Split Pediment

The musings of a Brighton-based architecture dweeb and town planner in training.

Category: Modernism

Know thy station; or, the various fates of three north london termini – part 1

Howdy. Where is this?

Bright sunshine gleaming off the polished granite, metal frames and glass of crisp, late international style office blocks. This could be somewhere on Park Avenue or – just perhaps – one of the less showy buildings in the Chicago Loop. Except not.

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Sad news on the architect front. Jan Kaplický died yesterday in Prague. Sadder still is that he was en route to celebrate the birth of his daughter.

Kaplický co-founded Future Systems and designed two of the most iconic buildings in this country in the last ten years – the media centre at Lord’s and the Selfridges store in Birmingham. Clearly Kaplický, unlike Rogers and Foster, both of whom he worked for in his career, sought to bring organic, curvaceous forms to architecture, rather than leaving them for decoration or shunning them entirely in favour of rectilinear buildings.

I admire him for his refusal to bow to the financial pressure to build glass cubes. We don’t have many buildings by him, but the ones we do have are really something. I must admit a certain reluctance to really like the Selfridges in Birmingham – it’s a bit too monumental and inflated for my tastes. Plus I doubt I’ll ever be able (or really want) to go shopping there. But the media centre at Lord’s is really something. When you go past on the bus you want to jump out and clamber all over it and see if it really is as squidgy as it looks.

Where is it written that buildings have to be boxes? … People aren’t boxes.

Municipal Modernism

We all know about the prevalence of Modernism in municipal building in Britain in the post-war years. Modernism, in a variety of varieties, became the norm for public structures, be those housing, concert halls, churches, libraries, schools, universities

It is a cliche to say that Modernism became the style; that the explosion of Modernism came initially from the need to build quickly after the war and then to house and provide the infrastructure for the baby-boom generation; that Modernism was quick and new and clean and honest and cheap. It is another cliche to say that Modernist buildings were often too cheaply constructed; that the over-zealous experimentation amongst the so-called Brutalist architects led to depressing or alienating structures; that the financial crisis of the Seventies gave rise to massive under-investment in new municipal building; that the well-intentioned political desire to house and educate and punish and entertain the less well-off en-masse, with not enough resources, led to the current state of many of those buildings.

Hove Trial Centre is, thankfully, not a cliche. It is fantastically horizontal in an almost Frank Lloyd Wright kind of a way; the top storey is faced in thousands of mosaic tiles rather than the usual concrete; it is heavy, certainly, but not overbearing – the mild ziggurat is offset by both the lowness of the building and the steps and sloping gardens along the front. Buildings associated with justice usually try to overawe and dominate the unfortunates who end up traversing their thresholds – and that’s just the lawyers. That was a joke, you may laugh.

Suit yourself. Anyway, I may be wrong but I can’t help but see an allusion to fairness in the architecture of this building – the literal eveness of the roofline and the obviousness of the facade hint at equality; but it’s balanced by the solidity and mass of the building. I really like it.

So it’s been just simply forever and a little longer too

and for that I entirely apologise. Really both of you deserve much more from this astonishingly unproductive non-blogger. Especially now. As Sarah the Travelling Cukoo sharply spotted, this minor bog of ours now appears as the top result on a popular internet search engine. You know the one – provides censorship on behalf of human-rights-infringing regimes; infringes copyright; rhymes with “frugal” – that sort of thing.

So I’ve not been up to that much of late in architectural terms. I suppose I’m still mildly hungover from NYC, so here’s some leftover pics for a nostalgic tripette down memory lane.

The Woolworth building, another of those that once held the “tallest building in the world” title. It’s basically a big Gothic spire, almost Disneyesque in scale and form, set atop a bigger rectangular base. There’s an amazing picture on Wiki of the tower being built. It brazenly fronts onto City Hall (entirely dominating the area), giving a rather clear message of where the money really is.

Mmmm... capitalism

This is an astonishing building in the NoHo/East Village part of the world. It’s actually still being built, though it appears occupied at night. As you can sort of see from the picture, there aren’t many other buildings this tall in the nabe; there is some doubt and dislike locally, as there is to all tall buildings. Architecturally speaking though this building is incredible: the taughtness in the skin is both playfully thin – it seems to be stretched between the floors – but it doesn’t seem fragile, as it exposes the structure (the central and side pillars and the floors). And the shading in the glass and the panelling emphasises the smooth curve and the change in light in the window reflections. Anyway, enough twittering, here it is:

And now that I’ve whetted your proverbial, I’m off. Sorry ’bout that.


Wandering around Manhattan, the number of corporate glass-and-steel boxes can lead to a form of building fatigue, known as the International Style Syndrome. But once upon a time, say in the Fifties, such buildings were fresh and new and, yes, beautiful. The very finest example of these is the Seagram building, built as the headquarters of Joseph E. Seagram’s & Sons, purveyors of fine liquor. The architect was none other than Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who, working with Philip Johnson, designed the perfect corporate structure. Serious, expressive of its construction, expensive, well-positioned and imposing. And it retains a cool elegance that speaks volumes about its time.

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