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Lacaton & Vassal: FRAC in Dunkerque…

November 27, 2014 2 comments

P1080483Last weekend and rather last minute, we got up early, drove down to Folkestone, boarded Le Shuttle to cross the channel and headed off to Dunkerque.

We’d initially planned to go earlier in the year. Unluckily for us however, we’d opted for the ferry and chosen that weekend in the middle of February when violent storms lashed the south coast, cancelling crossings and causing long delays on the roads… So this time we decided to go underwater and avoid any potential weather problems.

Dunkerque is a nice enough place with amazingly long, clean beaches, an impressive cathedral, interesting dockland areas and the moving legacy of its role in World War Two. On the down side, Sunday’s wet weather and the town’s total inability to offer us a single open shop to stay dry in, made us wish we’d booked an earlier train home and did much to ensure we’re unlikely to go back.

Walking along wind swept beaches aside, the main reason for choosing Dunkerque, was to visit the recently opened FRAC building by the Parisian practice of Lacaton & Vassall, and what treat it was too…

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FRAC is a regional contemporary art fund and the northern region needed a new home. So it was in the tradition of Grand Projects that the French are rightly famed and admired for, that the apparently largest possible option was chosen…

Halle AP2 is the rather perfunctory name of the huge existing building. Historically used for boat and ship building (although empty and unused in recent times) and despite its size, slightly lost in the seemingly endless docklands, Lacaton & Vassal’s decision to keep this magnificent space exactly as found is a fantastically generous move, creating a space not unlike the Tate Turbine hall, but in somewhere akin to Folkestone…

The new programme of works (galleries, a cafe, workshops, a cinema and other function spaces) are all housed in an adjacent building that visually occupies the same volume as the existing, and adopts the same shape, but is finished in a thin and translucent skin compared to the massive envelope of the existing.

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Inside the finishes are industrial and beautifully made. Through the use of concrete, prefabricated steel, glass and inflatable translucent panels, the architects have created an impressive building, at once respectful of the existing and its industrial past whilst still being utterly contemporary.

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Unfinished at the time of our visit was a bridge linking the gallery directly to the beach, another big gesture that will allow visitors to avoid the rather barren acres of Dunkerque’s empty docklands.

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Talking of visitors, when we were there, we virtually had the place to ourselves. I’ve no idea know how the economics of such an ambitious scheme as this work, but hopefully more people will go in the summer…

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The only slight disappointment was the contents of the galleries. Contemporary art will always be a challenging thing, but there’s usually something that makes you stop and think. Not so with the exhibitions we saw, which were universally derivative and thin.

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So whilst the current state of French contemporary art leaves much to be desired in my opinion, its architecture appears healthy and exciting, and very safe in the hands of Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal.

More here on Dezeen…

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A Trip to Iceland…

March 14, 2014 2 comments

Iceland_1There will be no posts for a while as next week I are mostly be in Iceland…

Thanks to my lovely girlfriend, who bought us the holiday for christmas, I’m fulfilling a long held dream of mine, to go and experience some of the most amazing, almost primeval landscapes in one of the least populated countries in the world…

So weather permitting, we will be putting on our big coats and boots and heading out to do and see everything we can: Reykjavik, the Northern lights, volcanoes, geothermal pools, tectonic fissures, frozen waterfalls, snow, ice, crystal clear lakes, The Blue Lagoon and boiling geysers. I can’t wait…

It’s my guess that this trip might generate some new ideas for blog posts, but until that happens, here are some pics stolen from the web. How amazing does it all look?

As an aside, the first image reminds me of that age old conundrum: Why is it that Iceland (which is mostly green) is called Iceland and Greenland (which is mostly covered in ice) is called Greenland… ?

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Lazy Post No. 6: Fast Train to Brighton (x 3)

October 10, 2013 4 comments

Stolen straight from YouTube this one I’m afraid…

Sixty years ago the BBC fixed a film camera to the front of the London to Brighton train and then compressed the resultant footage into a rather wonderful four minute short…

Thirty years later in 1983 they did it again, and then again this year…

Although it’s very quick, if you randomly press pause whilst the video is playing, it’s amazing to see how little seems to have changed in the intervening years: platforms, stations, bridges, even the hedgerows all seem to be much the same.

The only notable differences I can see, are the bright colours of the passengers clothes when the journey ends at Brighton Station (even compared to those of the Eighties) and the quality of the film stock (although again, the Eighties footage seems oddly inferior to that from the Fifties)

Truly fascinating…

It’s good to hear the Chem’s Star Guitar track again. Chosen I would guess because of Michel Gondry’s wonderful train ride video with the different elements of the scenery zooming past the window, brilliantly playing the beats, rhythm’s and instrumentation of the tune…

 

Argentinian Brutalism: Clorinda Testa in Buenos Aries – Manchester Modernist

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

capital-cover-sm_1Those wonderful people at Manchester Modernist have again chosen to publish one of my submissions.

In the latest issue Capital, I’ve written about the  little known Argentinian architect Clorinda Testa, a man whose love of massive, brutalist concrete structures, seemingly knew no bounds…

It was whilst we were on our World Tour, that me & A came across two remarkable buildings tucked away in the tree lined streets of the capital, Buenos Aires: The Bank of London and South America (1959 -1966) and the National Library of Argentina (1962-1992).

The interesting story of how these two buildings came about involves numerous Military Coups, huge delays, collapsing economies and sheer determination on the part of the architect, well worth a read (even if I do say so myself).

I’ll leave you with some of the photos that I took when we were there to give you some idea of the scale and vision of Clorinda Testa, a name that should certainly be more well know that it is… (the bank is first, down to Testa’s original concept drawing and then the library)

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Startrails, Observatories & Carbon Based Lifeforms

March 12, 2013 2 comments

I found these three wonderful things recently…

Firstly this magical video of stairtrails, by Christoph Malin.

As I understand it all the original still shots are from cameras aboard the International Space station (ISS) which have then been “stacked” via a computer programme. The process of stacking is very similar to creating a timelapse image, however as each new image is added, the previous one is retained, hence the continuous trails, lines and general wonderousness that is revealed as the image builds up…

I’m no scientist, but aren’t they the Northern Lights/ Aurora Borealis at about 1 minute in, and isn’t that lighting at about 2.05? I like the heightened sense of movement that these images generate. The ISS is traveling at just short of 28,000km/h – orbiting the planet  about 16 times a day, and the quality of these images is made even more impressive when you consider the very high ISO levels that the cameras have to achieve in order to take account of this phenomenal speed.

Also on the Vimeo site, I also came across this stunning video by Babak Tafreshi

We had the very good fortune to spend an evening in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile watching the stars at the Mamalluca Public Observatory a couple of years ago. The memory of seeing whole constellations of stars and neighbouring galaxies climb up into the night sky, as our planet moved through its bit of space, will stay with me for ever. A truly amazing experience that this video captures pretty much as I remember, although as always through the restricted medium of a monitor/ TV screen, the mind numbing sense of scale will always elude the casual watcher…

And finally the music on the Atacama Starry Nights film. A track called Arecibo by the Swedish producers Carbon Based Lifeforms. No idea how I’ve missed this wonderful, epic space noise, as it’s right up my strasse…. Huge washes of static and infinitely deep chords and pulses that gradually build and mutate into.. well nothing really, just more of the same. Which is seriously what I like…

Their most recent album Twenty Three can be linked below via Spotify, but for now sit back, turn off your phone, click away your email, put your headphones on and pilot your own psyche through the Cosmos for 10 minutes… Nice…

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a new exhibition on over the river in Greenwich at the Royal Observatory that looks like it will be well worth going to see…

Featuring the winning entries in the annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, the website promises images spanning the wonders found in our own atmosphere right through to the unimaginable mysteries of deep space.

The ones that really grab my attention however are those of the Northern Lights… For some time now, I’ve had a growing urge, almost a need to go and experience them for myself and seeing these images of huge open spaces, crystal clear skies and unbelievably beautiful displays of colour and exuberance, only confirms and strengthens that desire…

Other than getting it organised and paying for it, the most challenging thing will be persuading my Little A that a holiday to the cold wastes of Norway in December staring up at the night sky in hope, will be as enjoyable as a week exploring an unknown city or soaking up the sun on a beach in July…

(The images accompanying this post are all borrowed from Flickr and the name of photographer can found by hovering over the image)

Silly Signage…

June 14, 2012 3 comments

On our way to the airport earlier this week, just as we left the North Circular to join the M11.. I saw this road sign..

To say I was surprised is something of an understatement.. not only is it anachronistic in terms of what it is warning/forbidding (when did you last see a horse and cart on a B road, let alone an A road or a motorway) but it is truly awful in terms of design and appearance.

I’ve always rather liked the UK road signs, they have an elegant simplicity bourne of well designed and considered graphics…

This ridiculous offering obviously doesn’t belong in that category.. (and it is a genuine sign, I’ve googled it…)

Another sign that’s caught my eye this week is on the pool’s lilo where we’re staying in Spain…
Hideous on so many levels (and obviously put together for purely legal reasons) no effort has been considered or thought given to its appearance.. I´m not even sure what some of the graphics even mean, and I’m usually quite good at this kind of thing… I´ll leave you with a selection of some of the classic road signs of the UKs, remind us how excellent good graphic design can be…

Project Japan – Metabolist Architecture

June 6, 2012 1 comment

Taschen have recently published this rather fine looking volume.

Co-written, edited and researched by the Dutch (st)architect Rem Koolhaas, it’s an in-depth review and assessment of the Japanese architectural movement called Metabolism, often considered to be the first non-western avant-garde movement of any significance.

Launched with the publication of their bi-lingual manifesto “Metabolism 1960: The Proposals for a New Urbanism” a group of young Japanese architects, including the now familiar names of Kenzo Tange, Arata Isozaki, Fumihiko Maki and Kisho Kurokawa, set out how they imagined cities of the future could be designed to reflect their contemporary society.

These proposals generally involved placing various forms of compatible accommodation (such as retail, mass housing, education and transit hubs) in large scale megastructures designed to be both theoretically and physically flexible enough to reflect the changing demands and needs of their inhabitants.

These concepts were very much inspired by the many new technologies being developed throughout the post war world during the 50’s and 60’s, effectively arguing that improved construction methods and techniques could allow previously ‘static’ built forms to develop organically over time. It’s no coincidence that similar ideas were being explored by many of the younger architects of the time such as Superstudio in Italy and Archigram in the UK (who even went as far as proposing cities that could move themselves…)

Due in no small part to the practical and financial implications of getting such massive projects built, the movement lasted not much longer than 10 years or so, and a relatively few number of built examples were completed before the swan song of the movement at the Expo of 1970 in Osaka, master planned by Kenzo Tange.

Two buildings that stand out for me are the amazing Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo which we went to see when we were in Japan in 2005, and which I have previously written about, and the truly awesome silhouette of Tange’s, Culture Hall in Yamanashi from 1966, sitting like some huge malevolent beast in the center of a predominantly two storey historic Japanese town…

Anyway, Koolhaas’s book looks fascinating and with over 700 pages of beautiful drawings, stunning photos of concrete and bonkers ideas, something I would definitely like to own…

If it wasn’t for the fact that some of the online reviews (and most of the personal ones on Amazon) complain that its been poorly designed, with images disappearing into a ridiculously small/ non existent central gutter and difficult to read text/ background choices. So instead I think I’ll wait until I next get to the RIBA bookshop and have a look at the real thing…

The images below are flattened versions of the pages and look fantastic, except for the second image which demonstrates the central gutter problem…

A quick aside here, when we stayed in Tokyo, our hotel overlooked this very distinctive building, a fly over and some railway lines (which was fantastic because we could watch the Shinkansen trains sliding past below). After I recognised it from the page extract above, I went and found this photo.. our hotel is the big thing in the background and that’s us waving from our room in the red circle on the 12th floor…

Venus – Jupiter Conjunction

March 22, 2012 1 comment

For those of you like me who have noticed two unusually bright objects in the recently very clear night skies, and wondered what they were… then wonder no more… as we are all witnessing the best Venus-Jupiter conjunction for many years..

In astrological terms, a conjunction is simply when two or more planets appear to be close together in the sky, when in reality they are separated by almost unimaginable distances. The brighter of the two objects the we can see at the moment is Venus which despite being much smaller than Jupiter is obviously very much closer to us.

Venus is generally considered to be the second brightest object in our skies after the Moon, and at it’s closest, can be only about 38 million km (24 million miles) away, whilst at other times it disappears completely as it spins out on its 225 day orbit around the sun.

The closest Jupiter gets to Earth on the other hand is in the order of about 630 million km (390 million miles) so despite it being more than 120 times bigger than either Earth or Venus (which are surprisingly similar in size) its magnitude of brightness is significantly less.

Jupiter has quite a special place in my heart, as when we were in Peru a few years back, we visited the Maria Reiche Observatory in Nazca and saw with our own eyes (with the help of a big telescope obviously) Jupiter and four of her moons, clear as anything, about as big as a tennis ball. A trully amazing experience…

Anyway, I tried taking some photos of the conjunction last weekend when the two planets were closest together, but I just didn’t have the technology to pull it off. So I tried again with another camera this weekend and this one just about captures this alluring spectacle, especially as I also managed to catch the crescent moon (the lowest of the three lights).

If you’re interested, the next opportunity to see a Venus-Jupiter conjunction will be in May next year, although as the planets will be much lower in the sky, they will be visible together for less than an hour before they disappear below the horizon.

The rather nice image below is from someone’s Astroblg here. Taken looking over the River Spey towards Garmouth up in Scotland, I think it’s fair to say that it better captures the brightness and size of the two planets than mine does above.

Basil Spence’s Expo 67 Pavillion, Montreal

January 5, 2012 1 comment

The 1967 Expo in Montreal, Canada is generally accepted to have been the most successful Expo of the Twentieth Century and must have been an amazing experience.

After the success of the New York Expo of 1964, the event was supposed to have been held in Russia to mark the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, but for reasons both political and financial, this was not to be and Montreal was awarded the prize in 1962.

Spread out over the newly created Isle Notre Dame and the significantly enlarged Isle St Helene, in the St Lawrence River, were 90 cutting edge pavilions representing if not all, then certainly a large number of the nations of the world. So not only could you have visited a proper Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome (USA Pavillion) and a genuine Frei Otto tensile steel structure (West German Pavillion), there was also Moshe Safdie’s iconic Habitat 67 Housing scheme, which attempted to redefine affordable urban living through its use of prefabricated concrete units arranged to provide both internal and external spacial variety and suggest a more suburban living in the heart of the city.

But it’s Basil Spence’s wonderful pavilion for Great Britain that has prompted me to write this post. I came across a selection of amazing images at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Monuments in Scotland (RCAHMS), who are the trustees of the Sir Basil Spence archives and just had to put them up on my blog…

They appear to depict a huge, pure white monster of a building, with a Pop Art Union Jack at the top of a tower. I particularly like the fountain by Steven Sykes (probably because it reminds me of the work of Bill Mitchell) and the black and white interior shots, with their tellingly organic 1960’s corners…

All this Expo business reminds me that when A and I were in China at the end of our world tour, we missed the opening of the 2009 Shanghai Expo by about 2 weeks.. We went to visit the huge site hoping they might take pity on us, but it was well guarded by fences and soldiers and we left pretty quickly. So an annoying bit of organising on our part, as I would dearly have loved to have seen Thomas Heatherwick’s Seed Cathedral…

 

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