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Visit to Morecambe’s Midland Hotel

24 Jun

Midland HotelThe Midland Hotel was one of those landmark buildings I’ve known for years from photographs and TV programmes but up until four days ago I had never seen in the flesh.  Such important and much written about buildings can frequently be a disappointment when viewed under the over-inflated expectation of the eager architectural tourist.  The Midland thankfully was even more spectacular and beautiful that I could have expected. Its ocean liner moderne look is a striking feature of the promenade. A striking symbol of ambition facing the heavy, high Victorian railway terminal. Its beautiful finishing in glass mixed plaster reflects a magical iridescence to the naked eye. No photographs can capture the not quite white colour of the render.

The entrance sequence is most spectacular despite the clean lines of the building giving away much of the layout of the interior. The round stairwell dominating the middle of the elevation provides a surprisingly small and dark threshold to the atmospheric lobby. The masterly staircase curves its way overhead with such utter grace and elegance, I’d challenge anyone not to gasp at the beauty. The colour scheme inside gets transformed from the white exterior to more friendly beiges punctuated with flashes of bright red.  Martha Dorn’s stylised waves round carpets create pools of patter on the floor,  add to the overall chic look. A particular brilliant touch is the individually carpeted steps that avoid the visual uniformity of using a runner and retain the fast moving rhythm of the staircase. Like the best Art Deco entrances it gives off an air of unashamed luxury and sophistication. But the Midland also invites both the eye (with the ceiling medallion) and the foot (with the red velvet steps) to climb to the top and admire this energetic, almost kinetic  interior.

Having Eric Gill contributing the signature sea horses on the facade, the staircase roof medallion, a relief behind the reception desk and a map of seaside towns in the function room was a stroke of genius. They all have a sense of purpose and the erotic flair of the best of his work…most appropriate for an indulgent, luxurious hotel by the sea. The Eric Ravilious mural in the rotunda bar was recreated in 2013 and looks as light and feathery in texture as any of his paintings and watercolours.

We have to be grateful to Urban Splash and the Friends of the Midland Hotel who resurrected this important building, saved it from near demolition and brought back the glamour for all of us and future generations to enjoy. No wonder Coco Chanel spend a weekend there when it first opened in 1933. It is a shame that the regeneration of the immediate area on the side the hotel has been shelved after three rejections of the planning application. Let’s hope the council can find a way to bring back life to the immediate area of the central promenade. Which used to house an enormous outdoor pool and entertainments. With their removal now it’s surrounded by acres of bland grass.

The hotel’s website: http://englishlakes.co.uk/hotels/lancashire-hotels/the-midland-hotel-morecambe/

My Flick photo set can be viewed on this link, as the code I used for an embedded slideshow was broken by WordPress (cheers): https://www.flickr.com/photos/georgios1978/sets/72157645264110052/

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Visit to Birmingham

28 May

Birmingham LibraryWent up to Birmingham for the CBSO’s excellent Rosenkavalier concert and made a long weekend out of it. A great time to explore the architecture and to spent time enjoying the city.

Took a series of photos of the new Library by Dutch firm Mecanoo which was much more impressive than it looks in shots I had seen previously.

The ample public areas and the book rotunda in the centre of the structure are welcoming. Thankfully the overtly fussy exterior detail (and gold paneling) doesn’t carry on inside too much. I am though skeptical of any new public buildings that are so heavily dependent on lifts and escalators to move visitors around. At least the two roof gardens are beautifully planted with herbs and perennials and allow great views of the city.

The big question mark when it comes to Birmingham is of course the fate of John Madin’s Central Library which is gradually being abandoned and being prepared for eventual demolition. The council spent £188 millions building then new library just a stone’s throw away from Madin’s revolutionary structure. If Birmingham wants to move into the future with statement structures of the likes of Future Systems’ Selfridges 2003 built store, they have to also acknowledge their built heritage already in existence. Not just protect Victorian structures but look back at the more recent past and protect what is important historically and what adds to the vibrancy and variety of the urban experience.

One of the 1970s survivors that  is protected, the beautifully proportioned Alpha Tower is under new ownership and it is newly painted and having investment order to make it a destination office block for design conscious tenants. I took a few shots from the base of the tower and also from my hotel room at the Hyatt hotel from the 21st floor, hoping this landmark tower by Richard Seifert and Partners, one of the great office builders of post war Britain.


Visit to the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh – 24 March 2014

26 Mar

Parliament sideOne of those visits I have been putting off for years. The Enric Miralles design has always been in my head a muddled failure, a confused, over-ornamented building. Having now visited it I still think the external treatment of the façades is too fragmented and the mix of materials, despite being symbolic, over-complicates what could have been a much cleaner look.

This muddle becomes most obvious on the staircase leading up to the debating chamber. Within a 20 metre run the surface underfoot alternates from concrete, to oak and granite a confusing sequence that add very little to the actual experience. One undeniable fact is the quality of the construction, the concrete surfaces are seductively well finished with a subtle sheen and a velvety touch. Especially the grand entrance hall with its almost medieval vaulted appearance has a sense of pleasing solidity and the quirky angled skylights bring in the sun in unexpected ways.

The debating chamber itself is a wonderful space to sit in. Warm, welcoming and open. The view of Holyrood Palace and the surrounding hills at unconventional angles becomes a fascinating play of light and creates a connection with the outside world unlike most parliament buildings that are hermetically sealed. It is also fascinating that the busy roof structure, heavily rigged with lights, speakers and monitors ensures the constant streaming of the proceedings go out in the best possible quality, with each MP having three spotlights pointed at them at all times. Democracy in action is now a game that is livestreamed online.

The external landscaping hugs the contours of the site with great elegance but judging by the bare patches of the grassed-up banks, the users of the space like to cut across the long walkways which look great in CAD but are not that user-friendly when one is in a rush or walking their dog. I am also not a fan of pools of water in such a northern climate, architects fall in love with reflecting their ego aka buildings in water, not taking into account the implications for maintenance and location.

If you are in Edinburgh and like modern architecture it is well worth a visit. Miralles provided a building of distinction if a little bit too indebted to a language of post modern ornament and quoting too directly natural forms that many may find gimmicky.

 

Visit to the Riverside Museum, Glasgow – 21 March 2014

22 Mar

ZahaManaged to visit for the first time Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum and I can declare that was less underwhelmed than I thought I would be. The way the building reads from afar is not particularly alluring or that sleek looking (the metal skin looks far too patchy from the distance, while strangely looking much more unified at close inspection) but Hadid’s references to the curvature of the river and the nearby warehouses comes through and despite the strange choice of a pistachio green colour for the interior of the roof, the building feels welcoming and spacious.

The displays tend to jar from two styles, the old fashioned “period street” look full of recreated shops to the over-designed motorbike and car displays that scale the walls. The most satisfying aspect are the shop-like parade of fairly standard looking rooms for individual modes of transport and eras. Particularly good examples are one on the 1950s and one on Glasgow’s cinema boom in the 1930s. The bright green portals hiding both the doors for when the displays are being swapped and also create a bright visual rhythm across that parade. A quirky addition is the model ship conveyor belt on the top floor adding movement and visual interest.

Hadid’s staircase to the upper floor is also very successful in harnessing the angular language of the building with a post modernist twist. Again the choice of that green is unfortunate and verging on the quirky.

But I was very surprised to see that the inset architectural lighting is made out of neon tubes. A very expensive and difficult to look after medium, as proven by the over ten tubes that were not functioning just three years after the opening. Let’s hope Glasgow Museums will have the deep pockets to look after this star-architect product and hopefully help the regeneration of the surrounding area.

More information

The home page of the museum

Information on the project on Zaha Hadid’s office website

The South Bank Centre clips its Festival Wing

5 Feb

SBC Wing ClippedWaking up to this admission of defeat by the South Bank Centre in a statement by their Chairman which you can read in full here.

For once it seems the pressure on the future election fate of Boris Johnson made him essentially freeze the scheme with his statement to support the skaters and making it clear that he would go against the planning proposals if he had to. You can read his statement from January 15th here.

Having been to the scant exhibition of the Festival Wing that was organised at the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall I was left unimpressed by both the architecture that looked bulky and far too dependant on eternal CAD sunshine to not look like it was engulfing the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Most of it would have been funded with a pre-crash economics model that assumed that the more chain restaurants and shops you built the more money you make. We all know where that got us in other parts of the economy…absolutely nowhere.

So on the back of this irritating PR bonanza, best exemplified by the brain-dead tweets of the “Soutbank for all” account, scroll at your leisure and have a laugh: https://twitter.com/southbankforall I am delighted that the organised fight of the skaters and the wider arts community in London has had this effect. The SBC plans were not radical in any way, they just planned dull architecture on top of the pre-existing structures. What is really needed is a proper rationalisation of the buildings on the site. The Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery are the only two buildings of merit, with most later additions made as need and money permitted and are either dysfunctional or in need of radical rethinking/reconstruction.

Let’s hope the management will properly listen next time and not try to white-wash the opposition by using pseudo inclusivity slogans and cute displays full of cheery coloured lego bricks and empty pads to jot down ideas. The reality was, that they presented a finished plan and they accepted no feedback on a project that would have changed this major arts complex to a major degree. 

Let’s wait and see what their rethink results into…

Visit to Liverpool’s St George’s Hall – 11 August 2013

14 Aug

Last Sunday morning had the chance to visit St George’s Hall in Liverpool. The severe neoclassical exterior does not quite prepare one for the ornamented and over the top Roman inspired interior.

Designed by the relatively unknown Harvey Lonsdale Elmes who won the competition in 1839, he died before the completion of the building in 1854, most of the interior decoration and detailing was completed by his celebrated peer Charles Robert Cockerell. The overall feel of the building is of opulence and grandeur, civic pride taken to Victorian lengths but in much more palatable taste than your average city hall.

Confusingly the complex contains courtrooms and cells alongside a splendid small concert hall and the main hall itself. The recent restoration has left it in great shape and hope you enjoy the photographs which were taken during the guided tour so a bit rushed and maybe not quite as sharp, they hopefully relay the feel of the space and some of the details that add to a very impressive ensemble. Surely one of the most important examples of 19th century Greek Revival architecture in the UK  to rival anything built in Bath and Edinburgh.

The notable Minton floor made up of over 30.000 tiles is only revealed for two weeks a year and it coincided with our visit which was fortuitous. Enjoy the shots.

The website of the Hall

Wikipedia entry for the building

Visit to Victor Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee, County Durham.

5 Jun

PeterleeLast month while on holiday in Northumberland we thought it would be a good idea to stop at Peterlee on the way down. Have known the Pavilion from photographs over the years and have read many articles on its precipitous state of preservation and near demolition. After it was finally listed in 2011 it is safe for the future but what really surprised me was the suburban context of the work.

It was made as a public sculpture part of the town planning masterplan of Peterlee new town but it now resides in a sea of dark brick housing of dubious merit or state of preservation/alteration. I can imagine the artistic spacing of the housing units must look gorgeous on a planning map but in reality it is a large swathe of featureless suburbia in the dull garden suburb model.

The Pavilion derives from Pasmore’s reliefs and his biomorphic paintings  who were the height of Modernist chic at the time. It can be interpreted as a three-dimensional sculpture and a bridge across a pebble shored lake. It may even earn the odd title of a Modernist folly.
Driving into the rather grubby social housing enclave that is the home of the structure was not my idea of an abstract art pilgrimage but that is what happens with time and when the ideals of a generation have been altered by socio-economic reality.  The pavilion looks like a marooned survivor of a past that did not fulfil its destiny, the surrounding housing altered over the intervening years  does not complement the structure as envisaged but largely crowds it. Like most 1960s concrete buildings in the UK it seems to be preserved despite its sorry fortunes and local opposition  but is also a time warp moment to an era of ambition and the immediate afterglow of the moon landings.
Living in Croydon, I daily go past Lunar and Apollo Houses and admire those vestiges of late 1960s town planning that used Modernism as a metaphor for progress and embraced new construction methods and sculptural forms in large-scale compositions.
Enjoy the slideshow of my shots and allow me to celebrate this utopian structure that defies categorisation.

The website of the Pavilion

Visit to Cragside – 19 May 2013

20 May

8754610221_23d7f057f9_hSince we ended up as far north in England as possible, this Northumberland holiday led us to visit Cragside. The home of the 19thC industrialist and inventor William Armstrong. The location is definitely in line with ideas of the sublime creating ideal conditions for an impressive residence. The 900 acres of grounds are the home to a gorgeous iron bridge and three lakes that provided hydroelectric power to the house from the late 1860s. It would make a great backdrop for a peripatetic production of Lucia di Lammermoor.
Enjoy the slideshow.

Visit to NT Ickworth / 1 April 2013

6 Apr

On Monday visited for the first time Ickworth, as stately as a Georgian pile gets. Unfortunately I only had a compact camera with me, so apologies for the lack of sharpness in quite a few images but hope you will enjoy them regardless. Unusually for a National Trust property it has a number of really good quality artworks, including by Velasquez, Batoni, Gainsborough, Zoffany, Reynolds and Titian. The most impressive has to be John Flaxman’s The Fury of Athamas (1790-94) a great example of his monumental figure groups that he was so admired for. The Italianate gardens are also beautiful and possibly the earliest survivor of its type in Britain, they frame the Rotunda in the most exquisite fashion.

More information on the house: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ickworth/

Coventry’s Modernist Jewel

29 May

coventry
Having admired Basil Spence’s architecture for years and only last Thursday had the chance to see in the flesh Coventry Cathedral, his masterpiece. It was a truly stunning experience. Nothing could have prepared me for the volumetric variations, the quality of the finishes and the brilliant clarity of the design.

Coventry Cathedral was a most controversial project that kept Spence redesigning the overall look but also numerous of the details in the decades it took to realise the building. The finished article does not read at all tortured or unresolved. The very feel of the nave is a perfect blend of old fashioned monumentality but in detailed high quality modernist finish. In many ways it reminds me (most obviously the columns supporting the roof) of Arne Jacobsen’s St Catherine’s College, Oxford dining hall with it’s uninterrupted volume and meticulous finishes.

Coventry’s Cathedral is an enthralling, exhilarating space, the feeling of discovering the chapels and their very creative interplay with natural light is an intriguing blend of a Sci-Fi film set fused with constructivist utopias and  an architect’s grand vision. The inherent processional movement of the visitors through the body of the building is acknowledged with intriguing contrasts and revealing unexpected vistas. The way the side bays contain the colourful stained glass windows reveal themselves as one walks from the altar down the naive is both elegant and ultimately thoughtful, as when one sits on the chairs for a service or a concert the eye focuses on the altar as the angle of the windows makes them nearly invisible. Thus allowing the audience to be concentrated.

The much reviled Graham Sutherland tapestry taking over the end wall is truly spectacular in scope and a great piece of decoration in the most grand tradition. Spence’s beautiful dual aspect windows lighting it up, animate the surface and also provide with gorgeous pure white light to make the green background shine. They are allowing for a dramatic contrast with the diffused light in the rest of the nave. Photographs do not do justice to the subtle textural differences between materials and the quality of light, comfortable feel and the overall scale of the building.

All the lucky people present for the 50th anniversary performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem are in for a great treat, the acoustic will surely envelop them and pay tribute to the idealism and sense of purpose that made it happen.

PS Due to posting this from my mobile connection and without 3G the photographs I took there will not be online till the end of the week. They will hopefully communicate some of the complexity and cohesion of the design and how it all fits together.

Update

You can now view the slideshow of the photos I took during the visit to the Cathedral

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