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3:AM in Lockdown 44: Anna Aslanyan

What Will Last Longer?
By Anna Aslanyan.



Today I went on a date. I had a feeling it would be special, and so it was. For the first time ever, we found ourselves completely alone. There was no one within sight or earshot to disturb the intimacy of the moment. This relationship has now lasted a few months. There is still some novelty to it, I’m happy to report, as well as some mystery.

Under lockdown, people turn to things that have always been there but only just acquired a special meaning. For most of us it’s books, films, albums; but what about buildings? For it is Angel House, a fine interwar warehouse in Goswell Road, that I have been obsessed with. An example of the Chicago school often seen in London, it has four ceramic plaques on its facade, featuring a train, a sailing boat, a steam ship and a black cotton picker. This last has intrigued local historians for years. If the building, as it has been thought, was designed for a tobacco company, what made the architect choose the cotton motif?



Reader, I know the answer. In fact, I am quite possibly the only person in the entire pandemic-gripped world to know almost all there is to know about this building. Designed by Herbert A. Welch, FRIBA, it was completed in 1930 and was occupied by a number of institutions — International Tobacco (not the original owner, but no spoilers yet), the Royal Mail, the Royal National Institute for the Blind — before being converted into offices. The puzzle is almost complete; the only bit missing is the artist who made the roundels. Having narrowed the possibilities to a handful, I have to wait for the archives to reopen before I can verify my latest conjecture. Anyone with relevant information, do please get in touch. While waiting, I’m trying to figure out what exactly I’m hoping to find: a brief revealing some colonial prejudice? a racist review? correspondence between the artist and the model?



Whatever it is, I hope to share my findings with the world in due course. Will I become an architectural historian by the time it’s safe again to approach the object of your passion? Unlikely; but it doesn’t matter. Even if this relationship, which currently has me spending most of my government-sanctioned exercise time opposite Angel House, is doomed, it will never feel like a mere fling. Buildings will always be there (and so, of course, will be books). What will last longer: this passion or the lockdown? Who knows or cares? Many things, I venture to predict on this fine day, 4 April 2020, will last longer.


First posted: Thursday, April 23rd, 2020.

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