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…

The Future of Architecture? (I Sincerely Hope Not)

January 3, 2015 5 comments

I’ve just read this piece in today’s Guardian and to say it fills me with horror at the start of a new year is something of an understatement… The reason for the article is a proposal for a new housing development near Hyde Park by the father and son architectural practice of Quinlan and Francis Terry, and believe it or not, the proposal looks like this…. d650d1f4-2394-41bd-b5da-5dcd2a221e3c-2060x1236 The article suggests that the scheme takes inspiration from the long, 19th Century mansion blocks that form much of Hausmann’s celebrated plan for Paris. Haussmann_Paris But look again and you’ll see that the simplicity, rigor, and control of a typical Hausmann block has been lost to the overcomplicated and confused self aggrandisement of a Loire Valley Chateau, and has nothing at all to do with housing people in contemporary London, and everything to do with overseas marketing… Chateaus Loire Valley And whilst I understand the arguments for so called “groundscraper” proposals like this: over development in the number and quality of tall buildings currently going up across London, their representation of faceless, corporate, developer greed and the destruction of the city’s historic urban grain, being three that are usually trotted out, I am at a total loss to understand how copying a 170 year old building type from another country will address any of these issues…

To me the key point is when the article refers to the Richard Rogers proposals at Chelsea Barracks, and the intervention directly to the site’s owners by Prince Charles, a move that resulted in the expensive scrapping of a well considered, contemporary and recommended for approval scheme, and the creation of a worryingly conservative approach by wealthy, predominantly overseas developers and investors that view Royal approval with greater importance than Statutory approval…

And think on how this building might look and be constructed should (god forbid) it ever got the go ahead.. It’s common knowledge that the specialist materials, skills and techniques required to construct this type of edifice either no longer exist or do so at such a high price, that the finished building will either be so pared down as to look nothing like the original drawings (think Richmond Riverside) or be so expensive once finished, that the properties will only be affordable to ever more super wealthy owners, totally defeating the point in my view, of building more new homes…. It’s still developer greed, just cloaked in a different (Frock) coat…

I don’t object in an unthinking, knee jerk reaction way to the work of the Terry family practice (their recently completed block on Tottenham Court Road (below) for example, works remarkably well), but I do object to proposals that are in every sense out of time, out of scale, over the top and to my eyes at least, ugly and totally misjudged…

terry2 I really do not enjoy writing “Things I DON’T like..” posts (especially the first one of the year) but I’m more than prepared to nail my colours to the mast and state categorically that I believe that anachronistic, derivative and wholly inappropriate proposals such as this for the prestigious Hyde Park Barracks site, should not be given any credence whatsoever, except perhaps to be held up for ridicule and as a prime example of what NOT to do…

And don’t get me started on what is proposed for demolition to make way for this abomination.. only the wonderful 1970’s Barracks buildings by Britain’s greatest architect, Sir Basil Spence.

I’m so upset by this act of wanton vandalism that I can’t write anything further at this moment in time, but I will revisit this, have not doubt. In the meantime why not remind yourself how Sir Basil described his proposals by watching this short video… especially when he describes as “ludicrous”, the idea that living near the park is like living in the country… the man’s face is an absolute picture…

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PoohTown by Nick Elias (RIBA Silver Medal winner 2014)

December 14, 2014 Leave a comment

3627_03164510784Last week the The Royal Institute of British Architects announced its annual prizes. The Silver Medal is awarded to the best Part 2/ Diploma student project submitted from all the University courses in the country.

This years winner is called PoohTown and is the creation of Nick Elias from University College here in London.

And before you think ergh, pooh! what a horrid name for a place to live, note the use of a capital letter. This beautifully presented and thought provoking project takes its inspiration from Winnie the Pooh and intriguingly, the negative effect that the “happy” stories had on AA Milne’s real life son, Christopher Robin.

Throw in a dash of some of the more usual architectural project generators such as the changing nature of cities (in this case Slough), the death of industry, social exclusion, the juxtaposition of the real and imagined, and the challenge of designing for the emotions, and the result is a scheme that suggests how a declining city might be able to capitalise on an imagined economy of happiness to ensure its residents live happily ever after…

Heady stuff indeed, but Nick’s ideas, drawings, imagination and impressively consistent presentational skills are more than up to the task he set himself. Be prepared for honey, subtly hidden characters from 100 Acre Wood and smiling people from a long forgotten era…

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And despite not being able to understand everything that is offered in these dense and beautiful drawings, for sheer effort alone, Nick is without doubt a worthy winner in my opinion. How I would love to have seen the originals.

One final thought. As is often the case with student architectural projects, I’m not sure exactly how this project would have been marked against the building, programme and structural requirements that my work was “back in the day”, and how much it will help him get a job designing the houses, museums and offices that architects get paid to do.

But that’s just me being cynical and negative. My guess is that with imagination and skills as evident as these, Nick will easily manage to find his way and is more than likely a name to keep an eye on, in whatever he chooses to do…

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Joseph’s Yard: Charles Keeping…

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

_MG_9552My new job finds me in Spitalfields, an area I know pretty well from evenings and weekends spent there experiencing its undoubted charms for the last 20 years or so, but it’s interesting being able to now discover its lunchtime delights… Not the least of which are more varieties of food than you could ever imagine, a huge second hand vinyl market every third (I think) Friday and an even bigger second hand/ tat  market… Which is where for the princely sum of £1, I came across this rather marvelous little book… Written and illustrated by Charles Keeping and published in 1969, its the simple story of a boy whose back yard is barren and full of rusty old junk. One day he answers the call of the rag and bone man and swaps the iron junk for a plant… _MG_9556 After pulling up a stone and digging the plant into the dirt, Joseph watches it grow and then die back in the winter only to see it bloom again the following spring, encouraging cats, birds and insects to all come to spend time with Joseph in his yard… _MG_9567 Maybe not quite a classic, but it was for kids and apart from Joseph’s teeth (which are a tad disconcerting in a number of instances) it’s the glorious illustrations that really make the book for me. Executed in a riot of different styles and patterns, every page is dense with colour and texture, almost completely overpowering the simplicity of the story at times, but leaving a lasting impression all the same… Charles Keeping is sadly no longer with us, but I came across this site managed by his wife, dedicated to his many wonderful book illustrations and from where I’ve borrowed these images (as our scanners bust at the moment…) _MG_9575 _MG_9572 _MG_9571 _MG_9566 _MG_9570

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