A&S: What were the advantages of the hard suit versus the soft suit? Why two totally different kinds?
Elkins: There are some advantages of the hard suit, although I did not remain a proponent of it. The hard suit had value for being able to go to much higher pressures. The higher you go, the less likely you are to have the bends when exiting a higher-pressure space vehicle. So if you were wearing one, you could scramble to do an emergency [spacewalk] because you didn’t have to pre-breathe for four hours. It’s a very mobile little spaceship, if you will. Vic Vykukal, a NASA Ames engineer, also did pioneering work on the hard suit. Although it demonstrated excellent mobility, it was heavier because of the hard structural components, and the joints did not exhibit the long-life capability of the toroidal joint.
The soft suit came from a line of pressure suits used by the Air Force and Navy. BF Goodrich’s soft suits for the Mercury project were evolved from a Navy pressure suit. David Clark made soft suits for Gemini. Then ILC came into the Apollo program. They all came from that same soft emergency pressure suit lineage. It was a question of cultures and politics within the R&D labs. There was the West Coast technology such as Litton, and NASA’s Ames Research lab; but then the older timers from the East who knew soft suits. Ultimately, soft suits won out.
The area to the north of London Wall was almost completely levelled during the Blitz and was essentially a blank canvas for reconstruction… work that is still going on and if you know where to look there are still some bomb sites waiting for someone to come along and fill the gap.
For inspiration the planners looked to Stockholm where, in 1946, a plan had been tabled to create a similar business area consisting of a line of five Modernist ‘slabs’ in the Hötorget (Haymarket) area – each a curtain-walled office block and all of them aligned alongside an arterial road. By the time construction began in 1952 the plans dictated that each should be 18 stories high (with all surrounding buildings limited to two) and all be of a very similar design… each was worked on by a different architect but the limitations imposed by the city meant that they looked pretty much the same.
Key to the scheme was the addition in 1953 of a series of raised pedestrian walkways, complete with shops and connecting bridges… which for anyone who’s been along London Wall will sound spookily familiar to the desolate raised pedestrian areas in the vicinity. London’s planners wanted their own Hötorget and similar restrictions were placed on the architects – as with Stockholm five blocks were built (Moor House (1961), St Alphage House (1962) and Lee House (1962) to the North of London Wall, 40 Basinghall Street (1964) and Royex House (1962) to the South) and each looked almost identical apart from slight variations such as the colour of the strips along the bottom of the windows, although the windows themselves were all identically sized.