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.

Hastings-Pier_1312_Alex--de-Rijke_PressImage_1

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!

 

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New Themes

I’ve been so focused on writing my blogs that its only now that I have reviewed how it actually looks. I have used EDIN as my blog template, which I initially selected as I liked its clean lines and text. I took some time to learn, Gingerly , how to customise the sidebar and footers to fit my theme. There were a few things I wanted to look at improving, modifying the header image, having my blog title visible on the actual header if possible, while keeping features like displaying the sidebars, the about me page, and showing images in the blogs.

EDIN
Original EDIN theme

My approach was to use the facility in “WP admin” to select a new theme and make it active, changing my blog theme, which immediately shows the main features on the existing content. This way it was easy to visually see themes that didn’t look “right”. This excludes templates that only show blog excerpts, those “read more” types , or didn’t show an image. This still left quite a few templates that seemed OK. It would have been nice at this stage to be able to see blogs that had used these templates, but with the rare exception that doesn’t seem to be available, not surprising as I don’t know how to show what template I’m using on my own blog!.

So it was back to ploughing through a short list of templates, and finally reducing these to two options, Dara and Independent Publisher. They seemed to do all that I wanted, so I saved the Dara theme and started to review what the website looked like.

DARA
DARA theme

With “Dara” I seemed to have border edges which I hadn’t noticed on the template, and the “about me” seemed a bit less clear. I also thought that while the text looked fine for short text, taken for the entire blog it didn’t look that pleasing.

So I loaded “Independent Publisher”. Because in all of these themes you can customise them, its sometimes hard to work out what is the best template for your blog and what will be the best-looking one once you have done a lot of editing and customising. So far I am happy with this one and looking forward to making some further changes and seeing how that goes.

What’s your favourite blog and blog theme?

Landscapes II

So this is just a follow-up to Landscapes where I mentioned we had artwork that resembled the photographic image of Josh Cooper’s “Meandering Mawddach”, (Gwynedd, NW Wales).

Mawddach Estuary
Josh Cooper’s “Meandering Mawddach”,

Our artwork is an etching by Pauline Meade, “Torridon Hills” with similar light, and striking monochrome features:

IMG_20171028_120638
Pauline Meade, “Torridon Hills” etching

Of course this might have been far more impressive artwork if I could have captured a good image. Our picture had been professionally framed, and I thought they used non-reflective glass but it seems it isn’t. So I spent a happy (sic) few minutes walking around the house trying to find somewhere to take a clean image, without glare and reflections (TIP: Not outside in the sunshine). This is my best attempt, apologies to everyone. Ironic really, given that it was a photographic competition that generated the original article!

Landscapes

 

Diminutive Dune, Sand forms at low tide, West Wittering, West Sussex, England
The Landscape Photographer of the year 2017. Benjamin Graham’s “Diminutive Dune”, in West Wittering, West Sussex, England

The winners have been announced in the Landscape Photographer of the year competition. It is always fascinating to view these photographs, partly to see who won what, and partly to get a glimpse of any trends or styles that are currently in fashion. There are a number of awards, although the overall winner is Benjamin Graham’s unusual Diminutive Dune, (West Wittering, West Sussex, England).

Dawn patrol, Loch Garten, Cairngorms, Scotland
Graham Niven’s “Dawn patrol”

I like Graham Niven’s “Dawn patrol” (Loch Garten, Cairngorms, Scotland), although I think if I was the photographer I would have actually slid my own feet back, so that they were out of shot! Or maybe he spent hours to photo-shop them in!

Mawddach Estuary
Josh Cooper’s “Meandering Mawddach”,

One particular image captured my imagination, Josh Cooper’s “Meandering Mawddach”, (Gwynedd, NW Wales). We have an etching by Pauline Meade,  “Torridon Hills” with similar light, and striking monochrome features, which it resembles. It is the kind of image that you see more, the more you look, and rewards repeated viewings.

Encompassed
David Hopley’s “Encompassed”,

This image is fascinating,  as is David Hopley’s picture entitled “Encompassed”,
Rounded photographed in Colton, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England. BTW “Taddy” has some good breweries so well worth a visit!What I especially like about this image is that it is so iconic,  being well-constructed without being too smart or clever. It literally feels as though he has pulled the camera and taken a snap rather than spent endless hours constructing the image.

The youth section photographs are quite stunning and all these images of the British countryside are going on display. So if you’re around you can see the exhibition being held on display at London Waterloo station, from 20th November 2017 – 4th February 2018. It would be interesting to see the actual images themselves and see how they compare to viewing digitally online.

And if you’re a keen photographer yourself, you can enter next year. Just don’t take pictures of sand dunes by the sea, that’s not going to work again!

Big City Oasis

1200px-SFParkletAs a supporter of green spaces, especially so in urban environments, I was intrigued by the concept of parklets when I first read about them in this recent NYT article.

Parklets are defined as pavement/sidewalk extension that provides more space and amenities for people using the street. Usually parklets are installed on parking lanes and use several parking spaces. These “pocket parks” are all different, but tend to include a number of key features such as cycle parking, seating, planters, trees and flowers. This simple concept seems such a great idea in high density areas, where there is a lack of greenery and relaxing outdoor seating areas are virtually none existent.

While a new concept to me, it seems it has been around for a while. While other big-city planning concepts, like roof gardens and green walls, claim environmental benefits, this seems to be the first concept that is just about social improvement. My view is that they provide a little oasis of calm in the extreme pressure of the city. These simple opportunities for just relaxing are a really welcome introduction in urban spaces, and I’d be pleased to see them being  introduced more widely.

 

Floating windfarms?

statoil hywind

Love them or loathe them, wind power is growing as an energy source for us here in the UK. Wind Turbines (those tall white things that look like modern windmills) currently generate about 12% of our electricity and is set to grow to 20% by 2020. Currently over half of that is generated by on shore wind farms, but more investment is now heading towards building large off shore wind farms, and this should see off-shore wind contribute much more to that capacity.

The latest innovative concept to take shape is the world’s first floating wind farm, off the east coast of Scotland. The Hywind £200m project initially seems far-fetched, but the pioneering technology could open up a whole new development in renewable energy.

Hywind

 

So how big is this industry?

Well, the world’s largest off shore windfarm is being built off the Yorkshire coast. Hornsea 2 is being built after nearby Hornsea 1, and this multimillion-pound project will see 300 turbines, each taller than the Gherkin, span more than 480 sq km in the North Sea. It is expected to deliver 1800 MW of energy, enough to power 1.8m UK homes. Dong Energy, a Copenhagen-based company responsible for many off shore wind farms, and working on this project, recently floated for £10B on its recent stock flotation. And the world’s largest wind turbines have just gone live off Liverpool.

So this technology is important. Wind energy as part of the renewable energy industry (this includes the likes of wind, solar, biomass and marine sources, like the proposed Swansea Tidal Lagoon) provided about 26% of the UK’s electrical needs in 2015, and is set to grow to 30% by 2020. While there can be criticism of their looks, and where they are placed, the biggest barriers are the cost of developing them and the cost of the power they generate.

A recent Mckinsey report suggests that these barriers are being eroded….

For many years, 3- to 4-megawatt turbines were standard; now 8- to 10-megawatt models are common, and by 2024, 13- to 15-megawatt models will likely hit the market. This reduces the cost per megawatt. Even as turbines have become larger, they have also become better. In the 1990s, the expected lifetime of offshore wind parks was only 15 years; now it is closer to 25 years, and new sites project an operational lifetime of 30 years.

 

 

 

 

Glorious Silverstone

When under Bernie Ecclestone’s fiefdom Formula One (F1) did exactly what he wanted. Now Liberty Media have taken over with the intention of even grosser global billing for F1. But a cold, wet, drab racing circuit in Northamptonshire, England seem to have provoked them, with Liberty Media trying to sound almost trump-like with outraged faux-innocence that a “deals a deal”, even if it wasn’t done with them.

It seems like other race circuits around the world get financial support to host the smart, glossy world that is F1. While the British Grand Prix resolutely loses money every year. Now in a bit of negotiation lifted from other high spending sports like football, the small upstart has announced they would like to re-negotiate the deal. In a bit of machiavellian mischief they actually managed to time this at an opportune moment. Directly before this year’s F1 British Grand Prix, and while Liberty Media themselves were courting yet-again the idea of holding a grand prix around the streets of London.

Q: Is a Grand Prix around London an entertaining concept that will attract hordes of visitors: Yes.

Q: Will it happen: No.

Even better, while the entire F1 circus turned up to trumpet the idea with a day in London, Lewis Hamilton was missing. Giving a valid excuse, much like the old “I can’t do PE, here’s a note from my mum” Lewis claimed he was getting prepared for the race. It would be far too slick and un-English to imagine that this could possibly be a slight to the concept and tacit support for the British Grand Prix continuing at Silverstone, a circuit with such a racing history long admired by true racers such as Lewis Hamilton.

And then, even better than that, Lewis Hamilton started in pole position and thrashed the others to win this premium brand event, and just about catch up to Vettel who is currently leading the championship. Blimey, I never knew we could pull off a show like that. We’re well worth the money! Liberty Media give in now, charge us threepence for the race and be done with it.

LewisHamilton

 

Googling Quarters

google-landscraper-exterior

Plans for the new Google building in London have been released, and while the computer-generated images don’t exactly entrance the eye, it is significant for two things. One, the continued leviathan nature of these corporate temples , and two, the attempt to add a new descriptive word to our language – Landscraper! The term refers to the stated belief that this is a “building on its side”, rather than one just going up. I can’t help but think that someone just tilted the image on their computer screen and thought “OK that will do” and started to add stuff to it, rather than a design philosophy. And no, I don’t think much to the term either!

Following the Apple campus spaceship, these corporate beasts seem to suggest there is no work-life balance, as you can actually live here. With gardens, swimming pools, sports and medical facilities, they create their own gated community of hip young things. Of course, once built they will probably fill it with cubicles, so Dilbert-like. Or maybe worse “hot desks”, though that term is a bit too 90’s, maybe they are referred to now as “co-sharing incubators”. Although that concept defeats me, who gives a damn about the desk, we wanted our own chair! Your floor probably has the latte and chai tea dispenser, so you probably have to wander a few floors up and down, a bit like Tom Hanks (The Terminal) lingering around the place to find a desk, or a coffee machine that does plain black coffee.

These mini-citadels, may not be easy to Create but can be as impregnable to those who work there, as they are to those of us who will never grace their corridors. The sheer scale and complexity defeating the efforts to feel comfortable and familiar. But then you are there to work. So stop staring out those windows!

Two hours and…not done

Something quite remarkable happened at the weekend, a Kenyan runner nearly broke 2 hours to run a full marathon. That’s taking 4 minutes and 35 seconds to run one mile. Mile after mile. For 26 miles. It was only in 1954 that the 4 minute mile barrier was broken, and that was just for one single mile, not 26+ miles. That’s running at about 15 miles per hour, or about the same as running the 100 metres in 17 seconds, x422 times!

This amazing athletic feat saw Eliud Kipchoge clock 2 hours and 25 seconds for this marathon attempt. For much of the time he was on pace to attain the 2 hour target, but the later laps saw the strain take its toll. While missing the target, Eliud did break the current world record for the marathon, which is held by a fellow Kenyan, Dennis Kimetto, of 2 hours 2 minutes and 57 seconds, set at the Berlin Marathon back in 2014. The other runners, the Eritrean Zersenay Tadese, who is the current world-record holder for the half-marathon, and Lelisa Desisa, from Ethiopia, two-times winner of the Boston marathon, also both finished, in the finest tradition of athletes, with a true epic effort to continue, despite knowing they were well outside the record attempt, the older Tadese at 2:06 and younger Desira at 2.14.

The slightly controversial part was that this attempt was run by Nike, with its Breaking2 programme. For this they ran early morning with repeated laps of the Monza racing circuit. The three runners had a phalanx of other elite runners as their vanguard, sheltering them as well as acting as pacemakers, as well as car beaming a green line to show the target pace, and were re-fuelled by moped riders. Because of these factors this record attempt was not recognised for any official record by the sporting authorities. Nike was also promoting its  restricted (up to now) new Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes, which use a special carbon-fibre plate in the soles to make runners 4% more efficient than Nike’s previous fastest marathon shoe, boosting their running economy.

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Eliud Kipchoge (in red) going for the 2 hour marathon record

 

But regardless of the corporate PR spin the actual running feat is truly impressive. So maybe it was outside 2 hours, but you know what, they did just do it.

What’s the time, Mr Wolf?

Clock

So central Birmingham is spending £2 million on a clock. Ignoring the contentious fact that this is part of the controversial HS2 project, it does once again raise the question of what public funds should be used for.

The PR spin will say this is a worthwhile project that will provide footfall to Birmingham, based on in-depth analysis that an additional XX visitors will spend YY, that means it will generate Billions and make the £2m a paltry insignificant sum. Except that they are spending an actual £2m, that could be spent on hospitals, libraries, other public services. Any exponential visitors are hard to measure. So here’s a competition – Hull, is the current European city of culture, this year they will get loads of extra visitors. Name one thing that all those visitors are coming for? Thought not, it’s the overall events and activities. Had they spent £2m on a clock, that wouldn’t be bringing in any additional visitors, it would just be one more attraction for those visitors to go too.

But there is another problem with these grandiose schemes. These huge art competitions tend to create a culture of international artists trying to implement challenging schemes to win. And thankfully some of these were overlooked, the train crash one, possibly all too apt with HS2! They are international, they are not local. This clock has nothing to do with Birmingham, it is just an anodyne artwork parachuted into that location. Of course by the time it gets built and modified it will have a developed a local flavour, local voices, but does this really make it unique to Brum? Not really.

Another possible public folly is the garden bridge in London, currently being reviewed to evaluate if it justifies the expense. Couldn’t they just put flowers and greenery on all the existing bridges? Well they could, and that might look really nice. But it wouldn’t be a “concept” would it, so that won’t count.