People blog about, talk about, write about and visit Fryern Arcade in Chandler’s Ford so there must be something good about it.
Shortly after Fryern was opened in 1967, Ian Nairn, an architectural journalist wrote in the Observer (October 8th 1967) about Fryern and compared it with a similar development, the Fairwater Centre, in Cwmbran, South Wales. Nairn was not impressed with the Fairwater Centre and it no longer exists.
Fryern, on the other hand, was described as being “too good to be true”. Why? What makes it a success?
Nairn identified its development was by a single person, Trevor Donaldson, with the aid of Julian Keable Architects of Reading. Fairwater was the product of a committee. Why did Trevor Donaldson succeed and the committee fail?
Who was Ian Nairn?
Ian Nairn (1930-1983) was not an architect by training but impressed Pevsner who encouraged him to write the Surrey and Sussex volumes of The Buildings of England series.
Nairn made his name by protesting against urban planning failures where, to borrow E M Forster’s phrase “success was indistinguishable from failure”. He wrote an important book called Outrage.
Nairn admired pubs, later in his life mainly from the inside and died young of cirrhosis of the liver. He was disillusioned that the spirit of the age was to concentrate on preserving the old but allowing the new to fail.
Fryern Arcade: Location
The location is perfect. It has become, by default, the centre of Chandler’s Ford. It is at a road junction and is supported by two supermarkets, a library, doctor’s surgery and other shops and facilities.
Fryern Arcade: Space
In front is a wide pavement, almost a piazza. Fryern is a natural extension of that space. You do not have to ‘go into’ Fryern. There is no entrance, no threshold, no door or steps. The florists on one corner makes one feel welcome.
Fryern Arcade: Circulation
Never mind spires, flying buttresses, gargoyles and other architectural contrivances. What matters is the creation of good circulation space.
Buildings are for people and people have to get around inside them, meet, move and socialise. Fryern has covered circulation space wide enough for people and the display of some merchandise. It becomes elevated as the ground it is built on slopes away. This keeps you well away from the cars.
At the bottom end you can descend to ground by a spiral staircase.
Spiral staircases are not much approved these days. If you take the inside of the spiral, the step treads are narrow and lead to falls. On the outside the treads are wide and lead to trips as you need to stride widely to reach the next step.
The Fryern staircase is ergonomically designed as any can be with just the right size of riser.
Fryern Arcade: Shops
Whatever one thinks about Costa Coffee, it is popular and people sitting at the outside tables give the place a festive air.
A good mix of shops is important. Imagine if one side was a Job Centre, a Betting shop at the back, a games arcade somewhere and an empty, boarded up shop. That would be the end of it commercially.
Boots is a disappointment. They have a long frontage and the widows are blanked out instead of decorated. It would be good to be able to look inside to see how long the queue is.
The hardware shop D & G is amazing. Whatever you ask for, they have it. I am reminded of a poem of A. A. Milne.
Jonathan Jo – by A.A. Milne
Has a mouth like an “O”
And a wheelbarrow full of surprises;
If you ask for a bat,
Or something like that,
He has got it, whatever the size is.
If you’re wanting a ball,
It’s no trouble at all;
Why, the more you ask for, the merrier –
Like a hoop and a top,
And a watch that won’t stop,
And some sweets, and an Aberdeen terrier.
Has a mouth like an “O”
But this is what makes him so funny
If you give him a smile,
Only once in a while,
Then he never expects any money!
There used to be a children’s playground there but I suppose extra cars and ‘elf and safety did for that.
And while talking about safety: Why is there no large notice at the top of the staircase reading “Not Suitable for Mobility Scooters”. Now, that would be fun. I would like to call in Jeremy Clarkson to investigate – after he has had his dinner of course.
Fryern Arcade: the bad bits
It is a matter of opinion but I do not care much for the grey brick. It would have been better built using red brick, possibly the local red brick from Michelmersh brickyard, which was still productive then.
There are ageing issues. Round the back one can appreciate the age of the place. It is not always well kept and there is litter, rats (there are rat bait boxes) and a need for some estate maintenance.
And then there is the on-going issue of the public toilets.
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- Buy The Big Issue Bumper Edition 2014
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