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Category archive: Architecture

Thursday January 19 2017

I took the photo with this marriage proposal in it in March of 2009, in Sheffield.  All I thought I was photoing was a footbridge (I like footbridges) with graffiti on it.  Did I even clock it was a marriage proposal?  Maybe, but if so, I immediately forgot about it.

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Click on that, and you actually get a different picture, which shows two footbridges rather than just the one, which means I prefer it.  Two footbridges on top of each other is a bit strange.

Pictures are hard to google, or hard if you are me.  Can you now say to Google: “Show me all the pictures you have like this one”?  Maybe you can, but I can’t.  But words I can do.  And I just typed “clare middleton i love you …” (helpfully, the graffitist supplied a name) and google immediately got what I was on about, and, well, here‘s the story:

One spring day in 2001 a tall man walked into Sheffield’s Park Hill flats and along a street in the sky. He strode past the brutalist flanks, out on to the footbridge. He thought: this’ll do.

Jason didn’t look down; he gets vertigo and he was 13 storeys up. He leaned over in his yellow Puffa jacket and sprayed her name. “Clare” came out haphazardly and “Middleton” hit the ledge. He planned to take her to the Roxy on the facing hill, to show her. So now he began again, bigger, clearer: “I LOVE YOU WILL U MARRY ME”. It was his two-fingers-up at the social services office opposite. He scarpered. Seeing it, Grenville, one of the estate’s caretakers, said to the on-site office: “How are we going to get that off?”

They didn’t. The graffiti stayed, high above the city, while the city argued about what to do with the flats. Park Hill, the concrete estate behind the railway station, had become notorious. The city projected abandonment on to Park Hill, so the graffiti started to look like love yelling at the top of its voice in an estate thought to be desolate.

Soon it was also looking like PR. ...

It wasn’t a happy story, ever, and it had no happy ending.

Park Hill, Sheffield, is one of those famous bits of architecture that the architects go on and on about, but which the public hated, until such time as this public said to knock it all down, at which point it became clear that a different part of the public had grown quite fond of the thing.

One of the architects of Park Hill was a man called Ivor Smith, in whose office I worked, briefly, when I was trying to be an architect.  He was personally a hugely likeable man, with a delightful family who put up with me when I was at maximum unputupwithability.  But, his politics did not appeal to me, and those Park Hill buildings were all part of that.

Sunday January 15 2017

In the cold and muggy January of 2017, I and my aching limbs are spending a lot of time indoors.  And many of the photos I am looking at were taken long ago.

Here is one that I took in, if my (very first digital) camera is to be believed, March of 2000.  It also claims that it was taken at “01.31”, but I believe Big Ben:

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The obviously out of date thing about that picture is the big Le Corbusian slabs of the old Department of the Environment, about to the demolished and replaced by less obtrusive new offices and dwellings.

But for me what was startling about this photo and its companion photos that I took that day is how few of them there were.  In those far off times of limited SD card storage, the photos were far smaller, about a tenth of the size of the photos I take now.  And, on that journey in the Wheel, no less, a trip that would now see me hoovering up views of London near and far, guess how many photos there are, in the relevant directory.  Thirty nine.  Thirty nine!!!

London has indeed changed, quite a bit.  But digital photography has been transformed.

Also of interest is that among those few photos are photos of strangers, who were obviously happy to pose.  As were their children.  Not long after then, photos of other people’s children pretty much vanish from my archives.

Friday January 13 2017

Sport yet again.  And yes, I’ve still got plenty to tell you, in January, about one of my favourite days out last year, which was on November 28th, which I have already written about five times already.  There was the shining moment described in this, and the three earlier moments linked to from there.  And there was this next shining moment.  And now there is the Spurs Shop, which looks like this:

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Not very exciting, I think you will agree.  But the stuff inside, the sort of stuff I have never ever seen before gathered together in one place, was, for me anyway, a remarkable sight:

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So, what do we see there?

1.1: is a cardboard model of the old Spurs stadium, the one they are about to trash and replace, yours for £30, but you have to construct it.

1.2: Spurs clothes.  Lots of Spurs clothes.  Plus big Spurs slogans.

1.3: Spurs cards to tell your associates that this is your room.  Really.  Very blurry.  Only realised that this was what they were just now.

1.4: Spurs mugs.  It says everything about the state of the Premier League that I looked at this photo, and read Kane as “Car Nay”, like he’s from Africa.  Alli, like Kane, also plays for England.

2.1: More Spurs mugs, this time with the tasteless cartoon cock, rather than the tasteful and elegant proper one.  AIA is an Asian insurance company.

2.2: Spurs clocks.

2.3: Spurs wall stickers and, click and look on the right, Spurs flags.

2.4: Spurs luxury rugs.  (And more Spurs clothes.)

3.1: Spurs luggage tags.  And I don’t know what those yellow striped things on the right are, if you click on that.  Some kind of Spurs bags, I think,

3.2: Spurs 5M retractable dog leads and Spurs dog collars.  For actual Spurs supporter dogs, I mean.  Not Spurs-supporter priests.

3.3: Spurs doormats and Spurs thermometers.  Like a lot of the stuff in these pictures, I only noticed the Spurs thermometers now.

3.4: Spurs tea towels and Spurs trays.

4.1: Spurs fridge magnet pens.

4.2: Spurs jelly babies and Spurs “snowies”.  (Learn more about snowies here.)

4.3: Spurs white teddy bears.

4.4: Spurs flipflops.

5.1: Spurs footballs.  So Spurs supporters actually play this game?

5.2: Spurs scarves.

5.3: Spurs sterling silver earrings.

5.4: Spurs iPhone cases.

Out in the open, there were also Spurs cranes, although there was no price tag on any of them:

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No, not really.  Not Spurs cranes for sale, just Spurs cranes working away on constructing the new Spurs stadium.

Wednesday January 11 2017

This afternoon I read in the Evening Standard that Chelsea FC were hoping to get planning permission for a big new stadium, and sure enough, this evening, they got it.  I guess they’re all pretty happy there, what with Chelsea being top of the Premier League and all.  (Although, I can’t help mentioning their recent winning-streak ending loss by Spurs.)

Here’s how it is reckoned the new stadium will look (I found this picture here), from above, when it’s dark:

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The architects are Herzog de Meuron, the same firm that did the Tate Modern Extension.  And, they also did that amazing new opera house out in the estuary in Hamburg.  And hey, that opened today, according to that report.  Blog and learn.

But back to that Chelsea stadium, what strikes me, yet again, about this major eruption of architectural modernism is that while it is very modern, it is also very carefully crafted to fit the inevitably rather oddly shaped site.  Indeed, the architects make use of this odd shape to give their stadium its rather particular, asymmetrical shape, while nevertheless contriving an exact rectangle in the middle, in the manner required by the rules of football.  Form follows site plan.  That’s the way modern architecture is now done.

(It would seem that the exact same principle applied to the new Hamburg opera house also.  It was put on top of an “historic brick base”.  A brick base, I’m guessing, which was whatever shape it was, and could not be otherwise.)

And what also strikes me, yet again, is what a total nightmare it would have been to have attempted a design like this Chelsea stadium without computers to keep track of everything and handle all those asymmetrical shapes.

(The Hamburg opera house was plagued with delays and cost overruns and defects and took a famously long time to finish.  But that’s a different story.)

Sunday January 08 2017

Part of learning things is stuffing information into your brain.  But another equally important part is arranging and connecting and understanding all the information once it is inside your head.  And also: trying to understand why you stuffed all this particular information into your head in the first place.  What were you thinking?  What were you feeling?  Why the attraction to this particular information?

In those two latter respects, I found that the talk I gave last Friday at Christian Michel’s was particularly useful.  See here for a pre-report in what I talked about.  I didn’t read out everything in that posting last Friday, but I did read out all the questions in the email that I sent Christian before the meeting, in other words I read out the indented bit of that earlier posting.

As I went on to ramble about in that earlier posting, and as I also rambled about last Friday, I have been pondering the Modern Movement in Architecture ever since I was a teenager.  But last Friday evening I made some big steps forward in rearranging and organising how I think about it – and just as important how I have felt about it, what the attraction is, why I love it and love observing it and love photographing it, as much as I do.

In the word-processed file where this posting began life, there already follows the beginnings of a stream-of consciousness piece itemising a few of these steps forward.  But I don’t want to rush that out before it has been written properly.  In the meantime, I just want to assert my simple pleasure at what happened for me last Friday evening, without going into any detail.

Of particular value to me last Friday were some of the remarks from the floor, one in particular.  This told me nothing that I did not already know, by which I mean already agree with.  But what it did was place this particular observation into a different context.  Into a different part of my head, so to speak.  I found that particular moment especially helpful.

One obvious implication of my experience that I am willing to write about here immediately is that my happy experience last Friday made me very glad and proud that I also organise meetings at which others speak.  Like Christian Michel, I give my speakers a lot of latitude in what they will speak about, this being because I have long known that a major part of the point of getting people to speak about something is that it will cause them to make discoveries rather like the ones I made last Friday.  I often invite my speakers to speak about subjects they feel only partly on top of, which they are still getting to grips with, getting their heads round, getting their thinking straight about and their feelings clearer about.  I have long known that this is a valuable thing to do, for the speakers.  If the audience is a bit confused, so be it.

Well, I say that I have long known it.  Now, I really know it, with a great deal more certainty, derived from a great big gob of recent and enormously encouraging experience.

Friday January 06 2017

I did my talk, and it was well received, but now I am too knackered to offer anything here but a quota photo:

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Photoed by me on January 10th 2007, in other words ten years minus four days ago.

I like the contrast between the coloured lights, done with plastic bottles, and the monochrome surroundings.  I remember those lights, and photoing them.

My camera back then wasn’t that good in low light.  But it did okay for these photos, from which I picked the one I liked best.

Wednesday January 04 2017

I’ve spent my day pondering my talk on Friday evening, so here, it’s quota photo time, four of them, taken last October:

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What we are looking at is the building activity now happening between Waterloo Station and the river, photoed from the Waterloo Station side.

I fear that this buildings are going to have looked prettier when being built than when built.

Hope I’m wrong.

Tuesday January 03 2017

Christian Michel hosts talks he calls 6/20 talks, because they happen on the 6th and the 20th of the month.  And this coming Friday, Jan 6th, I am giving a talk, about politics and aesthetics, and how they interact.

This is the email I sent to talk host Christian Michel, about what I will be saying, or more precisely, what I will be asking:

My talk will be about what we each think is the truth about politics, and about how that relates to what we each think is beautiful.

What are your political opinions?  What are your ideas of beauty?  How do these things relate to each other?

Are your political loyalties and beliefs the result of your already existing ideas about what is beautiful?  Did you arrive at your political views because you think that the political world you desire would be beautiful, as you already understood that?

Or, is it more the other way around?  Do your present ideas of what is beautiful result from what you have already decided is the political truth of things?  Would your politics lead to a world that looks a particular way, and do you therefore consider that world to be beautiful?

Or, for you, do the causal links go in both directions?  That certainly applies to me.

Or, do the above questions rather baffle you?  Because for you, what is politically true and what is beautiful are two entirely separate issues?  For many who, like me, call themselves libertarians, I should guess that this might be the answer, even though this is definitely not my answer.

I put my subject matter in the form of questions, because I hope that potential attenders will receive advance notice of these question, and that some attenders at least will arrive with their own answers.

I will supply introspected answers about my own political and aesthetic preferences and how they are related, a lot of them involving architecture.  But I hope I will speak briefly enough to leave plenty of time for others to offer their answers to my questions.  Or, of course, to say that the questions are silly, or whatever else they want to say about what I have said.

My current plan is to read out the above, and then illustrate it with some personal examples, and with some other examples that seem to be quite common, and commonly talked about.

My personal examples involve things like the extraordinary aesthetic appeal of American stuff, like their cars and their fighter jets, which got me thinking about why America actually worked better than the USSR, whose stuff seemed to be grey and dull and unglamorous by comparison.  That got me started towards being a libertarian, I think, way back in the 1950s.

In a related way, I then began to observe that British public sector architecture, which set the tone of the entire architectural scene in the sixties and seventies, had that same Soviet style drabness about it.  Modern architecture only became flash and glamorous, in the eighties.

All that, among other things, turned me into a libertarian.  And since then, I have tended to like the look of physical assemblages of objects that strike me as embodying liberty.  Skyscraper clusters and roof clutter being good examples.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be so fond of roof clutter in particular if I had more bossy tastes in politics, if you get my drift.

That’s a pretty simplified summary of some of my aesthetic-political thoughts-feelings.  But it suffices to illustrate the kind of thing I’ll be talking about.

As for similar stories told by others, I am struck by how an architectural style is often regarded as ugly, while it is advancing and hence seen as threatening, but later regarded with affection, once it has been defeated and is in retreat.  This happened with the New Brutalism, widely hated during its years of ascendancy, now only in the news because some now want its surviving edifices to be legally preserved.

On a huge, historic scale, this is what has happened with Norman castles.  Feared and hated when built, and for centuries after.  Now quaint and picturesque tourist traps.  Same kind of thing with big steam locomotives, at first feared and hated, now worshipped.

Many feel threatened by the very contemporary architecture that I personally like, and that’s because they see it, as do I, as embodying the very free market (-ish) ideas that I like, and that they dislike.  It’s more complicated than that.  But again, you get the idea.

My intention is to rattle through what I have to say quickly, to leave plenty of time for attenders to offer similar aesthetic-political memoirs of their own.

I’m putting this here so I can link to it in emails to potential attenders.  Emails work better when they are short, but when they can be lengthened, so to speak, by those reading.

If you want to know how to attend this talk, or other talks in the same series, email me (see here top left) or leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with Christian Michel.

Sunday January 01 2017

I just did a multi-photo posting at Samizdata, with have a dozen photos all taken from my roof, which ended with a picture of the Houses of Parliament by day, and then two shots of the same thing last night, with added fireworks.  Happy New Year, and all that.  Again.

Here is another fireworks shot that I took last night that I particularly like:

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I like how each little sub-firework has only just got started and is a small bobble rather than shooting madly off in all directions, as you more usually see.

Another thing I can see from my roof is the Shard eccentric top:

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That was taken earlier in the year.  The Shard also was looking a bit dramatic last night, by which time the cranes that had been operating in the foreground of this particular view had departed:

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My usual excuse for my bad good photos is that a Real Photographer can go to the exact same spot and take the same shots properly.  But if any Real Photographers buzz on our front door and expect to get out onto our roof, well, that might not work.  Personally, I would allow it, on condition that I was permitted by the RP to photo him or her taking his or her photos.

Tuesday December 27 2016

The Londonist logo looks like this:

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But under this logo, here, is an illustrated piece about how that logo might have looked rather different.  London, says the piece, might have acquired itself an Eiffel Tower of its own, at Wembley.  Seriously, the various towers that were apparently under consideration include at least two that look remarkably like the Parisian original, despite Eiffel himself not wanting to be involved:

Towards the close of the 19th century, rail magnate Sir Edward Watkin was intent on all manner of ambitious schemes, including a tunnel under the Channel (it’ll never work). He also dreamt of a gigantic tower, to rival the wonder of Paris and draw tourists to his rail network. Gustave Eiffel was himself unsuccessfully approached to design the behemoth, before the commission was eventually opened out to competition. Some of the entries are presented below.

The illustrations that follow are well worth a look.

In this age of primitively simulated 3D reality, superimposed upon dull old reality itself even as you wander about in reality, the day is surely approaching when you can wander around a city and see it not as it is, but as you would prefer it, at any rate as far as more distant buildings are concerned.  It might be rather hard to walk along a street that has been obliterated by a huge skyscraper, or to visit a skyscraper that was never built.  But your preferred view of St Paul’s could be preserved from a distance.  Or, you could insert a London Eiffel Tower, and see how you like that.

Sunday December 25 2016

Last night, I promised I’d keep an eye and a camera open for Merry Christmas signage during my walking about today, and I did, but I didn’t find any such signs.  But I did find another sort of sign, which I liked because it contained lots of London’s Big Things, and I photoed it.  And then, when I got back home after dining out with my mates, I discovered that it had the words “Merry Christmas” at the top of it.  How about that?!?:

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Here is the website of this enterprise.  I have a vague recollection of having gone inside this place, once upon a time.  It was, of course, shut today.

I am collecting these graphic renditions of London’s Big things.  You see them everywhere, if you look, frequently on the sides of white vans.

Merry Christmas.  As in, I hope you had a good Christmas Day, and are having a good Christmas break because it almost Boxing Day now.

I like the roof clutter reflected in the window.

LATER: More Merry Christmas designage (dezeenage) here

Friday December 23 2016

Here are two Wheel photos I took in March of this year.

The first one needs another go, to line up that rather dim reflection of it with the Thing itself.  The top of the reflection is in the right spot, but the bottom needs to be looked at from lower.

That isn’t enough to be an Official Destination, but next time I’m passing by that spot, and if I remember, I’ll try to do this photo again, better:

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This one, on the other hand, already looks fine to me:

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An earlier photo along the same lines is to be seen in this 2010 posting.

Wednesday December 21 2016

My official purpose in visiting Tottenham, way back when I did, was to take a look at whatever I could see of the rebuilding of the Tottenham Hotspur football ground, so I didn’t pause to work out what was happening with this:

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Which I now regret.  I didn’t even give those buses, stopped at traffic lights if I remember it correctly, a chance to get out of the way.

Interesting shadows.  Interesting reflections bounced off windows.  But, the two on top of each other?  How come?  Think about it.  These two things have no business being right on top of each other.  Do they?

I was able to work out what was happening with these photos, taken moments earlier.  But the exact explanation of the above photo will presumably remain a mystery.

Tuesday December 20 2016

Earlier this evening I was out and about in central London, and although it was dark, I distinctly remember that I needed to take a photo.  I remember this because there was no SD card in my camera, and I had to activate one of the spares that I always keep tucked away in my left hand inside jacket pocket.

But what did I photo?  I can’t remember.  Let’s take a look.

Ah yes, this:

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This being … well, see above.  Actually, I already knew when I started this.

What’s new about this scene since last I was there is not that this edifice now exists, when previously it did not.  What is new is that the area around it is less cluttered, and now you can see the thing.

I think it looks cool.  Also it photos well in the dark.

No way you could build a thing like this before there were computers to sort out all those bits of glass and metal, all different, all exactly the size they need to be.

Sunday December 18 2016

That fog and gloom that I mentioned yesterday seems to have been a more than merely local circumstance.  It caused Travel Chaos and got national media attention.  Follow that link and see pictures of airplanes, trains, cyclists and people, in fog.

Or stay here and enjoy a few more of my foggy photos, or cranes with their tops in the clouds, and roof clutter with more distant roof clutter just that little bit vaguer than usual.  Westminster Abbey looking very vague:

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Quite a contrast with a day like this.

By the way, that peculiar red spike (2,1) is on the top of the Channel 4 headquarters.  And while looking for a photo that includes this spike, I have just discovered that C4 might be about to leave this building and go to Birmingham.  Blog and learn.