Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Architecture
You can tell that the bridge is Blackfriars Bridge because it has that written on it.
And then, moments later, I photoed someone else with the same combination of ideas:
Both photoed at that magic hour in the evening when everything is lit like it’s in a movie and when pictures on other people’s cameras show up in my pictures . Movie people call this magic hour “Magic Hour”, or so said a book I read a while back called Magic Hour.
Take a train from … anywhere, into Waterloo. Exit your train, and go through the barriers. Turn right in the big concourse and carry on walking until you have gone as far as you can go, and you get to an exit. Step outside. You are in “Station Approach”:
I’ve messed with the visuals there, to make “Station Approach” readable.
You are wisely prevented by some railings from stepping out into Station Approach itself and being run down by a taxi. But turn right out of the exit, and make your way a few dozen yards along the narrow pavement, to the point in Station Approach where you can cross the road, to some steps that lead down into “Spur Road”. (The steps are right next to the S of Spur Road, in the image above.) But, don’t go down these steps. Stay at the top of the steps and enjoy the view.
To the far left, you can see the Walkie Talkie. To the far right, the Spray Can. Between them is the sprawl of south-of-the-river London.
It’s one of my favourite London panoramas, if only because everyone else who ever sets foot in this place is either in a hurry to get somewhere else, or in a hurry to catch a train. Nobody talks about this view, the way they do of the view from such places as Parliament Hill or the top of some of London’s big or even not so big buildings
What stops this view being talked up as a “view” is the prominence of all the foreground clutter. In the background, there are Big Things to be observed, but they do not tower over the foreground. If anything, the foreground clutter dominates them. Even the Shard is an almost diffident, even sometimes (depending on the light) spectral presence rather than a “tower”. Recently there was a TV documentary about the Tower of London, and the impact of it and the Shard, each in and on their time, was compared. The message was that the Tower then was like the Shard now. But these two buildings could hardly be more different. The Tower then was telling London then that the Tower was the boss. The Shard now politely concedes to London now that London is the boss.
And of course I love this view, because I love London’s clutter, especially roof clutter, and I love it when Big Things can be seen between and beyond the clutter, without necessarily dominating:
Those shots were all taken within moments of one another, just over a week ago, on a sunny afternoon, the same sunny afternoon I took this.
Stations are great linear photo-opportunities. This is because railway tracks have to be pretty much dead level. If the lie of the land is high, the tracks have to be lower, and if the lie of the land is low, the tracks have to be higher, which is also convenient because it enables the railway to jump over the roads on bridges and viaducts rather than compete with them at such things as level crossings. This causes the platforms of many a station to be at roof level rather than at ground level.
Level crossings will get road traffic across a mere double track out in the country, but are hopeless for getting past the tracks out of Waterloo, one of the world’s busiest railway stations. The traffic would wait for ever. So, bridges and viaducts it is, and that means that Waterloo Station itself is dragged up to regular London roof level. So even if you can’t see anything from Waterloo Station itself, you can from just outside it. You can from Station Approach. Well, I can, because I want to.
No not taken by me. I wish. The original and several others of the same guy that are equally fun, here.
I chose that one because, in addition to showing the artist and his murals, it also shows what a fight reinforced concrete puts up, when someone tries to destroy it. (A point also made, with an illustration (yes taken by me) in this earlier posting.)
Until very recently, Centre Point, the Big Thing at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, used to look like this, and quite soon, it will presumably look very much like that again. Just rather cleaner.
But, for the time being, Centre Point is looking like this:
The crane is there because at the bottom of Centre Point there is a frenzy of Cross Rail and London Underground station building activity.
Another 20th of the month another evening at Christian Michel’s, and another walk from Earls Court tube to his place in the Cromwell Road. It’s a quite short walk, but long enough for me to take photos. Photography is light, and there was a lot of light, pouring down from the sun, uninterrupted by clouds:
These snaps look pretty average in the above small size, but if you click on them, they get bigger and better.
The tree and its shadow I saw from within Earls Court tube, in a street not on the regular route, but I just had to immortalise it, and that got me looking for other things to photo. I include the very thin buildings, top right, because I like such thin buildings of this sort. I include the chimney with the satellite receivers, bottom right, because I especially like how light falls at an angle on bricks. And I like the blue sky, bottom left, which illustrates that the way to persuade a digital camera to make a sky really blue is to stick a very brightly lit building next to it. In the thin buildings picture there is quite a lot of darkness, which is why the sky came out not so blue. Ditto the chimney, again rather dark.
See also, between me and the very blue sky, bottom left: wires! But these are not the regular and invisible sort of street wires. These are wires that you are supposed to see, because they were put there deliberately, to look good by lighting up in the dark.
Today was the second consecutive day of fabulous weather in London, which meant I was out and about for the second day running (having been out and about on Sunday also), and when I got home I was well (C21 for extremely, or so I assume) knackered. There were also other dramas happening throughout this time to be attended to, which I will perhaps mention in some future posting. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with this picture, taken by me late this afternoon:
That’s a conventional enough shot of the Shard, taken from Blackfriars road bridge, over Blackfriars railway (and railway station) bridge. You can see the ziggy zaggy roof of the railway station there. But, instead of photoing the Shard, I shifted a bit to the right, to take in Guy’s Hospital tower and part of the Tate Modern tower, and to omit the Shard.
I love it when the sun lights up a building and turns the sky behind it bizarrely dark. Even Guy’s Hospital tower looks good in light like that. It looks here like you could melt it down and end the financial crisis at a stroke. Well, the financial crisis of whoever did the melting.
I’ll try to do better tomorrow. Or, then again, maybe I won’t. I promise nothing.
It’s the BT Tower, reflected in that big shiny building known catchily as 250 Euston Road, photoed last Friday, from outside Warren Street tube station. Who says modern architecture is faceless?
I say it looks like an ancient carved god, but I can’t find, on the internet, any image that confirms this similarity which I know that I see, or remember. Anyone? The last time I said that, yesterday, in the previous posting here, I got the answer straight away.
Presumably “Paris” doesn’t include La Défense, which is out on the edge of Paris. Those Big Things are very big indeed. What they’re talking about here is building Big Things in the centre of Paris.
And the thing is, this Thing not very tall at all:
In London, this sort of thing would hardly be noticed.
But the fact that this new Thing is not that big is deliberate.
“This project is not a high-rise, but embodies a shift in attitude, and this gradual increase marks a willingness to reconsider the potential of height and will change the city landscape little by little,” said the architects.
They know that if they are to get any new truly Big Things anywhere near the centre of Paris, the first step is to make some things that are not Big, but just a tiny bit bigger. First you get the opposition to concede the principle, with something that doesn’t arouse huge opposition. Then you gradually increase the heights, until finally you get your Big Things, and the opposition unites too late. And by then it’s too small, because lots of people actually like the new Big Things. This is how politics is done. And this is politics.
The last, and so far only new and truly Big Thing anywhere near the middle of Paris (other than the Eiffel Tower) is the Montparnasse Tower, which was completed in 1973. Compared to almost everything else in central Paris, before or since, the Montparnasse Tower is very tall indeed. It aroused a lot of opposition by embodying such an abrupt, even contemptuous, change of Paris skyscraper policy, and judging by what happened for the next forty years, that opposition was very successful. This time around, those who want Big Parisian Things are going about it more carefully, as the above quote shows.
Speaking of politics, who is that geezer in the picture, in the picture? A politician, I’ll bet.
I am working on a quite big and unwieldy architecture posting just now, but this probably won’t be ready to go any time today, or even soon, so I’ll instead write a little essay on a related matter. Which is: Why I feel more comfortable writing about architecture, of the contemporary and hence controversial sort, than I do about contemporary interior design. The contrast between how fascinated I am by the architectural stuff (this is the posting that got me going with the architectural posting that I am now working on) at one of my favourite internet sites, Dezeen, and the indifference I feel concerning Dezeenery about interior matters, is becoming ever more extreme. I mean, designer X has designed a chair. And what does it look like? It looks like a chair. Hoo ray.
It’s not that I dislike or oppose interior design. It’s just that I feel that what I feel about it, or for that matter what anybody else feels about it, is of no public significance. We can all just pick whatever interior designs and objects appeal to us, and let others do the same. Interior design is not a political problem. There is therefore nothing vitally important to be said about it. Why argue, when there is no need to argue?
If you are one of those people who likes to tease out why you feel the way you do, about everything in general and interior design in particular, fine. Blog away about wallpaper, tea kettles, tables, chairs, standard lamps, stoves and suchlike, all you like. You’ll surely find plenty of readers, probably a great many more than I have. You certainly will if you specialise, as I do not. I write about such things myself, from time to time, when the mood takes me.
But on the whole, it tends not to. When the answer the question is: each to his own, and when that answer basically takes care of it, I generally don’t feel like adding very much.
You could say that this mood, of insignificant self-scrutiny, is upon me right now. After all, who cares what I put on my blog? If you don’t like it, don’t read it, problem solved. Choosing a blog to read is like choosing a chair. Nobody else need be consulted, or imposed upon.
But architecture is different. We can’t each step outside into a city like London and each have exactly the London that we want. If I am to have those new Big Things that I like so much, you also have to put up with them, even if you hate them. It therefore feels right to me to be explaining, to the entire world (even if most of the world pays no attention), just what it is about these Big Things that I like so much. It makes sense for me to say (even if I haven’t done much of this lately) why I came to hate most modernistical architecture when I was in my twenties, and why I think that modernistical architecture has improved so very, very much since that time, at any rate in the places I mostly walk about in and see in photos.
For the same reason, it also makes sense, to me, for me to be celebrating roof clutter, cranes, this or that piece of public or semi-public sculpture, these or those public signs. It is because these are public issues. Political issues, even. Definitely political, in the case of those signs I just linked to. Things like these have positive (mostly, in my case) or negative (perhaps in yours) externalities attached to them.
Actually, it is most unlikely that you hate all the publicly obtrusive things that I love, because you wouldn’t want to be reading such opinions, day after day. But, you get my point.
Another day another Dezeen posting, about some modernistical architecture, surrounded by The Wires:
But this time around, guess what. Do I believe my eyes. I must. For what they are telling me is that, in among this posting’s accommpanying verbiage, is to be found … this:
The gridded monochrome glass facade that wraps around the upper levels was conceived as a contrast to the “chaotic” urban area and criss-crossing electrical wires that surround the site, and features one raised corner covered in dark-tinted glass.
Yes, those “criss-crossing electrical wires” are acknowledged to exist. Amazing.
The Wires are mentioned, because the architects themselves mention them:
“The area where the building is set is highly chaotic in terms of architectural typologies, textures and colours, so it was therefore chosen to generate a building that would constitute itself as the order within the neighbourhood’s chaos,” explained the architects.
This is architect speak for:
We are going to build the exact same modernistical erection that we would have built had The Wires not been there. Screw The Wires! Yes, The Wires are there. But we will build as if The Wires were not there. The Wires have no power over us! The Wires, we spit on you with our modernism!
That’s the spirit. Unless it isn’t, and they actually only noticed The Wires after they had built the thing.
The point is, whether they see The Wires or they ignore The Wires, The Wires make no difference!
Yesterday morning from first thing to about midday, I had a nosebleed, caused by my lurgy, a lurgy which is lasting for ever. During this lurgy, I have had several nosebleeds (having never had a nosebleed in my life before), yesterday’s being by far the worst, and it cannot be coincidence.
Since then, I have been recovering my wits, such as they are, and am accordingly now in quota photo mode. And here are today’s quota photos, all of them of the Big Olympic Thing, designed by the man who also did the Chicago Bean, Anish Kapoor:
The photo on the left was taken in March 2012, from the Victoria Docks area, looking north, and the one of the right was taken looking south from Walthamstow. The one on the right (with all its excellent roof clutter in the foreground) being an example of a common thing at this blog, namely a good photograph, taken badly. (The one on the left, though I say it myself, is a really quite good photograph, taken really quite well.)
Trouble is, whenever I do one of these postings about some Thing, which I have a nice photo of to show you, I then go trawling through the archives looking for more photos of the same Thing. Here are two more pictures of this Big Olympic Thing, this time with foliage in the foreground:
The one on the left of those two, behind the trees was taken from Stave Hill, looking east (guess). And the one on the right was taken from the big road just this side of the Victoria Docks. These two photos were (left) taken in August of last year, and (right) in 2012 (about week after the sunset photo above).
The most recent of these four photos, the only one taken with my latest and undoubtedly my best camera, is by far the worst, technically. This is because, for that photo to work, the light had to be very good, but it was not. A less good camera with perfect light trumps a better camera with poor light, for me, usually, given the sort of outdoorsy, long-distancy photos that I generally like to take. I’m hoping my lurgy goes away soon enough for me to take advantage of this summer, and all its light.
As you can surely tell, I consider the Big Olympic Thing to be a fine contribution to London. It is not beautiful, exactly, but it is extremely recognisable. Every time I happen to see it in the distance, I immediately know what it is, and it lifts my spirits.
One of my favourite buildings that I’ve never seen is the recently completed (quite recently completed - 2008) Oslo Opera House, which looks like this:
Sooner or later, some big public building was bound to be built like this, with a roof that doubles up as a big public open space, where you can walk to the highest spot on the building’s roof, without once having to go indoors.
Oslo Opera has become a new landmark for the city and proved an instant success with both locals and tourists.
And of course, that roof doesn’t have to be the bland and featureless desert that this one is, in this picture. Sooner or later, it will acquire roof clutter! Perhaps it already has.
As entire cities compete with one another for tourists, buildings like this, with walkabout roofs, will surely become ever more common, as ever more tourists search, as I search, for places up in the sky from which to take tourist snaps. It is no accident that I found the above picture and quote at a site called Visit Norway. (Although sadly, this Visit Norway site fucks with the links and causes them not to work, and these fucked links also fuck with subsequent links which are none of Visit Norway’s damn business. This caused me major problems, until I just stripped out all Visit Norway linkage, at which point sanity was restored. So if you care, you’ll have to find the damn place for yourself. I think Visit Norway was trying to help. It failed. Norway, sort this out.)
Even as I praise this building, I make no judgement about what goes on inside it. The point of these “iconic” buildings - horizontal Big Things - you might say, is that they are fun to visit, regardless of their mere indoor contents. See also: Tate Modern. After all, one of the advantages of a roof like this is that the roof can be enjoyed even as the inside of the building can be entirely ignored.
What got me writing about this Oslo building was a recent posting at Dezeen, featuring another proposed building by the same architects, Snohetta (which has a forward slash through the “o") which uses the same trick, of people being able to walk up to the top in a big zig zag. This time it is a museum in Budapest:
And oh look, I went to the Sn o-with-forward-slash hetta website, and here is another Snohetta proposal, using the same trick, for another opera house, this time in Busan, South Korea:
With the design of the Busan Opera, the opera is no longer a passive playground for the elite but becomes interactive, democratic space, responding to the public’s ambitions and interests.
This is architect speak for:
People can walk about on the roof and take photos without having to sit through some stupid damn opera.
And oh look, again. Snohetta have also proposed that a new media centre in Vienna should look like this:
Look again, and you encounter the Barack Obama Presidential Center:
These last two are not so zig zag, but the principle is the same.
London awaits you, Snohettans.
Three exclamation marks in the title there, because this is the third time I’ve had cause to mention this strange habit, of writing about newly designed houses (in this case a newly adapted house) where there are lots of Wires in all the outside pictures, but The Wires never get a mention.
But at least, what with this house being yellow instead of white, we see an architect thinking in colour. Soon, soon I tell you, the floodgates of architectural colour will open.
I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th. Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:
Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context. I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates. In there I see things like Darth Vader. And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there. Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments. Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.
But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting. If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better. As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly. I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there? No he did not.
But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary. Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it. A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose. It would dilute your brand. Anyone could have done that. There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that? Come to that, who the hell is he? So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:
The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.
Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all. The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.
Another of those pictures from the archives that gets better with age. Can you see why?
Well, let me tell you. In the foreground (perhaps that should be “forewater") is the Thames Barrier, looking as it always did, and looking as it does now. But right in the middle, in the distance there, between the two nearer buildings, is the Shard. But not the Shard as we know it. The Shard when it was big enough to be hugely impressive, but when it was still under construction.
Taken in January 2011.