Live blog: Unlocking the sites and the city
Chalkmarks: London, England, UK

Golden Key Academy 2024
Open City London

WELCOME to the live blog – the first time we’re doing this at Chalkmarks. Natalie will be updating every step she takes as she trains to become a tour guide as part of the Golden Key Academy course run by Open City. She’ll be bringing you the highlights and plenty of pictures. If you’re interested in learning what she’s learning about London you can follow in her footsteps. Get your coat!

(Psst: start at the bottom)

More follows…

First, read our piece all about London – what you should know.

February 2024

Show us the architecture: We meet up again in February – this time for an outing with architectural historian Jon Wright to learn about postmodern (PoMo) architecture. We start at Exchange House (see below), at Broadgate (built in 1985), near Liverpool Street. We walk the very long way around to Bank, ticking off tons of gorgeous architecture as we go. 

Stories around every corner: The end of the Second World War meant a big rebuild, and architects had the chance to show off their skills. They came up with functional, blocky, designs – bit bland really – like the Golden Lane Estate. This architectural style became known as modernism. Then, a few decades later in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, new architects came along and had a rethink. They wanted more decoration and designed buildings such as No1 Poultry – and this style became known as post modernism (PoMo). Now, out of PoMo came another evolution. Architects turned buildings inside out, and displayed the hidden, internal, structure on the outside, such as the Lloyd’s building in London or they put a new facade over the top of the building, as seen with Bracknell House aka the FT building. This is known as high-tech architecture. 

Question: What do we call the glass skyscrapers on Bishopsgate, such as the Gherkin or even the Shard. They’re glamorous and glossy, and they glitter in the sunshine? You know what we’re told? There’s no word yet!

A walk through London life!

Chalkmarks: Exchange House, London, February 2024
Day 2: Meeting at Exchange House at Broadgate
Chalkmarks: St Paul's, London, February 2024
Mirror mirror on the wall: St Paul’s Cathedral
Chalkmarks: The City of London taken from the rooftop at 1 Poultry, London, February 2024
Two cities, stone and steel: The Portland Stone of the City of London and the glass-steel skyscrapers of Bishopsgate behind
The rooftop view! 1 Poultry

The art of walking: We’re live and we’re kicking. The course has officially begun. On the second Saturday of February, in the morning, we meet the organisers and our classmates for the first time at the Golden Lane Estate (built by the City of London Corporation in 1952). We go through the timetable for the next seven months. By the end, we’ll each be hosting our own walking tours… live in London, during the Open House Festival. Mark your calendars for September. Watch this space!

Let’s walk and talk: In the afternoon, we’re off on our first walking tour around the Barbican housing estate (built by the City of London Corporation as a gift to the nation in 1965) led by Merlin Fulcher, tours director, (pic below) to show us how it’s done. The Barbican is not a vision of beauty. The bare concrete makes it feel darker and colder than it already is. It’s a bit like the London dungeon. But apparently it’s an architectural icon. In 1982 when it was opened by the late Queen, she said it was “one of the wonders of the modern world”. Since then, it’s repeatedly been voted the ugliest building in London. 

It’s a look: The Barbican is brutalist architecture – nothing to do with being brutal apparently. It means the concrete is exposed and raw, the opposite of decorative. The brick is left to be a brick – it’s not painted over, and the material is used as it was made, you don’t cover it up. To add a little sass and colour though the pond water is dyed green. It doesn’t make it Barbados!

Post war jewel: The Barbican was built after the war as a village within the city. It has everything here: a church, a cinema, an arts centre, cafes – and plenty of concrete. I think they’ve taken it up a notch here tbh. Despite the rough edges and its shades of grey and brown, it’s a pretty posh place filled with multimillionaires. In fact it was built for the middle classes to lure them back into London after the war. The famous flock here too like moths to a flame. The average price for one of the 2,000 flats is around £1million. After an hour of hearing its story, I don’t hate it so much. I’m convinced it’s worthy of its Grade II listed status which protects it from the chopping block. PS: If it’s a gift – can I stay over? I need a concrete answer!

Chalkmarks: Natalie Chalk, Day 1 of Golden Key Academy with Open City at the Barbican, City of London, England, UK
Day 1: Natalie on tour at the Barbican with boss Merlin Fulcher (in the cap) leading the group

Rejoining the guides!

Exciting news: I pinch myself as I’m introduced in Open City’s weekly newsletter, as part of 2024 cohort. It’s really happening… and, I’m a rising star (no laughing at the back)!

Chalkmarks: Natalie Chalk introduced as part of the 2024 cohort, Golden Key Academy, Open City, London, England, UK, February 2024
Meet me: Natalie (left) introduced as part of the 2024 cohort

January 2024

It’s good to go up steps: I was up early to climb the 311 spiral steps of the Monument (built by Dr Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren in 1671-67). I got the certificate to prove it and the receipt, it cost £6. It was freezing but it was worth it. There was no one else around as I looked down on the River Thames, the Tower of London (built by William the Conqueror in 1078 ), St Paul’s (rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1710 after the Great Fire), Canary Wharf (built by Canadian Paul Reichmann in 1987 ) in the Docklands, the Shard, the tallest in the capital (built by Qatar in 2009 ), and then across to the skyscrapers on Bishopsgate including the famous Gherkin (built by Swiss Re in 2001) and the most recently completed, TwentyTwo, the second tallest, (built by Axa Real Estate in 2006-20).

Speaking of capital: Living in London, I used to think “there’s nothing to see here”, as I ran for tubes and buses. There was always somewhere more interesting to be. Now, I’m ready to explore. There is so much to see. One thing’s for sure, there are not many trees down there as architects have gone wild growing buildings. And, this lot cost a heck of a lotta money! PS: not sure if I like walking in the cold. Could be a problem. Will report back!

The journey begins: Something nuts has happened. I’ve been approved! I am joining the 2024 cohort for the Golden Key Academy run by charity, Open City, with organises walking tours that showcase London architecture. The email dropped in my inbox saying they were very pleased to offer me a place on the course. They don’t know, I know nothing about architecture. Whoops. Everything starts in February!

Chalkmarks: Towers of London, England, UK, January 2024 (Taken from the Monument)
The Towers of London: Looking across to the Tower of London with Canary Wharf in the distance – taken from The Monument in the City of London

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