Turns out buildings are even more interesting with people in them

SaLADS visit Ortus staircase

The Saturday Ladies Architecture & Design Society finds going beyond glossy architectural photographs rewarding

We sit conspicuously in the children’s playground at the centre of the sun-bleached grassy common, surrounded by the yellow brick giants. Hundreds of windows stare back at us, reflecting the cloudless sky. We spot Kate Macintosh walking around the perimeter of the grounds in the shadows of the buildings she designed more than 40 years ago. She beckons us to a shadier spot and begins to recount how her quest for site experience led her to Southwark’s architects department and to this “plum site”. We are at Dawson Heights, facing its celebrated, undulating façade. It is the Salads’ 53rd tour.

In 2013 we began with a simple maxim: one building, one Saturday a month. We were keen for our visits to be different from the cold, rainy student field trips of yesteryear – no sodden sketchbooks in sight. These were to be relaxed morning outings to a whole range of buildings, without a “brief” or agenda. Despite our tongue-in-cheek name, the Saturday Ladies Architecture and Design Society or Salads, a group open to everyone, has grown from seven friends into a network of built environment enthusiasts.

Our first tours took us to the classics and icons: the Red House, the Barbican and the British Library. From the graphic wallpaper on the ceiling of the Red House to the azure and gold tiles in Leighton House and the art deco staircase at the De La Warr Pavilion, we appreciated their seductive construction detailing and sculptural massing. What we didn’t expect to value were the personal stories given by our tour guides of constructing, living in and looking after these places. They gave us an insight into the “memories” of these buildings, a patchwork of anecdotes and reflections that allowed us to “see” buildings differently, unrelated to their visual or aesthetic appeal.

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