Tag Archives: architecture

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/

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 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/

Pall Mall Farnese / Visit to the Reform Club / Open House, London – 18 September 2011

21 Sep

This year I managed to not be at work during both days of Open House. So instead of opting for the queuing option we booked a guided tour around The Reform Club on Pall Mall. The reputation of the architectural quality and attention to detail by Charles Barry was a huge draw. It has to be noted the efficiency of the secretary who sent me the application form in 5 minutes after my email inquiry.

We arrived outside this handsome English version of the Palazzo Farnese with it’s wonderful grey honed stone facade adorned by neoclassical torchiere lamps in a dark racing green colour and matching glazed lanterns. A most refined and quiet appearance, yet imposing and characterful.

On arrival the shimmering light from the chandelier at the entrance hall and the natural light from the glazed roof of the Saloon gives a feeling of quiet reflection and yet airiness. The red colour of the walls with Barry’s simulated marble columns creates an interior in the Roman villa idiom but with a coffered bevelled glazed ceiling that glints at the bystander and refracts autumnal sunshine to all corners of this magnificent space.

We were asked to join the rest of our tour group (around twenty people in all) in the Morning Room, a book lined room at the western part of the building, all crimson walls and oxblood club leather chairs and sofas. A bust of Winston Churchill (repatriated from its long loan in the White House’s Oval Office) with in mouth cigar looks on at the proceedings. Here again a main brass light provides the ambient light with the addition of beige velvet shaded reading wall lights adorning every corner around the room and with a signature trio of mirrors at one end reflecting the glamorous surroundings and adding a hint of glamour.

Two members met us and gave us a potted history of the Whig party who built this splendid club house as its HQ. We proceeded to the Saloon with it’s magnificent glazed ceiling still covered with a very fine veil of scaffolding fabric and of course the obligatory full height access scaffold towers and strip lights, there to assist the conservators in their work in renovating the paintwork in this Grade I listed building. This is the beating heart of the Club, in the early days it would have been the location of most fervent debates and discussions, an ancient agora in the middle of the scheme. The mosaic floor, affectionately know as the pavement is featuring a horticulture inspired motif on a white background…surely the findings in Pompei and ancient Crete and Thera must have informed the choice of floor covering.

The most impressive part of the tour was the ascend of the main staircase to the Gallery overlooking the Saloon. The clever use of the mirrors gives the limited amount of light place to bounce and creates a sense of compression, much needed after the openness of the Saloon. The gold light catching all the gilded moldings and the read leather covered handrail adds a sense of occasion and luxury. It may sound silly but staircases for me is where the real genius of architects is evident. This main staircase is stunning and contains the right volume to give one a sense of thrill while walking through but on the other hand in the right scale to not feel vast. After all, good neo-classical architecture is one with human proportions, not the sterile reproduction of Greek temples.

The Gallery is furnished with cabinets for different displays of artifacts from the archive and also tables for reading materials alongside the tables and the obligatory oxblood leather chairs for the serving of afternoon tea (as it was suggested by the member that guided us). That close to the luminous ceiling that Barry provided is a joy in a sunny day as the beveled edges of each rhomboid piece of glass disperses the light to all directions. The beautiful brass table lights with their deep yellow opaque shades add to the luminosity of the space and create a great foil for the abundant guilded details on the ceiling and picture frames.

From there we had a walkabout of the Library with it’s wonderfully in relief gilded ceiling. The whole room painted a very dark ochre with a considerable patina that made it look comfortable and brought out any gilding to more prominence. Again the accent colour of the scheme was red velvet for the furniture and some of Barry’s mahogany side tables scattered across the room. This is used for the special events and when we visited was set up for a Jazz concert the following day. I’d call the atmosphere of the room as comfortable luxury.

We had a look at the Committee Room which is again lined with maple bookcases and a blue colour palette. We also had a peek at the tiny Museum Room that had a white and gold colour scheme and sports a gorgeous flattened domed ceiling almost reminiscent of Soane’s signature motif. Another fun room was the strikingly intimate Writing Room, a smallish room with one end covered in bookcases and four desks for members to correspond from. Painted a bright blue with lovely views of the garden. Apparently a number of authors have used the room as a quiet haven to write and think, amongst them Thackeray.

For me the most beautiful room on the upper floor was the Smoking Room, which had electrical work done, so we only had a quick peek. It looks like an amalgamation of the Morning Room and the Library. Dark brown leather furniture creating striking silhouettes against the dark grey/blue walls. Three brass lights were cascading from the ceiling, those were possibly the most intricate of any fittings in the Club. Barry designed all fixtures and when the Club opened it was lit by oil and then it moved on to gas and finally electrified at the turn of the century. Some of them resemble ancient Greek oil lamps (reflecting their original function) an interesting touch by Barry and a knowing wink at the past and his educated patrons.

The tour concluded with returning to the main floor and visiting the Strangers Dining Room which was originally used as the room for receiving non members and dining with them. As times have changed now is the cheaper, buffet based restaurant for the members. The room is decorated in a bright almost velvety red with wonderful crystal and brass lights, featuring a backlit cut crystal bowl shaped end piece, illuminating the table below with a defused warm glow. One of the notable portraits in this room is of Alexis Soyer the original cook of the Club and the man who co-designed the famous and much imitated kitchens in the basement. He was in a way the original celebrity chef that innovated in techniques and came up with ingenious contraptions to help improve the food offered by soup kitchens for the poor. His ‘magic stove’ was taken up by the army and used for over a century. A posh chef with social conscience, how contemporary to our times and the cult of Jamie Oliver!

It was a shame that we did not have the chance to see the famous kitchens by Soyer, but the tour was wonderful and thanks to the funny, off the cuff delivery of the tour by the two members was hugely enjoyable.  That was my first ever visit to a gentlemen’s club and was terribly impressed by the staff (they greeted me on the way out by name) and the members we met. Everyone surely had a great deal of warmth for the building and its history. The high quality of the architecture and coherence more than justified its reputation as Charles Barry’s masterpiece. If you have the chance do go on a tour (or of course know a member that can invite you) or next year’s Open House go for it!

Arne Jacobsen in Oxford

13 Jun

After some planning I managed yesterday to visit St Catherine’s College in Oxford. A rarity in the UK of an accomplished major European architect that was allowed to materialise his grand plan without making too many concessions that would affect the purity of the design.

Jacobsen is a very particular kind of architect, he was precise, but at the same time his projects exude humanity and warmth. One aspect that makes his lighting and chair designs enduring classics. His touch is light but the aesthetic is ascetic and decidedly Nordic.

Walking into his campus is a quiet affair, no distracting details no extraneous detailing, just a simple bridged passage over the full length pond that is in typology a moat. All that surrounds the visitor is glass, yellow brick and the light flooding though from the end of the vista. Have been familiar with St Catherine’s from photographs but to actually move around it is such a wonderful experience. His architecture is solemn (I’d avoid calling it severe) and has gravitas but at every turn the landscaping brings a smile to the walker. Some roses hidden behind one of his low ordered walls that support the functional benches, the clipped yew that makes up imaginary walkways and is itself part covered by a floating glass roof are delightful. The scheme just feels extremely considered and mature. A piece of architecture for the senses and for contemplation. The positioning and spatial organisation of the campus is possibly the most interesting contribution and is indeed the underlying genius of Jacobsen. But the careful detailing, with some wonderful fixtures elevates this project to the extraordinary, a true Modernist triumph.

Walking into the lobby before entering the Dining Hall is a revelation, a low glazed lobby with skylights illuminating some plants against the end wall and an unassuming oak door with a signature brass handle (if you have seen Arne handles you’ll know them and all they wavy, almost liquid elegance). When the door opens the space of the Hall is almost overwhelming. Any other architect would have gone overboard and create a hangar like space. This space is surely large but it still remains curiously human in scale. An interesting junction of monumentality and domesticity. The quirkily green stone floor complements the cruciform pale cast concrete columns, the trees are brought in from the l shaped openings of the side windows, which are high enough to give the Hall an air of privacy and seclusion. If I had to describe the feel it would be very close to Byzantine monastic refectories, a sense of stillness pervades. The room is suitably finished by Tom Phillips’ tapestries, which take their graphic theme from St Catherine of Alexandria and the moto of the College and the University’s. A later addition to the scheme that respects Arne’s limited palette but is bold enough to be impactful.

The way the blue tinted English daylight gets manipulated and softened in the space and the addition of warm tinted table lamps adds to the almost monastic intensity. It was a huge privilege being in the space with just only another three people, being able to soak in the atmosphere. Anyone that doesn’t have affection for high quality Modernism they should be taken there, I would be very surprised if they are not moved by the experience.

So I will surely spent the rest of the week in a state of reverie casting my mind back to Arne’s masterful and winning College. The kind of place to give confidence about the power of great architecture. Jacobsen never went for easy, fussy structures (that has been all the rage since the 80s) his approach is thoughtful, democratic and open. Dear reader if you think his genius ended with his Swan chairs and space age cutlery think again. He was a total designer (like Frank Lloyd Wright) and all aspects of the design are integrated and transparent. Amazing.

A huge thank you to Fiona and Tim  for making the visit possible.

A set of 164 photographs taken on our visit can be seen on Flickr

Beauty + commercialism and the De La Warr Pavilion

12 Feb
I am an architecture junkie at most times and surely an
important building like the De La Warr Pavilion is a visit to treasure.While visiting the shop it was clear to me that the
merchandise was aimed at the wrong people. They had commissioned quite a few
trendy designers to come up with products that are inspired by the architecture
and reflect back on it.

The main products was a plate and a canvas bag. Unfortunately
while I was browsing books in their shop for 15 mins at least 5 people gasped
at the prices of those two items
. The plate is being sold for £25 and the bag
for £14.50 (http://www.delawarrpavilion.com/shop/peoplewillalwaysneed.htm)
It then dawned on me that the merchandising was aspirational
(with a prominent Alvar Aalto and Iittala display) but it was not acknowledging
the local area and its people.
A large proportion of the population of Bexhill
is pensioners that aspire to retirement by the sea. I do not think that they
would have a large amount of disposable income to spend on merchandise and
surely the prospect of a £25 plate must seem extortionate. To my eyes the
selection in the shop was geared towards a very design conscious urbane
This instance raises the question to who runs artistic and
cultural centres around the UK
and how well they know their local area. I wonder how many members of the administrative
team of the Pavilion have grown up in the area or have resided for long enough
to know what the locals would want.
The Pavilion is a wonderful building that
is clearly very popular with the local community but it seems its
administration is out of touch when it comes to the commercial activities.

Listmaking madness and the seven wonders of the world

13 Jul


Oh dear we have all gone list crazy. From contacts lists to My Space/Facebook (so called) friends.When the media reported on a new list of the seven wonders of the world we all thought it was an interesting idea but the more one thinks about it the more “contemporary” the viewpoint is.

It clearly stems from the revisionist tendency of the new world (mainly the US) to take on historic conventions and spin them for their uneducated and largely thick audience. Clearly looking into  Herodotus and his reported descriptions (as the text itself has not survived) of the ancient seven wonders was not enough…we need to jazz it up with SMS voting! What a load of crap! On the website: http://www.new7wonders.com/index.php?id=633 four out of seven new wonders are indeed ancient monuments…pretty much in line with the original list in Ancient Greek literature. Clearly the ancient Greek list of: The Great Pyramid of Giza / The Hanging Gardens of Babylon / The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus/ The Statue of Zeus at Olympia / The Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus / The Colossus of Rhodes and The Lighthouse of Alexandria was not good enough any more! Or maybe all the idiots that read the tabloids have never read any ancient Greek texts!

The above website had insinuated that UNESCO had been involved with the project, which made me question their judgement. Thankfully UNESCO announced with a press release that they have not in any way collaborated on this commercial project. Check: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38482&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

UNESCO has its own list of World Heritage Sites: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list which is a list of sites of extreme significance to mankind and also a listing by them creates the basis for a conservation protocol for those sites. Which makes this much more valuable than most. Unfortunately a scholarly and researched list like this one does not provide good voxpops for the media. And in our current news reporting culture all reporting is aimed at rolling news channels that only like 2 minute reports with not insight. I do despair about all the stupidity that is surrounding us and that has made culture just another badly packaged product for the consumption of the masses. But organisations like UNESCO and ICOM give me a little hope that all is not lost to the draw of the blockbuster exhibition and the latest Monet to appear on tea towels!

‘The Tower’

4 Jul


Was watching the night before on BBC One ‘The Tower’

 And I was really interested in the premise of the programme, development and regeneration of squalid parts of London.

 Surely Deptford is one of the armpits of London but not so the residents of AragonTower that Lewisham Council was ousting.

The residents, even though in a Daily Mail kind of way I have expected to be abhorrent. But the only people that were shown to be truly awful were the developers, Council officials and estate agents that were in charge of the redevelopment. They seemed to be arrivistic non entities that had a very simplistic view of what constitutes redevelopment and regeneration. It seemed to them that as long as you get some so called ‘professionals’ to live in the tower block that would change the very constitution of the area. As a naive an attitude as the original policy that made possible for those horrible blocks to be built in the 70’s.

Back then the attitude was that if you make clean affordable housing that people on the Council’s housing list would love and cherish them and would feel for ever grateful that you took them out of the slums. As we know the reality was very different most council built tower blocks were filled with people that never chose to be there. Instead of a new community spirit all the residents experience was excrement in the elevators and overcrowding.

I suppose, this obvious housing disaster is acknowledged by the ease that Lewisham Council offloaded AragonTower to the developers. Thinking that if you get willing owners in the block all the problems of the area would go away. That very idea is what pushed the gentrification of huge enclaves of the capital…get the professionals and Starbucks in and push out all the unwanted trouble makers!

 The main problem of mass development is the lack of accountability and safety. What designers and developers forgot when they created those dreaded London tower blocks was that the basic principle for pedestrian (resident) safety is the road/walkways being overlooked by the residents. Jane Jacobs articulated the argument in 1961 in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities especially in the chapter entitled: The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety she explains that very basic principle: if a road is overlooked by the residents anti-social activity is more than halved as the offending party gets deterred at the prospect of any eye witnesses present.

Unfortunately that principle was not taken into account and most 1970’s blocks tend to have lots of internal or external corridors without any direct connection to the flats (or windows overlooking them). Nowadays councils are dotting CCTV cameras right left and centre trying to cover the inadequacies of the original design. Unfortunately the cameras do little to increase the sense of safety in the tower blocks.

High rise living can be very successful indeed as long as it takes into account the wishes of the residents and is encouraging interaction. Tower blocks, when designed with vision, can create diverse housing that offers a rich emotional and sensory experience. Such towers were some of the early examples in London like the TrellickTower which is a sought after address and has lots of proud residents. I do not think things will change soon enough though, as the developer is king and the need for profit is the main motivation.



A brief description of the programme on the BBC One website:


The review of the programme on The Guardian’s website:


The developers page about the AragonTower development:




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