The Kensington Air Terminal…

March 18, 2015 3 comments

 

My And is currently reading a Miss Marple novel, one of the last ones that Agatha Christie wrote I think. Entitled At Bertram’s Hotel, it was published in the mid 1960’s and tells the tale of the now elderly (was she ever anything else…) detective’s stay in a swish London hotel, and the usual fatalities that seem to follow the redoubtable detective like a bad smell…

wlat-k65-108-aerial-view-1965I digress. The reason for this post is that in the story, reference is made to The Kensington Air Terminal… Intrigued, And went off to the internet to investigate and sure enough such a thing actually existed, moreover, it would seem that it is now almost totally forgotten..

Situated overlooking the Cromwell Road, on the site of what has been a Sainsbury’s since the 1980’s, and almost equidistant between The Albert Hall and Earls Court, was a group of buildings that together formed a direct link between Heathrow Airport and the city.

Before the rail link was completed in 1977, getting to Heathrow could be a time consuming business by all accounts. BEA (British European Airways) hit upon the idea of creating a central hub where travelers could check in and relax before being transported along with their baggage by luxury coaches to the airport proper, making good use of the recently opened M4 motorway.

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Cut away illustration of temporary terminal from The Illustrated London News

The first temporary two storey building (above) was completed in 1957 and proved so successful that a more permanent solution was soon being planned. Designed by Burnett, Tait & Partners, this new facility included additional parking (via some impressive circular access ramps) restaurants and retail opportunities, airport style waiting areas and departure gates, along with a residential tower above. It was finally opened in the early/ mid 1960’s to great fanfare and excitement…

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Sadly due to increasing security regulations, land prices and airline takeovers, the building was only in operation for around 15 years or so before being redeveloped by Sainsbury’s.

There is very little online about this intriguing building. The excellent post at The Library Time Machine by Dave Walker is where I found all of the images and much of the info.

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How the building (now known as Point West) Looks today

How the building (now known as Point West) Looks today

 

Exhibition of Mid Century Latin America Architecture…

March 6, 2015 2 comments

Arch Daily have just informed me of an exhibition which starts at the end of March. Unfortunately for me it’s at the MOMA in New York …

Entitled Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980, it sounds like something right up my street, full of idealistic 1960’s and 70’s designs, when imagination was only limited by the ability to which it could be drawn

These two images in particular caught my attention.

The first is from 1969 and is a magnificent proposal for a hotel at Machu Picchu, Peru by Miguel Rodrigo Mazuré. Having been lucky enough to visit Machu Picchu a few years ago, I can imagine where this was probably going to be located, on the slopes above Aquas Calientes, where the buses on the switchback road slowly take you up to the citadel and a sight that I will never, ever forget

As such my heart tells me that I’m quite pleased it wasn’t built. But my head absolutely loves it.. all those cantilevers and cable cars and funicular railways and dynamic concrete planes.. ohhh, yes please…

Machu Pichu Hotel
This second image is slightly more conceptual in that it appears to have a record cutting lathe acting as a central civic hub of some form, with routes in and out being represented by oil refinery pipework.

It still looks bloody marvellous though…. I can’t find anything about this image from the exhibition blurb, but it looks a little bit like it’s sitting in the beautiful Peruvian valley of Cusco, so again, probably a good thing it never made it off the drawing board…

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So all in all, it looks like it could be a good exhibition, although unless it crosses the ocean, one I won’t get to see. I’ll have to find out if there’s a shiny and informative, fully illustrated book to accompany the exhibition (and let’s face it, there usually is..) and be satisfied with that…

My own small contribution to spreading the word of South American post war architecture was a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for the Modernist Magazine, about the Argentinian Brutalist architect Clorinda Testa, whose work in Buenos Aires, I found particularity memorable and deserving of far greater recognition worldwide…

It’s the wrong sculpture and it’s gone wrong: The Fourth Plinth

March 6, 2015 2 comments

Shrigley435_0The public is always right.. except of course, when it’s wrong.

David Shrigley’s proposal for the Fourth Plinth was far superior in every way to the overly literal horse skeleton with its barely visible ticker tape nonsense unveiled by the Clown Prince himself yesterday.

Like the excellent big blue cock, Shrigley’s giant thumb had humour, panache and style, things that the city can never get enough of..

Hey ho, roll on next years competition…

Jesse Wong & Rouge @ Nambucca, Holloway

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

20150218_204847I was in Holloway this evening to see my friends eldest play his first solo gig.

Jesse Wong has been in several bands before (Major League and Rude Health to name but two) but was playing tonight unaccompanied.

An exceptionally talented young man with a voice that you just can’t forget, he is definitely a name to watch out for in the future. Having already been on tour as the bass player for Big Deal, to my ears it’s only a matter of time until he becomes a name in his own right…

The second band on were called Rouge and they were really quite something.

Think of a big guitar driven sound that encompasses Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins and you’ll get the idea. Brimming with enthusiasm, energy and ability they seemed to really enjoy their time on stage.

I must have seen many hundreds of bands at mid week gigs over the years but only a few have triggered that “Hmm they’ve got something special” feeling..

With any luck these girls will go far…

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As a small contribution to their hopefully inevitable success, I bought their new single as a hand made limited edition CD, and as Dan looked them up online in the pub to find out a bit more about them, I was well chuffed to find out that by chance I’d bought the exact same sleeve they used for their Facebook page.

Double plus good……

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Expo in The Manchester Modernist: Video review

February 12, 2015 2 comments

Writing the last post on Expo ’58 has reminded me that I didn’t post my regular outburst of shameless self publicity by informing you that those lovely people at the ever excellent Manchester Modernist have once again been good enough to include one of my offerings in the current issue of their redesigned and relaunched magazine…

A relaunch that was possibly thanks to the unqualified success of its recent crowd funding campaign. So a huge thanks to everyone who contributed in whatever form…

But don’t just take my word for how good the magazine is… Why not watch this very complementary video review by Stack

 

And just in case you missed it.. mine was the piece towards the front all about Basil Spence’s stylish British Pavilion at one of the most successful of all such Twentieth Century events, Montreal’s Expo 67. This piece was a reworked and greatly expanded version of an original post here… (which also had lots of photos)

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Copies of the magazine are available to buy either singly or via annual subscription here

Expo ’58

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Atomium ashtrayOne of the things I remember growing up was a small metal and plastic souvenir that my Gran and Grandad used to have. It spent most of its life safely out of child’s reach on a shelf above the dining room door along with various other odds and ends that they’d collected on their travels (and that I really wish I’d had the gumption to ask them about whilst they were still here..).

Anyway, every time we visited, without fail, I would ask if this wonderful object could be brought down so that I might admire it… The souvenir was a model of the Atomium in Brussels, the center piece of their Expo 1958 extravaganza. It’s long since disappeared, probably to a charity shop or in the bin knowing my Gran (who was the least sentimental of people I’ve ever known). I haven’t thought of it for at least 30 years, but after a quick look through the internet I’m pretty sure it looked like the one above…

expo58The reason for this mini bout of nostalgia is that I’ve just read Jonathan Coe’s rather fine novel of the same name. Part cold war spy parody, part comedy of errors, part unrequited love story, Expo 58 conjures up post war life at the end of the 1950’s, which as any one who reads this blog might tell you, is where my interests lie…

Expo ’58 was the first such post World War 2 event, and came at an very interesting time in world history. The horrors and enforced austerity of the Second World war were finally beginning to fade across Europe, allowing its citizens to begin to think about the future, rather than dwell on the past. At the same time however, political instability in various regions was creating it’s own new set of global concerns: The Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold war was in full effect, the various wars across south east Asia and Vietnam in particular were escalating, whilst recent conflicts in The Suez, Hungary and North Korea had all contributed to a growing feeling of unease and insecurity.

bruxelles58-bigIt was always naive to suggest that a six month long party, at which more than 50 countries attempted to distill their very essence into a purpose designed, temporary pavilion located within 500 acres of prime city center land in Brussels was ever going to address or solve these huge political differences, but one can’t help but admire the determination and commitment that drove the participants to make it such a hugely successful event with over 41 million visitors passing through the gates…

Interestingly despit ethis huge success and popularity of Expo 58, Coe highlights the paucity recognition that it has received over the years. He references a number of recent post war social histories (Dominic Sandbrook’s Never Had it so Good and David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain) that completely fail to make any reference to it, and I would also add Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain to that list.

Coe’s book and the memory of my grandparents little souvenir (and the implication that they went there of course) has fired a desire to look further into this event. I’ve written about Expos several times before (Monorails at the New Your Fair of 1964  and   Basil Spence’s pavilion at Expo 67) and I’m unquestionably drawn to the idea of trying to represent a country and its culture with(in) a single building…

A future post (probably centering on the amazing Atomium itself) is more than likely, but until then, I’ll offer you a selection of stylish graphics and images from Expo ’58, and a recommendation to read Mr. Coes’ entertaining and (for me anyway) thought provoking novel…

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Expo 1958 paviljoen van Engeland / United Kongdom

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St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross.

January 14, 2015 1 comment

The story of St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, a ruined and forgotten concrete carcass, hidden away in a forest 40 miles west of Glasgow, is certainly worthy of a much longer post than I have time for now.

In the interim however, following an article I read in Dezeen last week, I am very pleased to write that the future of this beautiful wreck of a building has taken a sharp turn, as a full design team, including Avanti Architects and NORD have been appointed to work up proposals to refurbish/ redefine/ re-imagine what is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s great lost architectural masterpieces.

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Designed by the respected Scottish architects Gillespie Kidd & Coia and constructed between 1960 and 1966, The Cardross Seminary is generally thought to be amongst the finest of post war modernist buildings, not only in Scotland, but across the UK. Le Corbusier famously never built anything in these islands, but if he had, it may well have looked like St Peter’s Seminary (and arguably would almost certainly have had a better chance of survival…)

Constructed of poured in-situ concrete, with local dark coloured pebbles cast into the surface and interiors resplendent in red cedar, the seminary was a skillful essay in space and light. The large central area had modernist echoes of a church nave, whilst the intimate study rooms located on the upper floors, looked down onto this central space, creating an open and rich dialogue between the ritual and the monastic, the celebratory and the private.

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St Peter refectory CQ67

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Sadly the life envisioned for this wondrous building was short lived. Due to a decline in the number of students wishing to dedicate theirs lives to the Catholic faith throughout the 1970’s and to almost continuous problems with maintenance and water ingress right from the outset, this bold and uncompromisingly modern building was occupied for less than 15 years.

In 1980 God vacated the premises and drug dependent citizens of Glasgow moved in. Before the 90’s had arrived however, the building had once again been abandoned, stripped of its finishes and left victim to time, neglect and vandalism, known only to urban explorers and representatives of the local Diocese.

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cardross-6The design team are looking to create an new arts and cultural center with a 600 seat auditorium, galleries and teaching spaces, there might even be a shop and a cafe…

Avanti and the team have certainly got their work cut out to have it all ready and complete by the target date of 2017, but I for one am certainly considering holding off a planned trip up to Glasgow to make sure that when we do go, not only will Mackintosh’s fully restored masterpiece the Glasgow School be remade and reopen for visitors, but so too will this long forgotten gem; open, full of life and vitality and ready for it’s third incarnation…

I’ve found these two videos on YouTube to finish off with…

The first is an extract from a documentary about the making of a 1972 film called “Space and Light” that aimed to capture a day in the life of the occupied seminary. The second was filmed by UrbExers using a drone based camera in 2012 and shows the utter devastation and destruction that had befallen this sad and sorry building in the intervening years, and this despite it being Category A listed by Historic Scotland in 1992…

There’s more here about the proposals if you’re interested…

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