, light-filled building looks like a sting ray furling through its surroundings in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It houses two pools and a diving facility shared between elite athletes and the public. Its sinuous lines make you want to stroke it.
Access: Swim from £4.95 adults, £2.75 children
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6. Exuberant spin: Bibendum Building
1911, François Espinasse
Nothing could express the thrill of early motoring more than the extrovert brick and tile Brompton Cross headquarters of the French company, Michelin. Look for tyre details on the roof, numerous Michelin Men and fabulous stained glass, tiling and twirly ironwork inside.
Access: The Oyster bar and Claude Bosi at Bibendum
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7. Professional discretion: Royal College of Physicians
1964, Sir Denys Lasdun
The fifth building to house this venerable institution shocks and thrills to this day: a calm, concrete composition in a Nash terrace, described by Rogers as ‘audaciously Modernist’. Grade I-listed, it houses an ancient library and a 17th-century panelled room.
Access: Museum and gardens open Monday to Friday
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8. Inside out: Lloyds Building
1986, Richard Rogers Partnership
Green-lit lifts slide silently up and down the stainless steel exterior of this building. It’s as intricate as an engine, with all its services on the outside: an apt expression of the future in the year of ‘Big Bang’, the deregulation process that changed the City of London forever.
Access: Available during Open House London
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9. Vintage Deco: Southgate Underground Station
1933, Adams, Holden and Pearson
This is one of two dozen or so Tube stations designed by Charles Holden and his firm: it looks futuristic, with its low drum and canopy topped by a aerial-like finial, but its materials are concrete and glass and light pours down into the circular ticketing hall.
Access: Piccadilly Line
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10. Georgian palazzo: Spencer House
1766, John Vardy and James Stuart
Anyone strolling in the Green Park early in the reign of George III could hardly fail to notice this whopping emblem of rich Whig aristocracy. Thanks to Lord Rothschild, it has been splendidly restored, including rare Greek Revival interiors by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart.
Access: Tours on Sundays 10.30am to 4.30pm
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11. Streamline moderne: Daily Express Building
1932, Sir Owen Williams, Robert Atkinson, Ellis and Clarke
Vitrolite, glass, chromium strips…the former Daily Express HQ on Fleet Street is an exercise in Deco cool. Look for stylish red lettering flanking the entrance and peer through current occupier Goldman Sachs’ net curtains for a glimpse of the super-stylish entrance hall.
Access: Entrance hall may be accessible during Open House London
12. Courtly ambition: Ham House
1610 onwards, Robert Smythson, William Samwell
Set on the river Thames near Richmond, this is a courtiers’ house par excellence, first built in the reign of James I and still being altered 150 years later. Admire the tall, severe façade, cantilevered staircase, sawn-out ceiling of the Great Hall and very fine picture gallery.
Access: Open year round, including guided tours
13. Gothic fantasy: St Pancras Renaissance London/Midland Grand Hotel
1873, Sir George Gilbert Scott
The Midlands Railway, then at its zenith, fronted its glorious Barlow Train Shed with the red brick gothic Midland Grand Hotel. Gilbert Scott, famed for his ecclesiastical work, added finials, grotesques, medallions, decorated tiling and a ‘hydraulic ascending chamber’, or lift.
Access: Historic tours most days, £24 per person
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14. Light touch: Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square
Late 17th century, restored Alfred Burr
One of 16 London houses occupied by Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson, hidden in a labyrinth of post-war buildings. Admire the magnificent original locks on the front door, the swinging partition walls on the first floor and the light-filled attic used by his team of assistants.
Access: Daily except Sundays/bank holidays, £6 adults, £2.50 children
How To Read London: A Crash Course In London Architecture is available from Wordery at £8.49 including free delivery.