The Aeronauts go to Ronchamp


Three Mirage 2000 jets of L’armée de l’air fly north towards the Franche Comte/Lorraine border in this odd postcard from Ronchamp*. The aerial view is not particularly flattering to a building that was designed to be approached from the slopes below. The previous chapel on the site was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and the remains were used as building materials in the new building. I suppose the chapel is being protected rather than threatened by the jets but what is the meaning of the title on the postcard back: flagrant delit?**

Mirage fighters were a feature of motorway travel in France in the ‘seventies and, flying in formation above the Autoroute near Dijon, evoked the over-dubbed delights of The Aeronauts*** a Saturday morning TV programme shown alongside Robinson Crusoe and The Flashing Blade.

*bought in the early ‘nineties and found in ‘the bottom drawer’
** in flagrante delicto
*** Les Chevaliers du Ciel in France (link)

BIM ’69, The Integrated Team

Architectural Practice 1969

This is the cover of the June 1969 issue of BDP Preston in-house magazine ‘Contact’.

BDP was founded in Preston and pioneered a team-based, democratic approach to building design in the era of the mandatory fee scale. In this illustration entitled THE INTEGRATED TEAM the BDP ethos is affectionately satirised.

I believe the artist was Peter Jones, an architect in the BDP Preston office. Note the representation of the QS ‘CALCULUS ABACUS’ in what appears to be a dunce’s cap.

Jeremy Deller’s Procession


Jeremy Deller’s Procession, Manchester, 5 July 2009

While the commissioning of an art event might not have the authentic resonance of a traditional urban ritual (such as the Roman Triumph, or Holy Week in Seville), this populist production for the Manchester International Festival had much to gladden the jaded urbanist’s heart. It had a Roman road, Deansgate, to process along between the castrum origins and the later medieval core. It had an eager and appreciative crowd gathered along the route. And it had a series of familiar and unfamiliar sections evoking some mythic scenarios.


The Rose Queens of Manchester’s largely defunct Whit Walks traditions were joined by a robust outing from The Ramblers. The all-singing, all-dancing, mock-baroque of ‘The Adoration of the Chip’ contrasted with a fleet of hearses commemorating closed but legendary nightclubs, from The Hacienda to Rotters. The Big Issue Sellers and Unrepentant Smokers (followed by a sobering health warning) provided the smudge of ‘gritty northern realism’ but the procession concluded with the crowd gleefully following along Deansgate. The pied pipers were, alas, not the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Pipe Band from Bolton, but the equally delightful Caribbean steel band Steel Harmony, sweetly syncopating the works of The Buzzcocks and Joy Division.


Perhaps the performance of Procession did not have the transcendent qualities of a great urban narrative reenactment, but it said more about the notions of civic pride and place than the banal receptacles of spectacular consumption which form Manchester’s recent cosmetically enhanced cityscape.

The post-event exhibition runs at Cornerhouse Manchester July 9 – 23 August.


Fifties Neo-Vernacular

'Fifties Neo-Vernacular

Small black and white prints found in the plan chest. I believe these show new buildings for Gresham’s School in Holt, Norfolk designed by Grenfell Baines & Hargreaves of Preston (later renamed Building Design Partnership) and photographed soon after completion (1959-1960?). Simple roof forms, minimal porches, panels of rustic materials and a festive lantern with weathercock.

George Grenfell Baines
, founder of BDP.

More from the bottom drawer.

Louis Kahn at Rochester


Iqbal Aalam’s flickr photostream includes some evocative slides from his 1967 trip to Kahn’s First Unitarian Church in Rochester NY (dedicated 2 December 1962). A commenter on the flickr site wonders whether Kahn’s building inspired the rooflights at Zumthor’s recently completed Kolumba Diocesan Museum in Cologne.


It’s a play really of wall and variety in the getting of various conditions around the windows which caused one to make these changes. And in some instances this window seat turns into a thing which you don’t need at all above and that would not be expressed here…The idea is to develop really quite frankly a silhouette

Kahn’s words and plan and section of the First Unitarian Church from Louis I Kahn, The Complete Works 1935-1974 by Heinz Ronner & Sharad Jhaveri (ISBN3764313471)

Old Manchester


In the period before Manchester’s recent building boom Leach Rhodes and Walker was the finishing school for a number of Manchester School of Architecture tutorial staff (not me!) and was the source of countless amusing anecdotes about commercial architectural practice. Their two-storey, black granite-clad office building on the Irwell was complemented by the rigour of the firm’s reported social structure in the ‘eighties: technical architects on one floor, design architects on another.

A recent article in Building Design speculating on the status of a number of Manchester firms questioned the firm’s solvency. BD has Backed Down (page 3 bottom right hand corner) and apologised in this week’s issue for suggesting that Leach Rhodes and Walker had become insolvent in the last quarter.

Picture shows on the right Manchester House (formerly Scottish Life House) 1965 by Leach Rhodes & Walker and on the left Albert Bridge House by E.H Banks (Ministry of Works) 1958-1959. Picture by Neil Wilkinson (License)

Old Manchester Town Hall 1834-1912


Architecture in the raw

Photographed just before its destruction in 1912 Manchester’s pre-Waterhouse Town Hall was the subject of study by students at the Manchester School of Architecture published in 1915.

Few buildings of this quality have ever been demolished except during a war. Empty of people, furniture, and paintings with flecks of debris on the uncovered floor we see its spaces in their purest form.