Curate Away

Curating is one of those terms that you can easily take an instant dislike to. One of those contemporary terms used to describe the “bleedin’ obvious”.

But in this case someone has done a good job for this year’s crop of RIBA best buildings. The 2018 shortlist includes a fascinating collection of architecture. They range from the what seems environmentally-friendly restoration with the likes of Walthamstow Wetlands, a sympathetic restoration and revitalisation of a run-down area, with an emphasis of the inclusiveness of nature and buildings. The Albert Works restored a derelict area of Sheffield with a clean new building in homage to what was there before.

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Gasworks London

While Albert Works tends to the hipster-style, albeit in that hard-as-nails Sheffield way, the Department Store is all-out Seattle lifestyle, wake up and smell the coffee place. Contrast that with the clean simplicity and clarity of line of St Augustines Church.

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Gasworks – Room with a View

Then there’s the challenges of building a building within a building, the intrepid and fascinating Gasholders London. While I like to see re-purposing, is this great architecture or just plain crazy?

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Gasworks – Looking Up

From all of those on the shortlist, my preference is the brilliant Tate St Ives. An engineering riddle as much as brilliant design it has transformed the Tate experience. And besides it wins hands-down as it has stunning sea views from the public roof top terrace.

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Tate St Ives.
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Renew or Replace?

The recent devastating fire has all but destroyed the Mackintosh School of Art building in Glasgow. Ironically, as it was being renovated following a fire in 2014. The Macintosh was a recognised and acclaimed building, so the original re-build was widely-supported to reclaim this heritage and phoenix-like build Macintosh’s design as he intended.

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The Macintosh School of Art

But this recent huge fire which engulfed this and nearby buildings have hardly even left a shell to re-build. Opinions have suggested we should develop a new building in a contemporary style rather than try to re-create, or as it has been expressed “create a replica” or pastiche of Macintosh’s great work. So is the irreplaceable just that – Irreplaceable?

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Macintosh School of Art Library

The iconic York Minster underwent renovation for many years, and this truly magnificent building has been restored, along with the beautiful Great East Window and the Rose window, not just restored, but a modern re-creation of the truly historic, and a renewed building which has also been brought to live. They created new opportunities for craftsmen to re-create centuries-old skills and knowledge. So if we have the craftsmen, or can create them, we can rebuild Macintosh’s seminal work and leave it for future generations to marvel at and enjoy.

3D or not 3D…

Bridge

The clever Dutch, not content with taming the waters of the North Sea, are now building a 3D printed pedestrian bridge, to be installed in Amsterdam. I do have a bit of a conceptual problem with 3D printing – I can only imagine a big manufacturing box with 3D printers working like crazy. But no, apparently it’s not like that.

The design studio leading the work says its six-axis robot printers are capable of printing objects of almost any size. Rather than being restricted by need to print within a machine, the MX3D bots move around the work being printed. So yes you can build a bridge (or anything really) with 3D printing. It’s due to be completed and installed later this year, or early 2019, so look out for that.

If you are in Holland…

at the moment, you can go to the far north and cross the Afsluitdijk, a 20 mile long causeway that separates the North Sea from fresh water Holland.

Afsluitdijk

As well as being a great bit of geography, it’s now been enhanced by the Gates of Light artworks, which shield the entrance at both ends.

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It’s a good cycle ride as well, of course on a separate cycleway, and there’s a mid-point café if needed. The cycle path is further up the dyke that the road, so you do get good views.

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I started on the eastern side by cycling through Friesland which is delightful, full of tiny villages with great cafes. So I just turned around in Den Oever (on the west) and returned the same way.

Coda: I recognised the original “To be or not to be, that is the question” quote as being from Hamlet but couldn’t really remember the rest of the text, so a few google and Wikipedia pages later I am more informed. But I also learnt that what I was doing with the title was a “Snowclone”. So now you know.

Art on a Wall

Sometimes you see something and you think, that’s clever. Well the Scribit Robot is just that. Designed by a team including Carlo Ratti, an Italian architect and somewhat renaissance figure, this device allows users to personalise their walls with digital artwork. And then replace that artwork whenever they like. More prosaically it can do menu boards and anything else that requires printing.

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The Scribit Robot

This clever concept is going to be crowdfunded later this year, so either it will be a great success or it will slowly slide away into oblivion and we will be none the wiser. So is it a genius idea with brilliant potential or just an expensive design concept that should have been kept in-house, what’s your view?

As big as a Bus….or Bigger!

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The GE9X Engine (the larger one!)

This new video of a massive aircraft engine, the new GE9X, had me enthralled. As well as being neatly produced, it reveals that a wealth of parts are being produced by 3D printing.

I’m just fascinated by large structural things, be they buildings, bridges or boats. They don’t even have to start with a “B” either!

Most aircraft have 4 engines, or a quartet  but maybe this engine is so powerful it only needs two engines per aircraft. Or maybe that’s a new style, three normal sized engines and one massive one. An engineering marvel.

Urban Scribbles

I stumbled over this story about “Urban Sketchers”. It took me a moment to recognise that these pen and ink style drawings where not all of the same place, as there is something rather “same-y” about all of them. And I’m not sure what those splodges of colour are all about.

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Urban Sketcher

 

I was initially intrigued by the concept of them sketching “urban clutter”. I somewhat expected a focus on the urban mess; graffiti, recycling, waste, the “night-time economy”, the building’s structural elements. But their definition of this seems to stretch to the elements (buses, trams, shops, houses, buildings) that actually define an urban environment – The infrastructure.

It seems there is a small gathering of these “USK’s” around the globe. With the social media we have available today it has seemingly translated what would once have been isolated local groups into a global forum and a movement.

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Urban Sketcher

 

Perhaps there is an equivalent “Rural Sketchers” movement? Or maybe they just call themselves artists.

Port of Antwerp

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Port of Antwerp

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, has been announced as The Design Museum’s  design of the year 2017, from a huge selection of that year’s best designs.

There are six broad categories to accommodate such a wide inclusion. Which range from the almost ludicrous, such as the Premier League on-air branding, to the now outdated Pokémon GO. There are the contemporaneous cultural curios like the “Pussyhat Project” and “Professional Women Emoji”. Then there are the potentially practical and useful such as the “Avy Search and Rescue Drone” and “The Pilot translating earpiece”.  The latter sounds inspired from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and I thought the Babel Fish had been around since the 1970’s?

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Avy  Search and Rescue Drone

While I do appreciate there are more humanistic and beneficial designs, such as the Warka Water concept,  I do like a dash of big bold architecture. But rather than the actual winner, for me it’s the Port of Antwerp.

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I love the striking soaring skyline, and somehow the bold structure fits the skyline, or should that be the waterline. It would be fascinating to take the tour and discover what the inside is like, a great posthumous homage to the imaginative designer Zaha Hadid.

 

Getting William the Conquered again…

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Bayeux Tapestry

The truly fabulous Bayeux Tapestry is not just a remarkable work of art but also a wonderfully detailed account of the conquest of England in 1066. The tapestry is a monumental work, over 70m long, and 50cm tall. Within that space they tell a remarkable story, not just of the blood and fury of the decisive Battle of Hastings, but a rich human re-telling of civil life at that time, with detailed work in the top and bottom margins, and Latin text emphasising some of the action.

Over 900 years old, this work has been available to view in France at the Bayeux Museum, but now President Macron of France has announced the intention to allow the Bayeux Tapestry to be transported to a museum in England. But don’t rush, they yet need to work out how to package and transport the object, and so it will be around 2020 or even 2022 before the tapestry makes its way across the English channel. And despite its name, it is actually an embroidery, being stitched together rather than woven. But oh what detail, what humour, how evocative that work is, and when you see the teeming human life being recounted in blazing colour and detail it can almost seem touchingly contemporary.

Detail of Bayeux tapestry
Detail of Bayeux tapestry

For those who believe understanding our past helps to understand the here and now, the Bayeux Tapestry not only reveals intimate details of the conquest of Britain, but the enormity of trade and warfare during the medieval period. The Normans beat the English who never had an English King again, yet it could well be we defeated ourselves. The Vikings had already invaded England and much later the Vikings invaded France, to get rid of them they were given land well away from Paris, In Normandy. They became Normans who then with William the Conqueror of France invaded England. Historians might quibble that there is no exact evidence of that being true but go and visit this remarkable work, in France or England and see for yourself.

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Bayeux tapestry – The Normans Clobbering us!

 

 

Art of Building

There are some wonderful images in the CIOB Art of Building 2017 competition.

Probably of all of them I prefer the “Eye of the Tower”. It’s a curious and alternative view on something that has probably been photo-processed many times. Something you would normally expect to look up at, and Ascend is transformed and appears you are looking down on this enormous bell. I love the hard-edged brickwork and strong vibrant colours and textures. While the image is still, somehow there seems to be movement and power captured there.

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Eye of the Tower

The short list  is full of fascinating images, from the “Cemetery of 21st Century” (don’t worry it’s not an actual cemetery.) which is eerie and evocative, almost Chernobyl-like, but it hardly seems to qualify as an actual building.

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Cemetery of 21st Century

The “Bicycle Rider” is so stark and lifeless it looks more like an artist’s illustration or a page from a graphic novel rather than a photograph. Reminds me a bit of David Hockney’s work such as “A Bigger Splash” with its flat child-like colours.

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Bicycle Rider

The “Cross Bridge Waltz” shot from the air is mesmerising and joyful, almost a photographic version of naive art.

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Cross Bridge Waltz

So your chance to vote is available until the 8th of January 2018, and of course you can always think about entering next year. You can see previous winners and my view on last year’s.

If you’ve read this far why not add a comment  and tell which one is your favourite and why.

Hastings Pier

So once you get over the shock that the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture was awarded to a Pier rather than a more conventional building (sic) it’s refreshing that something so English, so old-fashioned with its seaside connotations, should be rewarded for re-invigorating and modernising the concept.

Hastings Pier

So what can a modern re-working of a pier do? There seems to be limitations to the actual potential of such a building. Really what can you do with a long line of wooden planks facing over the roiling sea?

Well they seemed to have created a rather large space, that is multi-functional. So they can hold various events and activities there. And there is the deck building which provides the ocean vista. Another plus factor for awarding this building is that we like the idea of restoring something. Hastings pier had been destroyed by fire in 2010 and the resulting re-build process, including lottery funding and a crowd-sourced campaign ensured the modern pier re-opened in April 2016.

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Mind you the other 5 buildings seemed to offer little in the way of competition. Monolithic concrete blocks, with Glasgow’s audition for a Russian Kremlin building, and a photographic studio you would want to shoot yourself to get out off, and buildings that seemed to just shuffle into designated spaces but not really occupy their own space. So a pier it is.

Don’t drop your ice-cream on it, it’s an award winner!