Stockholm Library

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It is difficult to get a new angle on this classic building. The biggest surprise, to me, is its aloofness – the building stands back four-square, the main approach to the entrance obscured by commercial structures along the street. This must be intentional as the base formed by shops and restaurants was part of Asplund’s scheme. His original drawing shows a commercial terrace with clean lines and elegant typography. He cannot have dreamed of the signage inflicted upon the scene by McDonalds. As the axial entrance appears and you climb towards the building you are drawn into an introverted cylinder of books at the centre of an architectural mountain complementary to the adjacent hill.

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Posted from Mariefred, Sweden

Hamar, Norway

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Hedmarksmuseet, Hamar, Norway. Sverre Fehn’s seminal/iconic/etc. masterwork completed in 1973. A collection of ruins (Archbishop’s fortified palace, manor house) on an important medieval route have been rebuilt/completed using modern building techniques. This has been done in order to display artefacts connected with the place and to preserve and display the archaeology of the ruins themselves. The buildings are penetrated by a concrete structure of ramps, platforms, balconies and rooms. The structure forms an elevated route giving the viewer an overview of revealed layers below and access to discreetly placed top-lit cells containing small historical artefacts.

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Fehn’s museum is part of a much wider archaeological landscape preserved following the construction of the new town of Hamar in the 1840s. As at Scarpa’s Castelvecchio the architect benefits from the discipline imposed by the interpretation of the archaeology and the existing structures. The concrete path is strange, sculptural, novel. The artefacts have difficulty asserting themselves in the conversation between the architect and the older buildings.

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Posted from Kil, Sweden

Karlstad, Sweden

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The Varmland Regional Museum by Cyrillus Johansson (1926-1929). Where one might have expected the architect to closely follow a local architectural idiom Johansson chose to follow his strong interest in Chinese architecture. The building is built upon a mound of earth scooped out from the axial reflecting pool. The arch is, with the reflecting pool, one element along a conceptual axis joining the railway station on one side and a bend in the river on the other side of the building. The use of the axis as a sort of long void passing through the building gives this apparently closed form a wider significance in the town. Despite the Chinese overtones the building is unmistakably Swedish in the simplicity of the whole form and the articulation of its details.

Posted in Kil, Sweden

Three Men in a Boat…

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….Woody Woodmansey, David Bowie and Mick Ronson. The DFDS ship ‘Princess of Scandinavia’ is typical of its type having an interior reminiscent of a motorway service station. The one interior of interest is the ‘Heaven 11’ disco on deck 7 which sports large black and white photographs of the above mentioned Spiders from Mars, Led Zeppelin, Faces period Rod Stewart and, er, Chuck Berry. The disco is used as a breakfast bar in the morning so it is quite interesting to see these camp, debauched figures looming over the muesli-eating passengers.

Posted from The Skagerrak

Location

Analogue and Digital

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Another minute in the death of Preston Bus Station, soon to be demolished. The use of analogue and digital time displays was a compromise of the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies as people got used to decimalization and the 24 hour clock. The clock face was easier to read at a distance while the digital display could be compared with the advertised times of buses. The overhead double clocks, now broken, provided a continuing education in 24 hour notation. As schoolchildren we looked at the double display and wondered which time to believe and follow. Occasionally we experienced the freezing of time, digital and analogue, as the power was cut during the “Three Day Week”.

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Clock picture by “eat at joes”

Location

Parc Bach

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Camlin Lonsdale Landscape Architects of Llangadfan in Powys held their summer barbecue this weekend and offered us the chance to revisit their studio designed by Dominic Roberts and constructed by Robert Camlin. The building was conceived as one boundary/edge of a working farm and brings an urban sensibility to the farmyard, defining the limit of the open space. The client constructed the building out of local timber (including ‘green’ oak cladding from the Powys Estate) and after ten years it is weathering beautifully and merging with the hedgerow marking the limit of the village settlement. Go to Francis Roberts Architects for more pictures, drawings and concept sketches. Camlin Lonsdale are involved in a number of important urban schemes. Building location.

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Facades & faces

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Nether Witton Hall, Northumberland. Pevsner in ‘The Buildings of England: Northumberland’: “…c.1700-1710…square block seven by three bays, with top balustrade and quoins. All windows with pediments, but three varieties used in an order difficult to follow: straight-sided open, segmental open, and segmental open with scrolly ends.”

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The effect of the facade is quite disconcerting and amusing. What system governs the arrangement of the differently treated windows? The decision to have three pediment variations seems too much for the building and leads to an interruption of rhythm. Even the Palazzo Farnese makes do with less variety on each storey. The eccentricity of the pattern undermines the authority of the building and, after all, makes it likeable.

Location

Phases of the Porta Maggiore

The Porta Maggiore is familiar today to many visitors to Rome from the view of its thick expressive plane from the elevated tracks of Stazione Termini. Constructed in the middle decades of the first century, the immediate context of the monument has changed many times, as the line of the aqueduct was fortified, its supply channels demolished, and even a new aqueduct cut through it under Sixtus V. This process culminated in its liberation by archaeologists in 1838, and the rediscovery of the Tomb of Eurysaces, with its elemental articulation of cylindrical shafts and circular openings. Constructed to carry a branch of the Claudian aqueduct and spanning the Via Prenestina and the Via Labicana as they approached the city, the Porta Maggiore creates a robust image of Roman architecture. Below the lengthy supplemented dedicatory inscription its architectural articulation is far from utilitarian, the exaggerated forms speaking both of the great engineering feat and a certain form of imperial beneficence. Massive rusticated arches span the roadways, while three aedicules with rusticated columns puncture through the massive piers.

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The site prior to the building of the Claudian aqueduct with the Tomb of Eurysaces.
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First century with the Claudian aqueduct.
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C5 with the aqueduct forming part of the city wall and the building of a new gate.
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C15 with the refortification of the gate.
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C16 with the construction of the new aqueduct
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C19/20 with the liberation of the monuments and the construction of tram tracks.

Archaeological reconstructions of the Porta Maggiore, Rome from Robert Coates-Stephens “Porta Maggiore: Monument and Landscape – Archaeology and topography of the southern Esquiline from the Late Republican period to the present” published by ³L¹ Erma² di Bretschneider Rome 2004

Urban Advertorial

Rome’s population (residents, workers, tourists) has always been an audience, the target for certain forms of spectacle be they military, religious, cultural or commercial.

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To feed this audience, in recent decades the spectacular basis of urban photography has spawned the phenomenon of giant advertisements concealing construction projects. Their location in historically important sites, where they might be relied upon to appear as unconscious intruders in the holiday snaps of pilgrims and cultural tourists, presents a form of product placement the entire basis of which rests on the promotion of the values of the urban lifestyle.

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In the context of Italy, with the international prominence accorded to design, even the most significant cultural sites are not immune. The exploitation of such sites of revered heritage as advertising hoardings for the products of global consumer culture encodes the long history of the culture of the piazza with the latest language of urban sophistication. As Gabriele De Giorgi writes in his recent book Roma: Follie, deliri e contaminazioni (Edizioni Kappa 2004) the “sponsor-restyling” (sic) results in a “Poster-City” (sic) through the explicit strategy of a new ephemeral city superimposed on the architecture of the past.

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In these situations the conventional values of civic representation are obscured by the dominance of the photographic image, with the contingencies of three dimensional actuality superseded by the two dimensional hyper real perfection of the object of desire. Beyond the disjunctions of scale a deliberate confusion is also introduced where the abiding monuments of a city are temporarily replaced by often provocative publicity shots, their values of authenticity and permanence somehow now associated with the brand, hermetic iconography complemented by the instantly recognisable logo, representing an interchangeability between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural values. The political expression of the public realm in the present time is therefore one where the attachment to substance has been replaced by image.

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The question, therefore, arises as to the impact of this commercialisation process on the cultural landscape of the city. Does Richard Meier’s Museo dell’ Ara Pacis, with its attempt to create a transparent container for a 2000 year old imperial advertisement present a desecration of an important urban exhibit, the neutralisation of a politically suspect environment, a physical explanation of a significant archaeological site such as the Mausoleum of Augustus to which it is adjacent, or a shambolic attempt to graft contemporary design on to antiquity?