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Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Open House London, 18th September

From: Eva
Category: Other stuff
Date: 18 September 2004


Our first stop on the 'Open House London' trail was the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, situated on the misnamed Lambeth High Street, SE1. Not a typically vibrant London high street, but a dark assortment of mismatched architecture that includes the council-flat-view side of a posh new block named 'Parliament View'. It makes for a scary walk home at night, and my flat-mate was mugged on the adjacent Paradise Walk.

The brown aluminium cladded building of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), completed in 1977, looks so anonymous from the outside that despite walking past it hundreds of times I never once paid it any heed. On the tour we learnt that this had been the architects' intention, so as not to detract from the grandeur of the Archbishop's Palace across the road - which is ironic as the Archbishop is actually so successful at keeping his palace concealed that there's not a single public vantage point from which to properly view it, and those Londoners who know of its existence forget it's there.

To my great surprise the RPS building has huge interior spaces and most of the details have not been altered since the 1970s. The original conference tables, chairs and screens made me nostalgic for the public spaces of my distant infancy. The furriness of everything - floors, walls, curvy sofas, made me wonder whether the pharmacists had coated the information leaflet in anti-depressants, or had been emitting chemicals from tiny vents to make us satisfied with our tour. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society operates as a regulatory body and as such holds disciplinary meetings, as well as being a club for pharmacists, containing a specialist library, and having a fantastic members room with the best view I've ever seen of the Archbishop's Palace. The scale of the conference rooms communicated the political and financial power commanded by pharmaceutics in Britain today, and we were told that the society owns a posh flat in Parliament View.

Throughout the building's wide corridor spaces were wall displays with artefacts from the history of pharmaceutics. The roughness of the ceramics, the elegance and decorativeness of other objects called to mind the nearness of alchemy to pharmaceutics before being separated and legitimised as a 'science', by organisations such as the RPS.

The tour lasted about 30 minutes and made for a fun day out, I'll let you know tomorrow if I find myself suffering from any unexpected side effects.

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