David Gibson: Islington Society

21 Oct

Architect David Gibson moved to Islington as a student in 1965 – and is still living here. David is convinced that good planning and the design of buildings improves people’s lives, and is a committed chair of the influential Islington Society (find out more by attending the AGM on Thursday 12 November 2015). Interview by Nicola Baird

David Gibson, architect who chairs the influential Islington Society.

David Gibson, architect who chairs the influential Islington Society.

David Gibson – and his wife Mary Gibson, the well-known former Yerbury Primary School head teacher – have been transforming the lives of Islington people for years. Turns out they were childhood sweethearts.

David, an architect and founder of the David Gibson Architects based on Essex Road, is also chairman of the Islington Society, which helps to influence Islington town planning for the better.

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David first moved to Islington in 1965 while studying at University College.

“Most of the students lived in terrible, grotty bedsits in Barnsbury and Canonbury. They were slums, and there were plans to knock them down.” David’s student digs were in Beacon Hill, off Hillmarton Road, N7, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that he moved to Upper Holloway. The couple now live in Tufnell Park and their adult children Timothy and Helen are also based in Islington. “I am so lucky to have a good relationship with my children and have them both living within a five minute walk,” says David who met Mary when they were both at secondary schools (different ones) in Warrington. “We were introduced by the local parish priest who ran a philosophy club.”

Their charmed life had a huge hiccup in 2011 when they were involved in a head-on car collision while holidaying in Vermont. Mary had broken ribs and a punctured lung and missed the start of the Yerbury School winter term 2011/12, while David, then 63, suffered multiple fractures. But five years on he looks fit, well and looking forward to his upcoming US trip.

“For around 30 years we’ve spent a week in New York and three weeks in Vermont, staying with a friend Mary met as a young teacher in Islington at Ecclesbourne School in Canonbury (now closed),” through her regular class trips to the Children’s Library (now South Library) on Essex Road. http://www.islingtontribune.com/news/2011/sep/yerbury-school-head-mary-gibson-survives-car-crash-us

The long awaited pedestrian crossing over Holloway Road opposite Nags Head.

The long awaited pedestrian crossing over Holloway Road opposite Nags Head. David Gibson: “You go to Nag’s Head for the things you need. You go to Angel for the things you think you want.”

Why David Gibson loves Nag’s Head & hopes you do too

David Gibson has lived in Tufnell Park for 30 years . He’s also on the Nag’s Head Town Centre Management Group. As a result he’s a huge fan of the Nag’s Head:

  • An independent treasure for coffee and meals on Holloway Road (opposite Argos).

    An independent treasure for coffee and meals on Holloway Road (opposite Argos) now renamed Ekko.

    The Nag’s Head is brilliant but under rated. You go to Nag’s Head for the things you need, and you go to Angel for the things you think you want.” There’s nowhere in the Angel where you can buy a nut cracker or ordinary household equipment but at Nags Head you’ve got Selbys, 384-400 Holloway Road, N7.

  • Until about 1920 Nag’s Head was the principal centre of Islington with three theatres and all sorts of shops. It’s still geographically central.
  • I like to go to Ekko, formerly Amici restaurant, 367 Holloway Road, N7.
  • Joyce Pollaya, who was the Nag’s Head town centre manager, and on the Nag’s Head Town Centre Management Group, campaigned for 20 years to get a pedestrian crossing going east-west over Holloway Road (between Parkhurst Road-Camden Road/Tollington Way). It ws finally opened in August 2015. The west side, where the restaurants are, has very wide pavements so there can be more activity there, like tables outside the cafes. Previously the economic side seemed to be on the east side, where Selby and Morrisons and the other big stores are.
  • Find out more about the Nag’s Head Town Centre Strategy (adopted May 2007 by Islington Council) here 

Islington Society
As an architect he has worked all over the place, but it’s where he lives that David has focussed his volunteering efforts.

“I’m passionate about the Islington Society. It’s a local campaigning organisation set up to safeguard and improve the quality of life in Islington. Normally this sort of group would be combative and against things but I think to make a change and a difference you need to be able to work with the council, as well as against,” says David who has been an Islington Society member since 1995. “That’s why we have good and strong links with the heads of department. In Islington they are really impressive people who know what they are doing and are also committed to making Islington a better place.”

The Islington Society was founded in 1960. “It was started to try and stop the demolition of Union Square for the huge Packington Estate, N1. That was 60 years ago and it’s interesting that as the Packington Estate was demolished we didn’t campaign to stop that. But the new Packington Estate is architecturally very good. I particularly like the social housing which was built first and has one of the best ends of the estate which overlooks the canal,” says David.

David Gibson has strong views about the way Angel looks, which is one reason he is on the Angel Town xx

David Gibson has strong views about the way Angel looks, which is one reason he is on the Angel Town Centre board.

5 impressive Islington buildings (& a mistake) picked by David Gibson

  • “The Islington Society runs an annual architecture award. It’s been going for 20 years and was called the Geoffrey Gribble Conservation Award. Unusually the awards go to the building – a 10 inch engraved bronze plaque – rather than the architects. The first plaques were made by an Islington sign maker in Amwell Street, who has now moved out to Kent. In 2014, the award now sponsored by Jack Morris and the Business Design Centre, went to the refurbishment on the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Farringdon Road. We’ve given the award to Ironmonger Row Baths and to the road bridge over the canal in King’s Cross too.”
  • In 1789 this was the site of the Gun pub. It was rebuilt in 1834 (when the address was 18 Pierpoint Row) and renamed the Duke of Sussex in honour of George III's sixth son, Prince Augustus Frederic (1773-1845) from whom Frederick's takes its name. You can still see the original staircase and two murals on the external brickwork.

    Frederick’s: In 1789 this was the site of the Gun pub. It was rebuilt in 1834 (when the address was 18 Pierpoint Row) and renamed the Duke of Sussex in honour of George III’s sixth son, Prince Augustus Frederic (1773-1845) from whom Frederick’s takes its name. You can still see the original staircase and two murals on the external brickwork.

    “I often go to Frederick’s, in Camden Passage, not only to enjoy the wonderful food but also because I’m a member of the Angel Town Centre board which meets there. In the 1970s the Angel was the most awful place. It was very run down. Now look at it! Campaigning by the Islington Society has helped preserve the best features and we are working to improve the places that are, shall we say not so good, such as the Bank of Scotland eyesore on the Angel tube side of Islington High Street.”  See Islington Faces interview with Frederick’s manager, Matt Segal, here.

  • “The N4 Library building, which is attached to City & Islington College’s Blackstock Road campus for adult learners is one of my favourite buildings.”
  • “All the City and Islington campuses are impressive. Their Camden Road building was designed by Wilkinson Eyre, an Islington based practice in EC1.”
  • City & Islington College's Camden Road campus.

    City & Islington College’s Camden Road campus.

    David Gibson Architects ran the competition with RIBA to select architects for City and Islington College’s 6th form centre at Goswell Road with Tom Jupp, the then Principal of the College and Jack Morris, the Chair of Governors, who had the vision to use a really good architect – it makes such a big difference.  The building was by Van Heynigen & Haward. City and Islington College is a great instituion, its Director, Frank McCoughlin, has just been deservedly knighted in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

  • “I wasn’t impressed by the Building Schools for the Future programme (which saw Holloway, St Aloysius and Highbury Grove being rebuilt and other schools in the borough being refurbished). Those of us longer in the tooth warned that schools would be locked into these deals permanently (25 years) and it would be expensive, which, funnily enough, turns out to be the case.”

Although he admits there are still plenty of things the Islington Society is vehemently against including the proposals for the Mount Pleasant Post Office site at Rosbery Avenue; removing trees from Faringdon Road and Cross-Rail’s desire to knock down listed buildings on the west side of Islington High Street. We find that the councillors are always very concerned about housing and education but don’t see planning as a front line service. But the quality of housing, educational buildings and the life we lead is to do with the physical environment we live in,” he adds with absolute conviction.

And that’s why a busy architect like David Gibson had put so much time into envisioning the ways Islington could be better. His sadly missed predecessor, Harley Sherlock, helped put the Islington Society on the campaign map. Now it is David and the Islington Society members who work so effectively to ensure the borough’s historic fabric is preserved; new buildings are of a high design standard; better public transport and priority for people on foot, bike and public transport as well as building better links between residents, officials and councillors. For anyone in Islington that makes the £8 a year membership an absolute bargain.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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