City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Read the introduction to this series

In stark and healthy comparison to the Active Birth Centre, the antenatal classes are raw London. It’s a cross-section through Camden in particular, with Chinese, Italian, African-Caribbean, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Eastern European, East African Asian, Irish, American, white Anglo-Saxon, and, well, who knows. And across several income groups, societal classifications, married couples and single parents, wives with massively disinterested boorish partners who read the paper while ventouse extractions are being discussed, as well as doting dads who run in late from work, apologising profusely. Basically everything, all at once. And it feels incredibly vibrant and alive as a result.

The room itself is laid out a bit like a nursery for grown-ups, with orange squash at the back, pictures propped on windows sills, and toy babies around – although the latter are soon being revolved through plastic pelvises, which I suppose doesn’t often happen in the nursery.

It’s a converted building, again, this time as part of a large new development at the junction of Roseberry Avenue and Farringdon Road. Almost all the buildings in this series are conversions or adaptations from some other original purpose, which seems very London to me. The city doesn’t really change abruptly or radically that often – certainly not like many American or Japanese cities, never mind Seoul, Lagos, Singapore or São Paulo – but instead London changes constantly, incrementally. It’s in constant motion, permanent renovation but generally rebuilding itself from the inside-out, rather than through massive interventions.

Oddly perhaps, I hear an echo of this in Geoff Dyer describing an extraordinary letter by D.H. Lawrence, loosely around England:

"Each paragraph pulses into life from the seed of the preceding one; each paragraph offers an emended version of the same material; each version enters more deeply into the experience, and, at the same time, advances it incrementally. It is like hearing alternate takes of a piece of music but, as these different versions unfold, so a narrative emerges: the narrative of his attempts to fix an experience that is vast, shifting, apocalyptic."

And if you’ll allow me to rip that quote right of context, I think that’ll do as a description of how London’s buildings move.

In this series only the new UCLH and Camden Town Hall are buildings performing their originally intended function (as long as we assume that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital had a wider remit before being focused solely on obstetrics; it’s certainly been re-modeled and re-shaped numerous times.)

I think this particular building is called the 1A Centre, at 1A Roseberry Avenue. It’s newly refurbished – there are some vaguely interesting council documents giving the green light on the refurb a couple of years ago. Amazing what Google indexes, really.

As if to brazenly flaunt its sheer Camden-ness, as well as these antenatal classes, it’s also home to regular meetings of the Mãrtisorul Romanian Folk Dance Club.

There’s little to say about the building, save that the chairs were a little more uncomfortable than you’d think ideal for a room of heavily pregnant women. There’s plenty to say about the classes themselves, which are generally very informative, but that’s for elsewhere.

In a less interesting moment – possibly on homeopathic remedies to take during labour, which seems a little like using a water pistol to put out a house on fire – I spy some lovely public lettering on the wall of the building opposite on of the side windows. The photo I took ends up on a SIM card in a Nokia that I inadvertently ‘donated’ to a taxi driver in New York, so you’ll have to take my word for it, or go see for yourself.


Other pieces in this series:
A birth, in 13 places

1. Scan; Private clinic, Harley Street, Central London
2. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
3. Active Birth Centre, Tufnell Park, North London
4. Antenatal classes; 1A Roseberry Avenue, Central London
5. Bloomsbury Birthing Centre, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
6. Delivery Room 1, Labour Ward, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, UCLH, Huntley Street, Central London
7. A&E, UCLH Main Building, Gower Street, Central London
8. Amenity Room 6, Nixon Suite, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (part of UCH), Huntley Street, Central London
9. Café Deco, Store Street, Central London
10. Transitional Care Unit, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (UCLH), Huntley Street, Central London
11. Home, Gower Mews, Central London
12. Bloomsbury, Central London
13. Registry Office, Camden Town Hall, Central London


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