Le Zep

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To Liverpool for one of the talks in the Le Corbusier Lives! season hosted by Liverpool John Moores University, and for a second look at the Corb exhibition in the Metropolitan Cathedral crypt. The talk was actually a series of short talks by Adrian Forty, Irena Murray and Alan Powers regarding Le Corbusier and Britain. The subject matter sounded quite wide but soon narrowed down to observations on Corb’s correspondence with British students (lots of headed paper from the Students Common Room at the AA in Bedford Square) and practising architects in the pre-war period. Only Alan Powers had the light delivery and humorous touch to make the material live. One could imagine P.G. Wodehouse writing some of the letters, and there was a wonderful self-description of a British architect (was it Maxwell Fry?) ripping up his Beaux Arts student work and committing himself to the application of the portal frame to the problem of housing. The audience did not really respond to the theme presented by the historians and instead attempted to widen the discussion to bigger questions of architectural determinism. The panel discussion produced, for me, only two interesting observations: Corb didn’t seem to like people very much, and his youthful exposure to Ruskin’s ideas and writings may have re-emerged and influenced his work after the war.

A previous post has made a number of points about the exhibition. In many ways it is a general review of familiar material and the ‘art of architecture’ thesis is weak. The models are mostly of external form only (Firminy is the exception). The title block stencils (on the working drawings for Ronchamp) are delightful. The architecture of the crypt is ignored in the configuration of the display – imagine the power of the contrast if Lutyens’ vaults and portals had been lit better. The most evocative part of the exhibition was a short description in the chronology panel accompanying the exhibits:

1936: trip to South America in the dirigible Graf Zeppelin for a lecture series; contacts Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa and Affonso Eduardo Reidy in Rio de Janeiro.

The combination of the great architect, the German airship, and Sugar Loaf is irresistible.

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Images from ‘Planes: Aviation in Rio de Janeiro’

Olivetti Showroom

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Carlo Scarpa was commissioned to design the Olivetti Showroom in 1956 and the work was completed over the next couple of years. The site was awkward, long and thin, and at about four meters high, hardly able to support a second level. But it was also engaging, a corner position overlooking St Marks Square. Scarpa placed long wooden balconies along the long edges of the space, and these were accessed from a slightly off-centre stretched suspended marble staircase. Together these served to accentuate the length and height of the space, while also allowing the qualities of light and air to be gradually appreciated as the visitor moved from the entrance to the centre of the shop. The tiled floor appeared as if moving water and the display tables that were cantilevered from the windows seemed to float into the space.

Olivetti have long since left the premises and the shop now houses objet d’art. The decorative finishes are beginning to age, the plaster is stained, the bronze is tarnished and in places the marble has decayed, but the distinctive character and exquisite nature of the space is still very evident.

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Most people just go to see the building

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Richard Meier’s new Arp Museum sits on a wooded slope overlooking the Rhine near Remagen. It is conceived as an annexe to the existing Rolandseck railway station which is also mostly converted to exhibition space, although the trains still stop.

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The new building is entered via a tunnel under the railway line and a lift shaft cut into the mountain side.

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Meier, denied the possibility of a normal public aproach to the building, presents his building from a number of vantage points: on the bridge from the lift to the main block and on exterior balconies in the main block itself.

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The building benefits from its woodland setting and the drama of the internal approach in tunnels and shafts. The collection of Hans Arp sculptures struggles for attention, overwhelmed by the building and the magnificent Anselm Kiefer exhibition in the lower gallery. As a local tourist information officer said: Most people just go to see the building

Photoset (August 2008)

Arp Museum, Rolandseck 

Insight

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This delightful little structure was discovered on a recent trip to Morecambe, a small seaside town on the north-west coast of England. The structure is sort of reminiscent of some of the archetypal structures in Seaside in the Florida panhandle. The CiA Students have created a website to collect information gathered for this year’s BArch projects in Morecambe, Hulme and the Veneto.

Recession v Depression

Bank of England

Following recent depressing job losses in Manchester architecture practices, a useful definition from Greg Mankiw’s economics blog:

A student asks,

What makes a recession officially turn into a depression?

There is no official designation of depression. The NBER business cycle dating committee, of which I was once a member, picks the business cycle turning points. That is, with the benefit of hindsight, the committee says when the economy switches between expansion and contraction. Traditionally, milder contractions are called recessions and more severe contractions are called depressions, but there is no official word on which is which. Perhaps the clearest definition is this:

A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.

Picture: Column detail, Bank of England, Architect: John Soane

Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture

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To Liverpool for the architectural event of the autumn – the collision between Lutyens and Le Corbusier in the Metropolitan Cathedral Crypt. Unfortunately the overbearing and labyrinthine staging of the exhibition makes what might have been an interesting combat between these two titans difficult to discern. The spatial and material genius of Lutyens is cleverly obscured to enhance the importance of the most famous bespectacled Swiss, although an interesting family of geometrically abstract holy water stoups peak provocatively around planar screens, presenting a cunningly utilitarian riposte to Le Corbusier’s ‘sculptures’.

Leaving these frustrations aside, however, the exhibition is comprehensive, giving a full account of Le Corbusier’s career. The early years are well represented, and the presentation continues in a slightly confusing way through to the last works, notably the Philips Pavilion which is given the full audio-visual reconstruction treatment. Physical models, both original and recent are complemented by virtual reconstructions of unbuilt projects, notably the Palace of the Soviets. Small electronic panels flick through examples of Le Corbusier’s sketchbooks, and archive films add life to the sometimes arid display. In totality it is an exhibition best suited to the initiates of architecture which will do little to spread understanding of his work beyond the existing fan base. However, for those of us already in the club, it is well worth the trip.

PS A pair of opera glasses might be useful to read the captions, which are very small and often hard to find

See also Eisenman in Liverpool!

A fragment of the Arts & Crafts city

Travelling to London from the north-west of England and faced with Euston Road on emerging from the railway station, it is tempting to turn around and get back on the train. Luckily it is first possible to stand and admire the LCC Euston Fire Station, a delightful exercise in English free-style, functional architecture designed by the London County Council Architect’s department and completed in 1902.

LCC Fire Station, Euston

Musing on the ‘lost city’ of the Arts and Crafts, Peter Davey wrote*:

…it could be the corner of a (very large) Arts and Crafts country house. It shows that, at its best, Arts and Crafts architecture knew no differentiation between public and private buildings and none between provision for the rich or the poor. The lost city of the Arts and Crafts movement would have been less grand than the Edwardian cities that were actually built. But it would have been a city with a human face; gentle, witty, occasionally dramatic, kind to its surroundings and responsive to the needs of its citizens.

Davey goes a bit too far in his projection of the benefits and intentions of Arts and Crafts but perhaps “gentle, witty and occasionally dramatic” is enough.

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* Peter Davey, Arts and Crafts Architecture, Chapter 11 ‘The Lost City’

Wasser

Some pictures from Germany this summer:

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Above: Neue Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (completed 1984). Spalling of stone associated with metal fixings.

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Above and below: Museum of Modern German Literature, Marbach am Neckar (completed 2006). Movement caused by water penetration/frost?

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At Marbach am Neckar the maintenance man in helmet and flourescent vest passing by said wistfully: “Wasser”

See also: Dead German poet gets TV demands

and An English pursuit

and The Details of Modern Architecture