The Carmelite, Victoria Embankment

Associated Newspapers, 50 Victoria Embankment/Carmelite Street, London


For the atrium of Carmelite House, then home of Associated Newspapers, Brian designed five monumental cut-pile tapestries, four of which were compositions with a drop of up to 90 feet, and a series of stained glass windows on the Thames-side facade along the Victoria Embankment, and on the Carmelite Street elevation. Designed in 1991 and completed in 1992, the tapestries totalled 3,365 sq ft. Brian says: “When I was initially approached to do a project at the Carmelite, they asked me to cover over the roof with stained glass, which I said wouldn’t work for for the space – it needed a different treatment. They asked my advice, and my solution was to link the floors together vertically with tapestry. The story unfolds to you in its complexity and simplicity as you move between floors, or look across from the lifts or walkways. The tapestries brought colour to the back of the building and made it a happening space where you’d want to be. I also designed a series of stained glass lancet windows on the river-side of the Carmelite – they could be seen at night from the Royal College of Heralds. They were rather pretty and slender: at points in the building there were such slender lines of real light, which the architect wanted to block up,” but eleven of these windows were made for those spaces instead. Carmelite Riverside was the home of Associated Newspapers, and was demolished, and the project disassembled, in 2013.

"The design amused me – they were all heraldic emblazoning colours, like hatchments, and the same with the tapestries. I wanted to drag something ancient and real into this environment. And opposite was the College of Arms, the centre of the whole of that kind of historical thing. I kind of brought this medieval heraldry to an aspirationally High Tech building. The tapestries - the carpet kind, open weft - were made for the Carmelite by a little two-man outfit in Gloucestershire, man and wife working on a loom together. It took them a full year to make all five. The scale figures collaged into the designs include Lord Longford; a friend of mine who was a model, who died; Robert Mapplethorpe, from a portrait I took of him; and Pattie Boyd, Baroness Thyssen, myself and Bond girl Barbara Bach.

The watercolour, acrylic and collage studies and designs for the Carmelite were executed in 1991.

1 Carmelite: Architect Tim Kempster of Trehearne and Norman designed this attractive building during the 1980s. Angled windows facing south give spectacular views of the Thames while a viewing platform above the entrance allows tenants and their families to watch the Marathon and Lord Mayor's Show in comfort. Like other buildings on the edge of the Inns of Court, 1 Carmelite has a traditional exterior stone surface. However, this façade has been varied at street level with patterns of interlocking dark and light shapes, pierced by thin lancets of vivid colored glass by Brian Clarke. Kempster described these as very subliminal references to the Carmelite Nunnery which once stood here: Using the signature colours of bright orange, blue, green and purple, Clarke's ribbons flip in and out of the openings, each an entity in itself yet suggestive of sequence. This was a narrative that both Kempster and Clarke were able to continue inside. Indeed, Kempster had envisaged the building as 'having a restrained and demure exterior, split open within like a pomegranate, a rich fruit' and he commissioned Clarke to design tapestry for the stairwell walls as a foil to the reflective quality of the interior metalwork. Clarke responded with designs related to the paintings he was working on at the time - splashes and patches of colour, waterfalls of blue and white shapes with stabilising blocks between. Clarke also created a subtle, graphic composition using veils of colour and markings for a woven backing to the curved seating area within the foyer.” – Caroline Swash