Old Manchester

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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)

CiA Studio 2008-2009

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And so the hustings are once again upon us at the Manchester School of Architecture. This year Continuity in Architecture will be offering two BArch studio units.

The first is a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andrea Palladio. The City The Building The Room is an exploration of urban and interior space in the Veneto. Projects will be based in Venice, Vicenza and Verona. Students will be asked to propose a new building on a site adjacent to the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza

The second CIA unit is running two cross-disciplinary projects, both of which are in conjunction with the MA Design at the Manchester School of Art. Ways of Worldly Wisdom is an examination of the qualities of a specific urban area in Manchester with the possibility of developing the site as an extension to an existing educational institution. Off the Beaten Track will investigate the notion of “The Illuminations”, a phenomenon particular to seaside towns. The project will explore the viability of re-introducing this seasonal highlight into Morecambe on the north-west coast of England.
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Studio staff (to be confirmed): Sally Stone, Eamonn Canniffe, Helen Felcey (Manchester School of Art), John Lee (Arca), Dominic Roberts (Francis Roberts Architects).

Eisenman in Liverpool!

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OK, the main event is obviously the opening of the Corb exhibition in Lutyens’ crypt (the subtitle ‘The Art of Architecture’ doesn’t inspire) but Peter Eisenman has got to be worth a trip.

Peter Eisenman: Architecture and the Cultural Project

Le Corbusier and Britain: Adrian Forty, Irena Murray, Alan Powers

Le Corbusier and India: Balkrishna Doshi

Le Corbusier ‘Le Grand’ – Tim Benton

Out there: The Venice Biennale

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The vast exhibition of contemporary architecture which is the Venice Biennale (curated by Aaron Betsky) opened last weekend in a stormy atmosphere which made the exhibitions oases of rather damp calm, despite the unsettling, luxurious aspirations of some of the exhibitors. How nature, not to mention the current economic storms, intrudes on the best laid plans! The utopian visions of the digital future and interactive environments with new fluid forms are presented in a stunning display at the Arsenale. Marked by a particularly stimulating entrance area (Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff) that sets a high standard which the subsequent sequence of displays extend in a series of varied rooms. Much of this material is not new (either in ideas or forms), but is presented here as a spatial experience which tantalises the visitor with possible worlds. The indulgence of the creators in focusing on their own concerns betrays the self-referential interest of much of this work. The MVRDV/Philippe Rahm section for example, with its futuristic urban animation, relaxing naked people and musician improvising on a saw suggests nothing more than the continuing polarity between attention seeking techno-geekiness and a late revival of hippiedom, ideas first synthesised forty years ago by Superstudio.

The displays have a strongly historicist feel, with some of the original characters, represented especially by Coop Himmelblau, expanding on their ideas for interactive autonomous environments. The Roma Interrotta exhibition of 1978 is revived as an antechamber to a display of contemporary ideas for Rome, Uneternal City, which takes the earlier urban speculation forward. The other developments of that era are acknowledged in the Italian Pavilion at the Giardini with exhibitions of Madelon Vriesendorp’s provocative images for OMA, Zaha Hadid’s early models and paintings and various works from the office archive of Frank Gehry. The form-laden nature of this work sits somewhat uncomfortably with a series of displays which deal with the social and ecological aspects of contemporary concern, but then in totality the exhibition seems to tip the hat quite frequently to once-were-deconstructivists, as if in memory of Betsky’s own involvement in defining that movement.

The British Pavilion presents a series of housing projects, solid buildings ill-served by the the witlessness of the display. dRMM’s work in particular suffers from the miserable position their models occupy. Contrast this unappealing tightness with the engaging generosity of the French Pavilion, which has pivoting models encouraging engagement from the exhibition visitors, and the German Pavilion’s reassuringly ‘chaotic’ ecological display.

The real surprises within the many varied displays are perhaps best summarised by the Mexican contribution at the Arsenale which provides some welcome social content in distinction to the overwhelmingly form driven displays there. At the Giardini the USA Pavilion provides a cooler response to similar issues, a development which can only be welcomed.

As always the Nordic Pavilion hovers elegantly at the centre of the Giardini. This year it presents a monographic exhibition on the work of the pavilion’s architect Sverre Fehn which in its tranquil confidence provides reassurance that all novelties in architecture eventually pass away…

The White Church

The White Church

The White Church is a familiar sight to those travelling along the old road to Blackpool through Lytham St Annes. It is one of a number of Anglican and Non-conformist churches vying for prominence along the route, set back from the road in the nineteenth century seaside grid. Most of the other churches choose a variation on Gothic. The White Church, originally Fairhaven Congregational Church, is intended to be Byzantine but flirts with Moorish and Edwardian Baroque. As Pevsner points out in the North Lancashire volume of Buildings of England the church: “stands out, by size, by colour, by style, only not alas by quality.” Commenting on the odd mixture of styles, among which he spots “South West French Romanesque”, Pevsner goes on to say: “It needed some courage to put up such a building.”

The building works as a landmark but few people stop for a look. Closed most of the time, the white faience is cold and uninteresting up close. Inside is a different matter. Entering the church on the diagonal you are brought into a square nave with a generous arched bay to each side. The square shape and the low dome produce a surprisingly warm and intimate space for the congregation. One arched bay is occupied by the communion table and the viewer is oriented to this focal point by the slope of the floor. The interior is relatively plainly decorated and the stained glass windows to each side of the church predominate. They provide a vivid narrative of early Christianity, the Reformation and the history of Non-conformity (including a dramatic depiction of the embarkation of the Pilgrim Fathers).

Embarkation of the Pilgrim Fathers

This weekend (13-14 September) the building is open to the public from 10.30-16.00 on Saturday and from 13.30-16.30 on Sunday.


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Fairhaven Congregational Church, now URC. Completed 1912
Architect: Briggs Wolstenholme and Thornley of Blackburn, Lancashire.
Cost of building £12000.

Serving up the city

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If, according to Alberti, a house is a small city …  can a tray be a small piazza?
These table centres, designed by Fabio Novembre, are available from Driade.

In this case the model is the city of Palmanova in the Veneto.

Basilika, Trier

Trier, Basilica

The building now known as the Basilika in Trier, Germany was actually the throne room of the Emperor Constantine and formed part of a wider palace complex when the city was a capital of the Roman Empire. The footprint of the Roman building (c 310 AD) and elements of its enclosure survived centuries of change prior to reconstruction by the Prussians following the defeat of Napoleon. The illustration shows elements of the building (‘c’ is the Roman apse) incorporated into a palace complex during the Renaissance period.

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The extraordinary juxtaposition of the Basilika and the baroque palace in front is explained by the new significance of the building following the continuing unification of Germany under Prussia. Frederick William IV of Prussia ordered the reconstruction of the 33m high ‘basilica’ as a Lutheran church – a project that was completed in 1856. The building is remade to correspond with a new function and and rises up to dominate the palace structure it had served for centuries. The Prussian structure reflected the architect’s ideal project – the reconstruction of a Roman ruin. The architect interpreted the remains as an early-Christian basilica and borrowed the organization and stylistic elements of early-Christian architecture in Rome.

Trier, Basilica

The building was destroyed by allied bombs in 1944 and reconstructed again in the ‘fifties. The destruction of the Second World War was interpreted by some as a judgement. In its newest form the great hall was stripped of all decoration and given a pre-stressed concrete coffered roof. According to the official history available in the church: The new idea of the reconstructed church can be interpreted as follows: expression of worldly power and its spirituality has been conquered and extinguished by the Nazarene’s message: to put service before all else.